But Wait, That Wasn’t In My Job Description! Music Education by Joel Wagner - August 16, 2009June 30, 20106 “Welcome to education.” “Deal with it!” “Didn’t they teach you in college that you need to be flexible?” ‘What do you want me to do about it?” “Wow, I wish I had it that good my first year!” So you graduated and then spent all summer looking for a job. You got your job, get to the school, and suddenly the classes or students you have bear no real similarity to what they told you in the interview. The good news is that you’re not alone. The bad news is that this is probably what you are going to be dealing with all year. I recently got an email expressing a similar situation: I’m a first year who was hired as a part-time choral director…I really didn’t want to start out in inner-city education, but it was all that was available. The principal seemed supportive though, and wants to see some great things… The problem is that I was lied to in my interview and betrayed by my school. None of the students signed up for my class – I was given last names A-C for each of the grades. I went to start warm-ups for my “choirs” and got silence or “I’m not gonna sing!” These kids have no idea what a quarter note is, what the word melody means, and have absolutely no interest in making music. My choral curriculum has to be thrown out the window, and I’m really really hurting. I’ve gone to my county’s music supervisor, and she gave me an almost derogatory speech about how this is the world of education – that I should have known what I was getting myself into. When I mentioned how an orchestral person wouldn’t be given 40 students who don’t know how to hold a violin, she replied that “chorus is just different, deal with it.” So the question here is how do we extend some hope to this individual. First, a few things to keep in mind: Your students can tell when you are frustrated It’s not their fault that they don’t know how to read music They probably don’t want to be in your class just as much as (if not more than) you want them to be in your class Negativity must be avoided at all costs; seriously! Quitting because of this situation will not bode well for future job placement, nor will it benefit you as much as fighting your way through this situationBECAUSE When you get to the end of this year and look back on it, you will be amazed at the growth (both professionally and personally) that you see in yourself First things first Here are the things I would commit to never do this year at all costs: Complain about your students or administration to anyone…ever Get frustrated at the students for not knowing what they have not been taught Expect the students to do anything beyond the minimum that the administration expects of you (2-3 concerts) Forget this is a totally low-key job and begin to experience any stress from your work Now, let’s get started Like you said, you need to throw out your entire curriculum. That may be solid advice for almost every teacher out there. Oops, was that out loud? The situation as it stands is: You have a bunch of students who have minimal prior music experience You have students in your class who did not choose to be put there You are unhappy with your situation and feel that your administration lied to you Select your music with your students in mind Remember that your students sense any frustration that you have. If you are tired, they know. If you don’t like your principal, they know. If you don’t like them, they know. So right now, instead of preparing John Rutter’s Requiem, you are faced with a situation where you need to prepare them to sing Row, Row, Row Your Boat well. Maybe not that extreme, but what if you could find a few fun Christmas songs to do or maybe even a simple SAB (or even two-part) arrangement of a Hannah Montana or even some sort of 50s medley that you can find? You didn’t tell me the age group (or I overlooked it somehow) but gear your music selection to where they are. I have never passed out music that someone didn’t complain about If they complain that it’s too easy, tell them to sing it perfectly. If they complain that it’s too hard, tell them to try. If they complain that it’s boring, it probably is! Find something else. You said your administration is supportive, so get them to help you out in buying music that will work with the kids. If that means that you buy some music that you don’t perform, that’s perfectly fine. In fact, you need to go through a lot of music this year. Which leads me to my next point Don’t expect everything to sound great Don’t try to perform everything you possibly can at the concert. Perform what sounds good and makes you look like you’re doing a great job. But not of this can happen until… You need to motivate the kids. Wait, we can’t motivate kids. They need to be motivated. We need to lead them well before they will do what we ask them to do. So how do you lead them well? Make your class fun. Relax and enjoy the fact that you are being paid to teach music to kids. In an inner city, you’re probably being paid pretty well since they often throw in “hazard pay” just for being there. Enjoy that. The challenge of leadership I was talking with some of the high school band’s Drill Instructors last week and I told them that the biggest challenge of leadership is dealing with the unmotivated people. There are always going to be unmotivated people. The challenge is to remain way more excited about what we are doing that the people we are leading. Excitement is contagious. Almost as contagious as negativity. Don’t let negativity control you. Root it out at all costs! When you find it seeking to control you (and it will try), fight fight fight fight fight. Then fight some more. Music teachers have among the best jobs in the world. Get the kids to love you (nobody loved bitter old men!) and have fun with it. This is a great adventure for you, and could be the difference between a miserable year and a magnificent one! Reader reactions So to throw this out to my readers, what kind of “this wasn’t in my job description!” type stories do you have? Also, what advice can you offer to someone in this situation? Further reading 5 Keys To Educating People 6 Motivation Techniques Do You Run The Risk of Becoming Successful? Be The Best Teacher In The World The Source Of Motivation 15 Tips To Stay Positive Overcoming Adversity 10 Tips To Stay Motivated And Love Teaching On The Brink Of Quitting The Essence of Hope Total Teacher Transformation Begins Learning New Lessons – Tips for Rookie Teachers Make A Two Year Commitment, And 100 Other Great Teaching Tips Seven Years Later: 7 Things I Would Do Before My First Year As A Teacher If I Knew Then What I Know Now How Do I Keep My Students Engaged? (5 Things The Work For Me) How Do I Keep My Students Interested? (5 Things The Work For Me) How Do I Keep My School Administration Happy? (4 Things The Work For Me) 5 Habits of Highly Effective Teachers 8 Ways Blogging Makes Me A Better Teacher Turning The Ship: The Voyage To Becoming A Great Teacher Why Do We Do What It Is That We Do? 10 Things I Wish I Knew As A First Year Teacher Life Lesson 4: Choose Your Battles But It’s Not Your Fault! The Unfairness of Equality Joel WagnerJoel Wagner (@sywtt) began teaching band in 2002. Though he had a lot of information, his classes were out of control. He found himself tired, frustrated, disrespected by students, lonely, and on the brink of quitting. He had had enough. He resigned from his school district right before spring break of his second year and made it his personal mission to learn to be a great teacher. So You Want To Teach? is the ongoing story of that quest for educational excellence.