Saturday, December 31, 2011

Budget time matters for music advocates

It's BUDGET time!  
Why do we need to pay attention to the budget process?  
Many times, the arts are the first items targeted for reduction when a school system is trying to balance the budget. 

What if we haven't heard anything mentioned about arts cuts?
Even when school districts are not actively cutting arts teachers and programs, there are still budget decisions being made that affect music programs. For instance, if an arts teacher retires, the principal might choose not to fill that position and instead give a heavier class load to the remaining arts teachers. These kinds of "passive" cuts still have a big impact on the way our students are educated.

That doesn't sound so bad, right?  It's not as if music classes aren't still being offered.
The problem with this is that those remaining teachers now have a course load that is overwhelming.  They have the desire to give personalized instruction to our kids, but their ability to do so is severely limited because they now have to prepare for a much bigger course load.  One of the ways that teachers have traditionally provided more individualized instruction is through section rehearsals.  These are usually pull-out group lessons that occur on a rotating basis.  Sectionals are important because they allow the teachers to work with specific groups of students based on ability or instrument.  Now that some of our teachers have a much bigger course load, they no longer have the ability to teach sectionals.  So  . . . the same courses are offered, but the actual instruction given to our kids is not the same.  

How can we help?
1. Follow along with the budget process in your school district.

2.Take the time to attend a board of education meeting and/or work session.  Listen for any mention of the arts, music, or instructional positions.  Speak positively about the value of the arts at any opportunity.

3. Gather a concerned group of parents at your home school.  Meet with your music teacher and learn about how scheduling and staffing decisions are made at that school.  Does your music teacher need you to speak up on some issue?

4. Meet with your school administrators and respectfully let them know that there is strong community support for music.  Let them know that you appreciate the difficult job they have, especially in tough economic times like these; but be clear that music is an essential part of the curriculum.  Let them know that music courses should be scheduled in such a way that students have maximum access to them and that appropriate staffing should be allocated to give our kids the best possible music education.  

5. Encourage your kids (and friends) to stick with music.  Students often come home with the news that "music doesn't fit in my schedule."  Understand that if the school community makes the effort to schedule music in a positive way, it will fit in most students' schedules.  If the community doesn't communicate that this is a value to them, then the school may not make the extra effort to create a schedule that works.  Understand that when students drop out of music classes, this actually puts the teacher's job in jeopardy.  (This doesn't mean everyone should take music whether they like it or not . . . rather it means that all students who want to take music should have a legitimate way to make it fit into their schedules.)

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Five Things I Wish People Knew about Music Teachers

Music Teachers are my heroes!  They have a tough job and most people have absolutely no idea what music teachers actually do.  Truthfully, I didn't know either until I met my husband.

5. Music Teachers are trained professionals.
They actually have degrees in music education, music performance or another related field.  Many have advanced degrees and certifications in specific areas of music education.  Really?  There's an actual college major for being a music teacher?  Yes, indeed!

4.  Music teachers put a lot of planning into their lessons.
It might look like the band director is just waving his arms from the podium; but in reality, he (or she!) is reading multiple lines of music at the same time, keeping the beat, signaling different instrument groups to play, listening for correct notes and rhythms and making sure students are playing the right dynamics, too.  It's the ultimate multitasking and it doesn't come without preparation.

3.  Music teachers spend a lot of their own personal time managing the music program.
All teachers spend time outside of class planning, grading, serving on committees, etc.  But for some reason even fellow teachers tend to think their music colleagues have it easy.  After all, what papers are there to grade in music?  But music teachers spend their time recruiting students, repairing instruments, creating schedules for pull-out lessons, teaching after-school ensembles, planning field trips, managing booster groups, fundraising, arranging music, writing drill, setting up for concerts, negotiating with other teachers to "share" the kids . . . the list goes on.  Do music teachers have more to do than their counterparts in other subjects?  Perhaps not.  But they certainly don't have less.

2. Music teachers have to advocate to keep their jobs year after year.
Fortunately this is not true in every school, but sadly a lot of music teachers fear for their jobs every single year.  They have to prove their value again and again because too many administrators simply don't think the arts are as important as other subjects.  When there are difficult staffing decisions to be made, whose job is on the line?  You guessed it.  It's the arts teacher!  This is one of the reasons why music teachers spend so much time recruiting.  If they don't fill the seats in their classrooms, then music classes get cut and they are out of a job.  Unlike math, science, and language arts, there's no guarantee that students will enroll.

1.  Music Teachers love what they do.
I've met a lot of teachers and most of them enjoy what they do.  But the music teachers I have met . . . well . . . they LOVE what they do.  They work with the best, brightest, most creative kids and they get to make music.  (Excuse me if I feel a little envious . . .)

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Sir Ken Robinson, I'm your #1 Fan

Now that I have kids, plus a few years under my belt observing school dynamics, I am more convinced than ever that we need to adjust our whole mindset about education.  Nobody articulates this better than Sir Ken Robinson.

Have you heard of Sir Ken?  Read any of his books?  Watched his TED talks on youtube?   I'm not exaggerating when I say that my mind was racing after watching this animation about changing education paradigms.   So much of his message resonates with people, and it's all delivered with humor and belief in the best possibilities of students everywhere. (Thanks to the RSA for this animation.)

What do you think?

Monday, November 14, 2011

Stop the Madness

Stop the madness!  It’s what I want to say every time I speak with an administrator, board of ed member or any person who is part of the decision-making machine of our school system.  I just cannot fathom how anyone could not intuitively understand the inherent value of the arts as part of a balanced education.

For the past twelve years, I’ve been married to a high school band director.  It has been eye-opening to see the work that goes into being an effective music teacher.  There’s a lot more to it than being the guy who stands in front of the band and waves his arms until the music stops.

It has also been eye-opening to see just how many administrators really don’t understand music education.  They don’t realize the impact that some of their seemingly benign decisions have on the arts.  Many of them grew up in an era when arts education was already losing ground.  They don’t know another way.

We hear so much that the purpose of public education is to prepare students for college and careers.  This statement gives me pause on two counts.  First, what about careers in the arts?  There’s an enormous industry dedicated to entertaining people, yet our school system doesn’t recognize any value in preparing students for arts careers.  We don’t go through a single day without hearing music in some form, but the task of creating music isn’t important enough to make it an essential part of our schools.  Ironic, isn’t it?

Second, are we really just preparing students for college and careers?  I was under the impression that we are supposed to be preparing them for LIFE.  Human beings are worth so much more than just what we do.  In other words, don’t we each have value apart from our jobs?   We tell kids to find their passion, but we make it awfully difficult for them to do so by narrowing the curriculum and implying that certain subjects have more value than others.  If your passion doesn’t fit the mold, then it’s wrong.

What’s wrong is taking these amazing, creative, gifted young people and funneling them into a system that devalues their uniqueness.   

What’s wrong is standing on the sidelines watching it happen and leaving the work of advocacy to others.