30 Day Blog Challenge Day 2

Day 2: What do you believe is your greatest strength as a teacher?

What’s the saying about “man’s best-laid plans?” One of the best lessons I learned in Student Teaching was that a well-thought out lesson plan will sometimes go south. That half of your students will be on a trip. They aren’t picking up something as quickly as you hoped. You weren’t informed about a fire drill. Someone tries to throw a chair.

I think one of my biggest strengths as a teacher is my ability to adapt to unusual circumstances and be flexible in my teaching and planning. As a student teacher I worked with four very different cooperating teachers, and an ever-changing landscape of student interactions. Many days my plans were fine and I think I taught some great lessons during student teaching. But there were certainly times where things did not go according to plan.

It’s easy to get frustrated. To let the students talk until the bell, to play a simple game. Certainly better planning is needed, but in those moments, when my best-laid plans have been laid waste (even by a Kindergartener!), I find that I figure it out. I don’t know if it’s intuition, training, or sheer luck, but the teacher in me comes out. You find ways to make it work and meet the students where they are.

Is it always perfect? Of course not. During one of my supervisor observations I realized I had not properly pre-assessed the knowledge of a group of late elementary students and had to completely revise my plan, but I saw their frustration and didn’t try to charge forward with my plan. It seems like such a small thing, but I recognize now that it was an important moment in my teaching. I messed up, recognized it in the students, and fixed it on the spot.

So my greatest strength as a teacher right now is flexibility (and content knowledge, and pedagogy, and student relationships, and a bunch of other principle friendly lingo). Maybe one day my planning will catch up to my teaching, but until then, I know I can adapt and adjust to any situation those students can throw at me!

30 Day Blog Challenge Day 1

Day 1: How did you decide to become a teacher?

When I started college I was a pre-seminary student pursuing an undergraduate degree in Vocal Performance. During my sophomore year, I decided to drop the seminary certificate and pursue education as a career.

Photograph of The Boxcar Children books on a shelf.

I loved The Boxcar Children books as a kid! Will need to find a set before I have children of my own! Creative Commons License 2011, janielle23, http://www.flickr.com/photos/janellie23/5557021621/

I’ve always loved school. In elementary school I would have my father drive me to school early to get everything ready and make sure I was prepared for the day’s learning. I’ve always loved to read. We joke in my family that my mother once collapsed in the library while pregnant with me, and that I’ve loved to read ever since. I’ve always loved music. I remember standing and singing in my classes at my first elementary school and being told I had one of the best voices in the class.

But I’m not a teacher because I love school, because I love to read, or because I love music. I’m a teacher because I believe education is the place that I can best make a change in this world. Teaching is the most fulfilling work I’ve ever done, and I’ve only been a student teacher! There’s something incredible about making music with students and helping them find their voice and their song.

As a student teacher I worked at two different schools, with four different cooperating teachers, and with close to 700 students from grades K-12. I will never remember all of them. But I will remember that it was there that I discovered my love for teaching. It was not a chore to get up in the morning and drive 30 minutes to school with coffee in hand.

Instead, I greeted my students cheerfully (even at 7am!) and asked how their weekend was, or how the One-Act was coming along. I decided to become a teacher because I think I already was a teacher. When I wanted to be a pastor, I was drawn to the teaching aspects of the office.

Keep Calm and Teach On

Copyright 2012 Ashley Kipp at Simply Designing http://simplydesigning.blogspot.com/

As I wrote in my post, Teacher to Student, I have felt a great loss in my transition back to being a college student. I don’t receive the same fulfillment as I did during student teaching. But a bit of that spark comes back each time I browse the classifieds of districts I’m hoping to apply for, and I look forward to the day when I have students of my own again.

I guess I never did really decide to become a teacher. Instead, I chose a major and teaching found me along the way. I’ll never look back.

 

Happy Graduation, C: My experience with special education in musical ensembles

While student teaching, I met a wide variety of students from future music educators to students in Special Education. I’ve already written about one of those students in this post, and I’ve been thinking about another student, who I will refer to as C, a lot in the last few weeks.

C was in the Women’s Chorus at my second student teaching placement. She is a high school senior graduating in May. A very kind student who gave every ounce of effort she had in every rehearsal. C is wheel-chair bound and has limited muscle and breathing control. During most rehearsals, her para would write down the words to the piece of music we were working with and sometimes sing along.

C would rarely sing in rehearsal, but would sing out with joy at concert time. My first day of student teaching there was a concert day for the choir, and I noticed C’s voice and effort immediately.

As I worked with C and the other young ladies of the Women’s Chorus, I saw a great deal of progress in all the students. But C began to sing more often, trying her best to initiate each line with the rest of the choir, even if she was not able to sustain singing or match pitch.

On my last day of teaching, I sat with C and her Para, J, for a while and chatted about the time I had spent at the school. C will graduate from high school about when I will graduate from college.

Few students have impacted me and my outlook on teaching like this one girl with a big heart, and few students have convinced me of the vital role of special education in schools.

Not only did C have the awesome experience of learning and performing music with the choir, but the rest of the choir interacted with C on a daily basis. Furthermore, my experience in that classroom changed the way I teach and the way I interact with students at all ability levels.

I have an incredible opportunity as a music teacher to give students opportunities that their status in life, be it economic, academic, or even physical, often limit. All students involved (especially the student teacher) were edified and bettered by her presence in the classroom. Much could be said about inclusion/mainstreaming in our nations classrooms, but I will always strive to welcome students of all kinds into my ensembles and classrooms that they might discover this strange thing called music.

So, happy graduation C! Good luck with your last semester of high school, and I hope that you will find as much joy in life as you did on that stage during the winter concert.

Teacher to Student (Ninja Skills?)

Tomorrow is my last day of Student Teaching.

Over the last four months, I have taught about 700 students from grades K-12 in Band, Chorus, and General Music. I have worked with four cooperating teachers, four administrators, and four schools. I taught in both public and parochial settings, with both experienced and relatively young teachers.

More than all of that, I’ve become accustomed to being a teacher. I’m no longer a college student studying music education, but an active music educator with varied experiences that inform my active teaching. I woke up most mornings and really looked forward to my day of making music with young people!

For me, the transition from student to teacher was easy. I’m far more worried about the transition that starts tomorrow at the 3:13 bell. The space of not-teaching between student teaching and my first teaching position scares me far more than a class of menacing 7th grade chorus students. The limbo of joblessness will haunt me for the next few months (hopefully very few!)

On the other hand, there are a few things about student life that I’m very much looking forward to:

  • Pleasure reading
  • Seeing my close friends who were also student teaching
  • Off-Days
  • Sleeping In
  • Being in Choir
  • Being in Band
  • Voice lessons

PS: My cooperating teacher told me today that a few of the seventh grade boys were impressed by my “ninja skills” when another student tried to throw a chair a few weeks ago. I value student assessments of my teaching very highly.

NMEA 2012 Day 2: I Miss My Students?!

Only a struggling young teacher would be this excited about a book with a title like, “Classroom Management in the Music Room: Pin-drop quiet rehearsals and classes.”

Of all the really great sessions and performances I saw today (including a stunning performance by the University of Nebraska – Omaha’s Symphonic Wind Ensemble), my favorite was by far David Newell’s extremely practical, common sense approach to classroom management.

After the last few weeks of middle school choir and band, I was on the prowl for the best resources, strategies, and techniques for managing large numbers of middle school students. As soon as I saw the title of the session (the pin-drop quiet part seemed excessive), I knew I had to be there! Thankfully, we sat down just before they started turning away people due to capacity concerns.

I took pages of notes in Evernote, recorded audio of the whole session, and had to track down someone else’s copy of the handout to take a picture of it! I intend to purchase the book as soon as it is released. I don’t want to say too much, because I think Mr. Newell deserves every penny and ounce of credit for creating such a fantastic resource, but he managed to take the classroom management techniques I had heard described for years in college education courses and apply them to the specific challenges of music classrooms.

I can’t recommend his management sessions strongly enough, and I’m sure his work on teaching rhythm is just as fantastic. In fact, that will be some great reading while I await the publication of his new book.

One more day of professional development tomorrow including performances by my own Concordia University Nebraska Wind Ensemble, the Doane College Choir, and a Nebraska Choral Directors reading session and conducting/Alexander Technique Workshop with Dr. Courtney Snyder of the University of Nebraska Omaha (whose conducting took my breath away at the UNO performance mentioned above).

One more day of meeting professional educators as a young teacher, not just a student. My cooperating teacher was awarded the chair for Middle Level education, and it was great to meet some of his colleagues throughout the state, as well as various clinicians and professionals from the state and the nation (including current national NAfME president, Nancy Ditmer and the president-elect).

One more day of affirming experiences that remind me that I have chosen/been chosen for a profession that I believe in so strongly and love so much. In fact, all of this talking about teaching music has made me almost miss seeing my students (which is almost masochism at this point).

I know I’m not a master teacher yet by any means. But I know that the Mr. Jensen that will stand before his students on Monday is not the same Mr. Jensen they have known for the last 4 weeks. It’s a new day, and I’m ready to make music.

NMEA 2012 Day 1: “Real Teacher”

MENC logo

MENC logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Not Christmas (which I do love), but conference week! Today was the first day of the Nebraska Music Educators Association (NMEA) conference in Lincoln, NE. This is my 3rd or 4th year attending, and I have looked forward to it every year.

 

Today, collegiate sessions included a keynote address by National Association for Music Education (NAfME) national president Nancy Ditmer about the transition from student to teacher. It was amazing how many of her comments I found supported my experiences as a student teacher!

 

My favorite session of the day, however, was a panel with eight or nine young teachers about what teaching is like. I love talking with young teachers, and really enjoyed hearing the perspective of these teachers who have been teaching for a few years! I got some fantastic advice about middle school classroom management with large numbers of music students!

 

Mostly, I enjoyed a day of talking about music education with my peers and hearing about best practice for music education from working teachers in a variety of settings. Conferences always provide solid strategies for behavior management and interventions, conducting technique, and teaching in the challenging field of music education.

 

I’m looking forward to full days of performances and sessions over the next few days of conference! The closer I get to being a “real teacher,” the more serious I take these conferences. When asking about the middle school management issues, I had real live human beings in mind, not just the concept of a difficult classroom.

 

That’s the thing that student teaching offers that no practicum experience, class simulation, or case study could ever prepare you for: you are responsible for the musical success and education of young people.

 

It’s terrifying.

 

It is the best job in the world.

 

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Student Teaching v.2, Weeks 1-3: The Joys of Choir and Middle School!

Three weeks ago, I began my second student teaching placement in a small-town school district teaching band and choir at both the middle school and high school. My previous placement was at a private school in a moderately sized city teaching K-12 and a variety of classes.

So far, I love it! I’m more convinced than ever that music education is wh   ere I’m supposed to be, and I wake every morning excited to go to school and see my students. My first placement, was mostly general music and band, so I’m thrilled to be working with choirs again!

I’m working with the women’s chorus on two pieces: Carol of the Bells (which they were very excited to see when I was pulling music), and an arrangement of the torch Bring a Torch, Jeanette, Isabella (which I felt would be a gorgeous carol for women’s chorus). The girls struggle with many of the musical concepts, but are willing to try things and laugh with me! Well, they probably think I’m a little off my rocker, but that comes with the territory.

I’m also working with the high school concert choir on an arrangement of Joy to the World and the Hallelujah Chorus, as well as “The Twelve Days After Christmas” with the men’s chorus.

On the band side of things, I assist with the concert band and will begin conducting a piece that my CT will give me this week. In addition, I am conducting a jazz band of my very own which I will post more about in a separate update! I’m attempting some more creative things with that group that I’ve never really seen or tried before!

On the middle school side, things are a little more challenging. Middle school students are a subject that my teacher education program never could have really prepared me for. I love them. They are incredibly challenging, and test the limits of both my creativity and my temper almost every day. They range from students yelling and throwing chairs to a boy asking me if I had ever been bullied when I was in middle school.

One of the more successful strategies for middle school I have found is the sound monitoring iPad app Too Noisy, which provides a simple classroom sound meter that can be adjusted for sensitivity. The students of each class named the smiley face and the objective became to keep George/Rupert/Alfred/Antonio happy! After a few days of distraction, it has become fairly effective at keeping general noise levels down.

There is a lot to be said about my experience over the last two weeks, and I hope to update with some more in-depth posts about the methodologies I’ve tried and observed as well as the experiences I have had. More than anything, I am thrilled to be teaching in a school that supports the music program, as well as an administration that is generally very supportive of the arts (and student teachers)!

Personally, life has been a bit hectic since my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer! Surgery is scheduled for Friday, and your thoughts and prayers are certainly appreciated.

 

TSWBAT: What do I want my students to do?

Last week, I read Thomas J. West’s excellent post at Alfred Leger Lines blog, “What Should Every Graduating Senior in a Performing Arts Program Should Be Able To Do?”

Mr. West outlines four primary goals for all of his ensemble students by the time they graduate. These include high proficiency on their primary instrument, improvisation over basic chord changes (not only in jazz), composition of a four-part quartet for their primary instrument, and the ability to record, mix, edit, and master audio.

As a pre-service teacher in my professional semester, the thought of teaching students to do one of those things in 4 years is daunting enough. I’d love to see more of Mr. West’s curriculum and how he puts this into action!

What I’ve realized, though, is how important skills like these are for a life of rich music experiences. This last week, I introduced a fifth grade band to solfege and we began to use it to read and listen to music. It was more than playing exercises in their method books. These students were beginning to make music! Sure, there’s not a lot of lasting quality in having students play the chorus to “That’s What Makes You Beautiful” by One Direction, but they were making music and loving it!

At the end of the day, I want to know that my students can do more than join a community choir or municipal band, but be active music-makers and partake in a musically productive life!

My work as a music educator is more than putting on programs for parents, and more than making great music with students. My work as a music educator is to make musicians! The goals Mr. West lays out do just that!

I don’t know how I will survive my student teaching or first year of teaching, but eventually, these will be my goals. To build in students the desire and ability to create music of their own.