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Palen Music Center Quick Note

Monday, March 3, 2014

Palen Music Center is dedicated to helping children experience excellence, personal growth, and joy through involvement in music. We carry out this mission by supporting area band directors through weekly service, support, educational programs, and quality products. This weekly Quick Note newsletter strives to highlight topics that are immediately helpful in the classroom. Comments, suggestions, ideas, and articles are always welcome.

Looking for help on a particular topic? Be sure to check out our Quick Note Catalog of back issues!

Why I Teach In A Small School - Part Two by Chris Sprague

I asked Chris Sprague from Bradleyville to write a follow-up to the article she wrote last year about why she chose to stay in a small school (Here is a link to that article.) There was such great response from folks about that article, and an overwhelming reaction to Bradleyville's fantastic MMEA performance that I thought she should share some more thoughts about success in a small school. Teachers at schools of all sizes will find benefit in reading what Chris wrote here. Enjoy the article and let us know how we can best assist you as this year winds down and preparation for next year ramps up! Be well, friends! -- Mike Steffen

It’s hard to believe that it has been a month since our performance at the MMEA convention.  It has been quite a journey for my students and for me.  It was a life-changing experience, and I highly recommend that you apply at least once in your teaching career.  It will truly recharge your thinking on why we do what we do. 

I want to thank each one of you for your kind words about our performance.  The response has been overwhelming.  I never knew there were so many teachers in small schools who have the same feelings of inadequacy that I have!  It only makes sense…who in their right mind would insist a math teacher teach K-12 math?  And yet, that is what we ask of music teachers in small schools.  In so many cases the teachers in small schools are our most inexperienced colleagues, yet they are expected to know how to teach all the disciplines and all the age levels.  It’s no wonder so many struggle and eventually leave those jobs.  Some leave the profession entirely! Many are afraid to ask for help, which is exactly what they need to be doing.  I STILL ask for help, even after twenty-two years in this profession!  That being said, I really appreciate those of you who have reached out to me asking how we do things in our district.  I am by no means an expert, but perhaps I can share some things that might help you.

First, and foremost, you have to give yourself a break.  NO ONE can know everything about teaching elementary music, choir, band, general music and everything else you have to teach in a small school, especially when you are first starting out in your teaching career.  As long as you are planning quality lessons the majority of the time, it won’t hurt one class to watch a video while you keep your head above water in the other classes.  

Second, pick the brain of more experienced teachers every chance you get.  None of us know it all, so beg, borrow and steal any idea that will help you in your classroom.  Most of us in this profession want to share ideas that have been successful for us because we want to keep quality teachers in the classroom.  Go to every convention you can, and attend every clinic you can while you are there.  Rarely have I been to a clinic where I didn’t find at least one idea I can use.  Bring in guest clinicians, friends, local musicians. Rarely have folks turned me down when I ask them to do a clinic.  People want to help!  Sometimes you just hear things that remind you of things you used to do, but have gotten out of the habit of doing for one reason or another. 

Finally, you don’t have to do things by yourself.  Your parents WANT to help.  I have finally learned to turn lots of those things I thought I had to do myself over to parents.  They can organize food for fund raisers, take care of getting T-shirts for your groups, etc., the possibilities are endless.  Get your students involved, as well.  I used to think I was responsible for every detail for every performance or trip for the band, while trying to choose music for the choir and making lesson plans for the elementary classes all at the same time.  Invariably I would be sucking down Maalox by the gallon the closer we came to an event!  (Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating a bit, but it was highly stressful trying to keep track of EVERY little detail.) I finally began assigning various jobs to my students.  For example, when we travel to large ensemble contest, each person is in charge of a piece of equipment besides their own horn.  Since employing this strategy nothing has been left behind and I am able to hang on to more of my own sanity.

As we are preparing for large ensemble contest, spring concerts, and the numerous performances for the end of the year always remember how privileged we are to have the opportunity to change the lives of children.  

If I can be of assistance in any way, don’t hesitate to contact me.  [email protected].   Best wishes for the rest of the year! 

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