Monday, October 26, 2015
IN THIS ISSUE:
After witnessing some outstanding performances by Class 1 and Class 2 bands at recent music educator annual conventions, two questions have presented themselves:
As an educator who spent 31 years teaching in Class 2 and Class 3 school systems in Missouri, I have some definite opinions in regard to these questions but wanted to reach out to colleagues who have invested their careers in small schools to get their response.
In regard to the first question, two responses (in one form or another) seem to be a consensus. First, to build a successful program at any level you must always demand excellence from yourself. This means you have to become a lifelong learner. It also requires being honest with yourself about your strengths and weaknesses. NONE OF US KNOW HOW TO DO EVERYTHING WELL. To turn your weaknesses into strengths requires hard work. Do your reading and research, take extra course work if possible, attend workshops and MOST Of ALL, seek advice from respected colleagues. If there is one mistake I see most often from young directors, it is not asking for help or advice from experienced directors who have developed and maintained outstanding programs. Secondly, don't sell your kids short. All too often, students from small school bands are looked down on as 'second class citizens.' You have to know and believe that the students in your program are just as capable as those in any other band program at any other school. Just as you demand excellence from yourself, you should expect the same from them. We all teach students with varying ability levels, but every student we teach has potential and your goal is to help them realize that potential and achieve it. Whether that is successfully performing the third clarinet part on a concert piece or auditioning for district or all-state band, set realistic but challenging goals for every student you have.
Now in regard to the second question, is it worth your time to stay and build a strong program in that small school or should you simply look at it as a stepping stone to something 'bigger and better?' A part of that decision will ultimately depend on the support of your community and your administration. You can generally win over one with the support of the other, but it is hard to overcome a lack of both. This is where you have to exercise your salesmanship skills. Your enthusiasm and hard work can become contagious, and will go a long way towards winning this battle. Remember, as the saying goes, Rome wasn't built in a day. Your advantage is that you get to develop a relationship with and have an influence on students (and their parents) from the first day they pick up an instrument until they graduate (and beyond in many cases). If you are in a smaller school and have the whole music program, that influence begins the first day of kindergarten. Which brings us to the rewarding part of all that time you have vested, seeing that clarinet or trumpet student who you taught how to play their first note, sitting in the all district or all state band, or perhaps standing on the podium in front of their own band. I truly believe band students in small schools deserve to have outstanding directors just as much as those in larger districts.
It is a challenging task to take on, but the good news is that you don't have to do it alone. Take advantage of the resources you have available to you. That's why all the former band directors on the road staff here at Palen Music are still doing what we are doing.
I am making available complete responses from all the directors who contributed. If you will email me at [email protected] I will share to a Dropbox or send you a copy. I would also like to thank Chris Sprague from Bradleyville for a Quick Note article on this subject dated March 3, 2014. I have included part of her recent presentation at the MMEA Mentoring Conference.