Kevin Kelly of Wired gives a TED Talk on the history of technology. This is a "must watch" for anyone who thinks they understand what technology is, where it has been, and where it is going. It is especially pertinent for music educators who can't get any technology funding unless it involves a computer or something else that "plugs in." We must learn how to educate the holders of the purse strings so they understand how something like Remo's Renaissance Hazy timpani heads represent a technological advancement that changes the learning environment for the better, or proper acoustical treatment of a rehearsal room.
This Friday I will be speaking to music education majors at my undergraduate alma mater.
I'm not looking forward to it.
That may sound odd, but it's true. When I taught at the college level I was passionate about the need for undergraduate students to take Philosophy of Music Education. I spent the better part of the semester unpacking the assumptions that music education majors bring to college, most of those assumptions being formulated (naturally) by their own high school experiences. By the end of the semester I was hopeful that some of them had at least considered a different way of viewing their future profession. I would routinely tell them that many of things we discussed would not "click" until they were in the field, occasionally during student teaching but more likely a few years into the profession. In this "why do I need to know this" generation, this requires a massive amount of trust, trust that I cultivated over time. Planting those seeds that would take root years later was essential and as I said it took many weeks of persistent, thought provoking questioning and dialog, not to mention a continued follow up in subsequent years. Many college faculty members think that philosophy should be reserved for graduate study. I think that is far too late, but sadly most undergraduates across the nation do not take such a course.
So this week I will have about one hour to "enlighten" a group of music education majors, one hour to somehow make a lasting difference. It seems one of the main reasons for inviting me was my 25 Things About Teaching Music and Education. That article is a summation of everything I've learned and been thinking about for the past twenty years. Any one of the twenty five points is worth several hours of discussion by itself. You see my dilemma.
If you've done any amount of presentation work, you know how to do the magic tricks that get everyone engaged, laughing a little, and leaving an hour later with good feelings..... that rarely turn into lasting change. That doesn't interest me. In this one hour session with what I'm sure is a typical got-it-all-figured-out, mainly (like myself) trumpet-playing music ed. group, I'll be lucky to get one point to stick with them. So what should that be?
Well, for those participants who read this post before Friday, you're getting a sneak peak (not to mention proving yourselves by doing some preparation prior to the discussion). What I want to talk about is this: The way that most music education majors arrive at the decision to become music teachers is diametrically opposed to the reality of what most public school students need.
Great, that should be a very inspiring talk.
But the facts are the facts. If you look at the way most high school music programs are structured, they consistently reward the very "best" music students.
Students sit in chair order from strongest to weakest.
Students who get a first place at solo contest are given medals, certificates, or trophies.
The Drum Majors are heralded and given (oftentimes too much) teaching responsibility over their peers.
Each spring the "senior soloist" performs (usually with a very weak accompaniment from the band or orchestra), and the audience is informed that this senior will be attending such-and-such university and will major in music education. Everyone nods knowingly. The inspired student heads off to college, taking all of those experiences with them, and is typically met by faculty members that taught a little public school (usually five years or so) before leaving to pursue their dream of teaching at the collegiate level. This leaves the music education major in a situation where their beliefs about how music programs should be approached go largely unchallenged, as their former high school teachers usually have far more practical experience than most professors. Five years later (even though you were told it would be four) the student emerges ready to go out and create a near carbon-copy of their high school program that will inspire and empower the few, producing one or two future music educators per year and garnering accolades for the program. And so it goes. The problem?
What about the other ninety five percent of the students?
Are we really supposed to be in the business of gearing our programs to the top five percent? To read that statement it simply rings as ridiculous. Yet that is exactly what happens more often than not.
It's always interesting when my own graduates go off to college and send me an email that usually includes a statement like "everyone here was a drum major" or "I'm surrounded by people I saw at All State last year." Right. Young people who are inspired to teach music usually get to that point because of the wonderful opportunities they had. They rose to the top, they achieved, they loved it. It makes perfect sense. The problem is that we are perpetuating a cycle whereby music programs are designed to inspire and reward the few. As teachers we know that the main purpose of public school music is not to prepare students to be music educators. How could it be? At most only five percent of our graduates will enter the profession, and even then there are not enough jobs to go around.
Out of the remaining ninety five percent of the students, the vast majority will never perform again after high school. What exactly are those students getting that makes our class invaluable? Are we focusing our attention there, both in the profession and in our college methods courses? Or are we continuing to buy into the thought that as long as the band, orchestra, or choir is "successful" that the experience will be meaningful to the lower ninety five percent automatically?
Music education majors need to grapple with this subject if they are going to be able to break the cycle of teaching to the top, and get focused on the learning of all students, especially the "lower" ninety five percent. Music education needs to be relevant and meaningful now more than ever before.
So that's what I'm going to be talking about. Wish me luck.
Below is the audio of a short speech by Jack Stamp regarding the importance of music education, specifically as it relates to pursuing perfection (though he doesn't use that term). I've talked about excellence as the consistent pursuit of perfection in a previous blog post. Where else in education are students experiencing this? Isn't it essential that students learn the importance of interdependent excellence? I think it is.
Over the years I've known quite a few music education majors, whether they were students in my college philosophy class, former public school students of mine, or student teachers that I have mentored. One thing I started to notice was that most of them experienced a phase during college whereupon they would be giving serious consideration to abandoning their career before even giving it a try. They had somehow determined that they should do something (anything?) else. There is a powerful wave of doubt that creeps into their thinking, sometimes resulting in drastic changes like dropping out of school or changing their major to something completely foreign. I've dubbed this wave of doubt the Little Voice, although that can be misleading because the Little Voice is not so little. Where does this doubt come from?
It comes from fear.
When it comes right down to it, being responsible for educating hundreds or even thousands of children over a career can be a scary proposition. Music education majors are so busy taking so many classes (for so little credit) that the future isn't something they have had much time to think about. So I believe that there are periods of anxiety that arise whereby entering the profession feels completely wrong. We all went through it, in fact I've started to think that the more you've worried about it, the better teacher you might become. It's ironic to say the least, but sensing the responsibility can seem too much to bear, yet being able to sense it is integral to becoming an effective teacher.
When you are a student, it's all about you, so conversely when you become a teacher it needs to be all about the students. The problem is, that is a completely counter-intuitive mindset for education majors, and when it hits them, it hits hard. Education majors like being students. The thought of leaving the student role one day and being responsible for students the next day is both uncomfortable and frightening. Logic has a way of going out the window at times like these. Even though these students have been preparing for this career for years, and been musicians for half of their lives or longer, leaving the comfort zone of being a student can be paralyzing. As a result, going into an entirely unknown profession can now seem like a rational decision. Or suddenly teaching 60 private students a week for the rest of your life rather than standing in front of an ensemble sounds like the better alternative. Like I said, the Little Voice is very, very powerful.
The Little Voice starts its attack at different times. It might be during an observation, during practicums, or just prior to student teaching. The Little Voice starts telling students that they aren't good enough, aren't fully prepared, really shouldn't be doing this. The Little Voice tells them that they've "lost the passion to teach" and kids "don't deserve to have someone in front of them who isn't passionate." Then, even more insidiously, it starts to tell them that they would be really good at something else. The next thing you know they are looking to transfer or "take some time off." If they get that far, it's probably over. Another potentially great teacher lost to the Little Voice.
I don't think a year has passed within the last decade where I have not had a "Little Voice Discussion" with one or more college students. More and more I'm initiating the discussions as I've learned to see the telltale signs. It's important to have the discussion before these students make drastic, often completely illogical decisions about their future. What do I say to them in this quasi-intervention?
I tell them to stifle the Little Voice. I help them to realize that abandoning something they have been working towards for so many years makes no sense whatsoever. I try to help them to admit that it's not about losing the passion to be a teacher, it is about simple fear. If they can admit they are afraid, they can start to realize that fear makes you do stupid things, like give up on everything you've worked towards. It also helps them to hear that so many education majors go through this. It's OK to worry, what isn't OK is throwing everything away before you find out if you can do this.
The Little Voice has a crafty way of making you think that people who are cut out for the profession have no doubts. That just isn't true. We all had doubts, and overcoming them is part of the process. Student teaching is a time where you realize that you can do this. The challenge is shutting down the Little Voice so you can get to the student teaching experience. And no, it isn't the same as practicums and no, it isn't the same as some bitter and burned-out teacher you observed. Stick it out, you'll see. And if I'm wrong, well at least you know based on some actual teaching experience.
So for all of the music ed. majors out there whom I have not had the pleasure to know, please learn to recognize the Little Voice for what it is, and stifle it. You have worked too hard to give up now. I'm not saying that everyone is ultimately cut out for this profession, but I am saying that almost nobody under the age of 22 has any clue if they are cut out for this profession until they get in there and find out. See it through, you owe it to yourself, and frankly your future students need you.
Here is a graphic I made using aviary.com, a free image creator/editor. You are welcome to download it. I couldn't find one that had all the information I like, plus I wanted one that was dark for use on the LCD screen.
The president of Harvard indicated that J.K. Rowling was invited to speak because of the way she inspired so many young people "to experience the excitement and sheer joy of reading." Implicit in that statement is the creativity she possesses. Young people (and old, by the way) did not embrace reading so much as they embraced the story of Harry Potter.
Persistence and commitment to the creative process is the future. I wonder if the president of Harvard caught that.
This morning I was doing some searching for sms-based online polling (clickers are too expensive and oh-so-20th century). PollEverywhere looks great, but I also happened to stumble on this notification service called SendGM. It does basic polling, but its real forte is notification.
You enter contact information into your account, and from there you can assign the contacts to any combination of groups. The real power comes in the types of notifications that SendGM can provide. It will send any combination of email, sms, and text-to-voice notifications based on the contact info for each person. You can also request replies from the contacts (hence the polling feature).
The free account handles up to 25 users, but the next level (100) is only $79 per year. Not bad. I like that it is a more private, controlled, and flexible system than Twitter. This could be the ultimate school group notification system, especially for travel.
Recently I wrote about the Sony Blutetooth receiver/transmitter. One thing that I don't like about using Bluetooth is the latency. For example, I have a midi keyboard as part of my teaching station and I really can't use it to play in time because the Bluetooth is delayed. Audio is therefore also out of sync if I project videos from the LCD projector that is on my cart.
This solution does not use Bluetooth so you can't pair your iPhone or Touch to it, but if you use a recording/teaching cart and want to funnel the output of your D/A converter wirelessly to your stereo, this looks like a great solution. It was designed for allowing guitarists to go wireless, as well as an in-ear monitoring system, so the latency specs (under six milliseconds) are excellent. These units can also run off an internal rechargeable battery for about five hours. $99 bucks, and you'll need two. Range of almost 50 feet, so better than Bluetooth in that regard as well.
This video from Harvard physics professor Eric Mazur will take just over an hour of your time. When I think about concepts like key signatures, rhythm, and even something as fundamental as how an ensemble/conductor relationship "works," I'm left with little choice but to reconsider age old assumptions and practices. Set aside the time to watch this video. His candor and self awareness is refreshing.