Nurture is All Around

Standing outside with a little stop sign in front of the school twice a week, I keep the traffic from running down our young students using the crosswalk.  Inevitably though, during my twenty minute extra job, there are vehicles parked in areas not designated as parking spaces.  We have a drop off area, a bus area, and a fairly large parking lot that fills for big events, but never the morning routine.  Despite this thought out design, parents continue to park on those dashed areas between handicap spaces and at the end of the rows of spaces, blocking an area often used to walk safely over to the crosswalk.  After several conversations, I have resorted to placing cones in two of the closer areas so students and parents can walk to the crosswalk without venturing into traffic.

I see your goal is to be known as “that guy.”

These moments bring to mind a clear thought.  The social experiment, the nurturing experience that is the education system does not end at the students or the buildings.  The phrase “It takes a village” speaks volumes to the impact an environment has on the development of our next generations.  Those parents ignoring basic rules to keep us safe and the actions taken by other individuals while kids observe affects their perception of the world.  The teacher who sends a student to the office for continuous disruptive behavior only to have their decision second-guessed or reversed has an influence.  Children staying up late at night or watching shows and games with ideas they could easily misunderstand, has an affect.  Schools disintegrating programs for creative pursuits in favor of more math or reading classes to deal with pressure to perform on tests that will determine their funding.  The factors add up, positive or negative, they add up.  Then what about the high school who has the largest football program that supports its members playing in the marching band?  Or schools like Montessori that encourage exploration as an essential skill, what impact do they have?  KIPP charter schools, an inner city effort set up like a boarding school.  Parents who actively push their children to complete assignments and support the efforts of the teacher.  In the end, we are molded by our experiences, good or bad.  The biggest skill we can learn is to be aware that our actions impact the world, however small.  Our actions can change the world.

As a student, as a parent, or as one of the few working in a school, we have been molded by our experiences amidst the education system.  With either immense frustration or fond memories, or daily stories of student activity, we talk and talk about education.  Since our primary experience with education is as a student, there are so many sides of the issue that are simply lost having not been exposed.  Teachers and anyone working directly with students are at the forefront.

Averaging around a 23:1 student to teacher ratio at my school, it is far different from what one would anticipate.  Each student is tracked regularly for performance in specific areas while trying to attain the data to attract grants, recognition, and “better” students and teachers.  It is a funny process rarely recognized for the complexities and variables but is quickly criticized for anyone slipping through.  True, it is difficult to objectively measure effectiveness without some statistical data, however, I do question the push for more means of proving knowledge while taking away time for instruction.  Flipping the focus of education from students to numbers.  What is the impact of that?

What of those “elective” courses like art, P.E., music, woodworking, cooking, sewing?  What skills are we missing by pushing these experiences aside?  In public elementary schools, there are usually just a few that students are rotated through; art, P.E., music, and library.  So in essence, each of those teachers are expected to work with and individually track every student of every grade level in the school.  That includes for me, preparing two hundred of them for an exam that will determine my pay grade within an instruction window of 45 minutes once a week, occasionally twice.  Hmm, I wonder how effective that is, yet that is the expectation and becoming the norm.  Five hundred fifty students to one teacher.

Perhaps this seems a lengthy complaint.  Not so.  I really do enjoy seeing the variety of development stages, working to meet those needs.  It is a unique experience and a position with a great deal of responsibility.  I aim to fill each of those 45 minutes with as much as I can.  This is more a public statement to shed light on a bit of those inner workings we were never truly aware of as a student or often as a parent.  A little empathy can go a long way to understanding the next step toward the effective, positive education of our youth.

Choose the impact you want to make in the world because you have an influence in the lives of others.  And maybe stop parking in places that impede those around you 😛


I Can Do That!

The weeks pass by and I feel more tired at the end of each. The biggest drain is simply trying to provide the energy level the kids need to be engaged. They are curious and excited, bottles bursting with emotions they may not understand and cannot always control.

My favorite part of class is at the beginning (unless we have to keep practicing sitting quietly). We listen to different varieties of music with a video performance and we discuss features of the music. First graders to fifth graders all have something to say about what they are listening to. Each day I am surprised by some of the responses. “This made me miss my uncle who just passed away.” “This is like Tarzan with lots of drums in the jungle!” “There were lots of forte and piano sections.” The kids want to be heard and as we learn more musical terms, I hope they will recognize more of those traits along with the more personal connections.

A moment that sticks out to me from this week came yesterday and has actually happened several times now. During a discussion about the music we were listening to, a student said “I can do that!” The initial response from other students and even myself was, “No, I don’t think so.” It is disappointing I let it go in that direction.

What if instead of saying, “No, you can’t,” we responded with, “Sure you can, I’ll show you how to get there!” The tone we interpret as egotistic or unappreciative to the time it takes is really just an interest in doing the same thing. We play some percussion instruments in music class. When we are watching a percussion ensemble a student recognizes that they are already working on those basic skills, it is terrific to hear that they may want to continue learning.

“Music is the art of thinking with sounds.” —– Jules Combarieu

The next step in this process is in planning. What can I do to provide more opportunities to practice those skills? More recorders? Other instruments and singing? So far the routine for my lessons has helped to create a good template to work with, but there is only so much time. I keep coming back to time and energy. Students need time to explore and practice to feel successful, multiple chances to try, and more than a couple ways to explain the information for it to really sink in. I have forty-five minutes every fourth school day with each group. It makes the process take longer, not to mention management. There is also the curriculum dictated by the district the kids will be tested on in a purely written setting.

Music, like many subjects, is a practice. The more often and with regularity we are using the information and skills, the better we can be. Besides the obvious benefits and engrossing parts of learning musical skills, music is flush with information and practice in other subject areas. Reading, writing, literature, math, science, history, politics, sociology, are all aspects we can discuss and work with. And yet we push for more math worksheets, spelling tests, and tests. In any case, this is not a blog griping about the system, but it can be frustrating to not have many options or time to provide students who are interested, wanting to know more about what is happening in your class.

So yes, of course they can do whatever it is they put their mind to! We do what we can and hope to have the energy and resources to make it worthwhile during the limited time we have in music class. It helps when every kid in the school knows who you are and waves/hugs/says hi whenever you are around. That has to be the best part so far.