Hi, All.

I've posted before on the NAfME forums about the things I've been experiencing as a new teacher.  I'm hoping everyone here can offer some additional insight!  Things are trucking along with my strings and percussion classes, but I'd like some insight as to what you would do in this situation with band: 

I've inherited an urban middle school band program (6th-8th grade) that meets only in class format.  I have 2 sections each of 6th, 7th, and 8th grade band.  I do not have pull-out lessons and all of my before and after school time is taken up with full-ensemble rehearsals, select groups, and achievement gap professional development sessions - my school hasn't met AYP in two years...  What makes the situation extremely frustrating (for myself and my students) is that band is considered an elective course.  Essentially that translates to "anybody can sign up."  So, what happens?  Beginners who have never touched an instrument or read a piece of music end up placed into my classes of returning students (in all grades).  Ultimately what happens is the beginners feel overwhelmed and lose self esteem, and the returning students end up annoyed at the beginners.  With concerts and festivals looming off in the distance, I'm concerned (not to mention, feeling inept as a music educator...).

If I had a separate beginning band class or pull-out lessons, I wouldn't be as frustrated.  But, that's not the case.  I'm supposed to somehow teach the beginners (in all grades) alongside everyone else without providing them with the one-on-one benefit of pull-out lessons.  I don't want to turn kids away - the last thing a music educator in today's day and age needs to do is act elitist in any way shape or form - but I need to develop a system that works.  So far, I've tried partnering the beginners with a stand buddy, splitting the class into small sectionals where I travel around to each group, encouraging students to come to our Wednesday morning homework help day, recommended private lessons, etc., etc.  I'm not sure what else to do.  I know there's no single perfect method, but I'm at a loss.  I feel like, as a new teacher, I've been taken advantage of by administration and scheduling.  I'm essentially teaching two curricula: beginning band and middle school band.  It's kind of like throwing a student that's never had Algebra into a Calculus class without an aid.  I feel like next year I'm going to have to really put my foot down with administration if they want this program to go anywhere!

I'm frustrated and am losing the passion for this career field that I once had - and I've only been teaching for 2 months.  I loved student teaching, I loved my undergraduate courses, but I'm not happy in this job.  I'm glad that, on weekends, I'm on the staff of a very successful high school marching band back home.  Those students and their director remind me that Music Education can still be done right in this world.

Any help or ideas would be greatly appreciated!

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Goodmorning Clay,

I have great compassion for what you are facing. You are making as many adjustments as any reasonable person could given what you are facing. Your acessment that the scheduling and mixing of students who have and have not played ought not to happen and certainly without the teacher having contact with the student outside of band.

Fortunately not all band programs are set up as yours is. Yes, more districts are slipping towards what you are facing and this is a credit to no one and serves no one well. When I say no one, I mean the student, the teacher, the parents, the school district, or the music industry.

In my last year of teaching I faced one band which was made up of students who had a few lessons, some students who had horns but had had no lessons, and some students who had no horns and no lessons. They were all programmed together for a 50 minuite band class which met five days a week. The ones who had no horns or lessons were ones that did not want to be in choir or general music but were required to take some music class. So they chose band!


 I gained the trust of the kids by taking a risk. On the first day of class when they were full of energy which could easily have gotten out of hand, I said, " This is a crazy situation and you can see that." The students being more reasonable than those who were responsible for setting the situation up agreed.

I then asked the students to look inside themselves and if they really didn't want to play a horn to transfer out and not hinder those who did want to play. A few did as I remember it.

Then I said we could proceed in this fashion. There are ten different horns I'm expected to teach and the class period is 50 minutes long so I'll teach each horn for 5 minutes with all of us in the room together. All those who are not studying that horn must be absolutley quiet and I mean quiet. So I laid out what I would teach each about each horn for five minutes. I laid out all I needed for where I was at on that horn on a table. When the five minutes was up the kids would raise a hand I would immediately stop and go to the next horn. Even though some did not have horns they were made to understand that as soon as they did they would need to practice and follow what I had taught. It did work fairly well partly beause the amount of actual band time was ample and of course because I had 30 years of experience with the horns

I did lay out from those years of experience some materials which might be of help to you. Go to hofmeistermusic.net and take a gander.

I certainly hope that you stay with teaching and hope the school will make adjustments but that may not be in the cards. Remember you are at the beginning of a career and your initial experience may serve you

well later on. Your intention is honorable so let that be the measure of who you are and not what the cards dealt you.


Don Hofmeister





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