Thursday, November 20, 2008

Approach to Teaching

Should I be laid back or strict?

This is a question that plagues upcoming teachers almost constantly. What I have seen happen a lot is a new teacher will be overly strict because they are new to this kind of control and assume everything should be done their way, then will wax to the extreme and be too laid back because they have gotten more comfortable. I myself am guilty of both approaches, and both approaches are wrong. This isn't to say that you can't be strict or laid back. In fact they can work great, depending on your environment and your personal temperament.

When it comes to how you approach your teaching, it has to be what works for you. You will mimic others, because when you first start that is all you know. But as you teach keep yourself aware of what works when you do it, and what feel natural. If it feels forced or is ineffective, then odds are you need to try something else. While I was student teaching, my supervising teacher told me that he came from a school where the director was a "screamer." After he graduated he tried to imitate that style, but it didn't work. He told me that it just didn't work for him or the kids he taught. So he settled down and let his natural personality take over. Frankly, I was floored to hear that he could ever have been a screamer. In my dealings with him at the time, and especially now, you would never guess he could yell. He is very laid back and the kids respond to him because they know him and know what is acceptable without him having to yell and shout.

I have found for myself that I too am not a screamer, but I am also not as laid back as my former supervising teacher is. If I had to place myself on a scale of 1 - 10, 1 being laid back and 10 being strict, I would have to say I'm a 7. I know how to be laid back and at times I will share a joke with the students, but mostly I like to get down to the business of making music. From my experiences I would say that most people fall between 3 and 7 on that scale. But as I learned in marching band .01 can make all the difference. So as you teach, don't try and fit the mold of someone else, and don't take what you learn in school as law. There are thousands of ways to teach and you have to try them all before you find the perfect on for you.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Marching Band vs. Concert Band Motivation

I know that motivation in music isn't a new topic. In college, we talked about ways you can motivate students in general, how to motivate those who are reluctant, and how to maintain motivation in those already excited about music. Unfortunately these discussions were all academic only, as there was no way to really practice and see what works in a classroom setting for us. Of course, we had guest speakers who would come in and tell us what they do, about their failures and successes with motivating their students, but again it was academic to us as students because we were getting the information second hand. So this is my attempt at doing what every teacher and guest speaker has already done. My advice for anyone that reads this is to not this this or any other discussion on motivation in the classroom as a rule, but only as a tool. What works for some won't work for others, you have to keep trying new tools until you find the one that works for you.

We (as a teaching community) attempt to motivate students for marching band and concert band in different ways. During concert band, the focus is on the musicality, phrasing, emotion, and/or story that fits with the piece. In essence, the motivation is in making a great performance for the students and letting others just enjoy our music making. But marching band we talk about things like GE, box placement, points, judges, and placing. Why is this? What is the real difference between marching band and concert band? My opinion is that the only difference is that marching band incorporates movement with the music. There are those that would disagree and say that there are other differences and that it is a completely different approach, and I don't argue that here, I am only stating my opinion.

There are tons of articles about motivating students in music, and they all generally say the same thing, when music becomes about winning, it loses it's luster. Obviously that is a grossly ineffective paraphrase or a lot of well thought out articles, but that is the advice I have gleaned from those articles. And as a rule I completely agree. But something else you will see a lot is, you have to find what works with the students, and again I agree. I think the main focus of teaching music, both marching and concert, needs to be personal expression. In my teaching, I have noticed that the best performances are the ones that the students do, not for the parents or the judges, but for themselves. When the students invest a part of themselves into their performance, whether marching or sitting, then they enjoy the music more, and when a band, orchestra, choir, or any other group performs like that, an audience can feel it and responds to it.

As teachers we are caught in the "contest mentality" for many reasons; administrative pressure, funding, enrollment, prestige, or any other external reason. And unfortunately, these reasons can't always just be ignored, but I don't believe they should be passed on to the students. As teachers, we are expected to try and win, but the best way to do that is to pick music and plan drill that can maximize a bands strengths, minimize a bands weaknesses, and still push the band. But even though we have thought of these things, the students focus needs to be on their performance. If a band goes out and does their best, no matter the score they have won. I have seen bands win a marching contest even though they didn't do their best.

We can't control the judges, the points, the competition, or the circumstances at any performance. All we can control is ourselves. And when a band performs for themselves, to push themselves, then there is nothing else you can ask of them. No one else matters, and the judges will say what they will. If a band does their best and gets rewarded for that, then it becomes a bonus, but not the focus. And if a band goes out and performs their best and isn't rewarded for it, then the students can be content in the knowledge that they were better than last time, and nothing else matters.