Friday, October 17, 2014

Year 5: Week 7 – Teaching What You Love

One of the reasons that we decided to hire our DJ for our wedding was because he told us that he plays music that he doesn’t like.

His general approach was that during cocktail hour he wanders around, gets an idea of the demographic and the vibe of the guest and starts creating a playlist from those observations and the songs that we suggested. Then during the dancing part of the reception he starts putting on music. If the song doesn’t get people on their feet within a verse and a chorus, he will switch songs. There is no part of the process of deciding what to play where his personal preference for music comes into play.

Teachers have a similar process that they go through. Especially with music and English teachers, we study pieces of art in our classes. Often we get to choose literature and music that we like but this should not be the primary way that we make decisions on what we include in our curriculum.

Sometimes teachers become engaged in “vanity projects.” This is when a teacher chooses to read a book or teach a piece of music because they get personal pleasure out of experiencing the piece of art that to other people is clearly inappropriate for their students. For example, making a group of third graders struggle through Hamlet or having a 6th grade beginner band play an entire Beethoven Symphony. “Vanity projects,” are the opposite of being student-centered.

Artistic people who are teachers need to be mindful that they are not looking to their teaching experiences for their own personal artistic fulfillment. That’s not what teaching is about. Now, it’s great if once in a while your students create great art and you get artistic fulfillment from that but that should be an extra bonus, not the purpose of the teaching.

Of course, we shouldn’t only teach songs we don’t like. That would make our jobs miserable, but it’s part of the gig. I’m really sick of hearing “Hot Cross Buns,” on the recorder or a beginning band instrument. However the song is pedagogically sound and the kids like it, so I suffer through it.

There are times that what we are passionate about lines up with what works from an educational standpoint. For example, I do “Waitin’ On A Sunny Day,” one of my favorite Bruce Springsteen songs with my fifth graders. I get to share my passion with my students and do a song that teachers them important musical skills and concepts that are part of my curriculum.

Like my students, some songs that I don't like initially often grow on me.  Sometimes its because of the positive experiences I have with my students that I learn to love a song.

Keep an eye on your audience.  Be that DJ and see what really helps your students learn.  There is far more satisfaction in bringing music to your kids that you don't like that they learn from than pushing a song upon them that you love that they do not connect with. 

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