Friday, November 30, 2012

This time, it's personal.

Oh hi! Remember me? I started a blog about teaching music and didn't write very many posts? Yes, I did that.  But guess who's back?  Me.  Because I work loooooong days on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays (and during most weekends); but have Tuesdays and Thursdays (until the evenings) off.

And guess what? Nobody else in the world is free on Tuesday or Thursday mornings.  And I don't want to do actual work then, either. I use those days to recover from my 12-hour Mondays and Wednesdays.  But what I might have a little bit of energy for, however, is blogging.  Specifically about the thing that inspires me most (besides my boyfriend, which is a new development since last time I updated). I am inspired by teaching music.

What is my employment situation?  Let me count the jobs.  In chronological order of employment: I am a lecturer at the local university on Tuesday and Thursday evenings (which is also the obligation that eats up many of my weekends), I teach music at a very, very rural k-8 school from 2pm-6pm on Mondays and Wednesdays (let's call this one C. Elementary), and I teach at another rural (though less than the former because this town is actually incorporated) k-8 school from 8am-1:30pm on Mondays and Wednesdays and 8am-3pm on Fridays (let's call this one F. Elementary).

Gosh but coming into this situation was clumsy. Last year was a challenge for sure. Especially because I had a freak injury to deal with in the middle of the year that practically crippled my ability to communicate. Especially because it was my first year of teaching.  But I survived.

The two elementary schools at which I teach are very different from each other.  Different school structures, different populations, way way different socio-economic make-ups.  Things that work for controlling one group of kids and advancing their understanding don't even phase another group.  But that's the way the world is, and I like it.  

I'm a musician.  Did you know that?  When I was student teaching my main mentor asked me, "Why do you play music?"  I couldn't answer. I didn't know. And that startled me, having just received my B.A. in music performance and education. That I would start learning something at the age of 9 and advance so far without even knowing why. How in the world could I serve children in their endeavors if I didn't even know why I did it?  Why would children learn music if there was no reason?

I didn't know at the time why I didn't know, but I do now.  I'd grown up shy.  So shy I could count the number of times I said anything in pre-school on one hand.  And was shy forever. And still am.  Talking to people can be very scary for me.  Negative interactions (especially with adults) are something I never, ever want.  Somewhere in the course of last year, tucked in the conversations I'd started having with my sweet and very contemplative boyfriend, I figured out that the vast majority of my anxieties are social.  My motivations are social, too.  I was afraid to talk to my teachers in high school, but maybe if I did really good work they would talk to me and like me.  Conversely, if I felt like a teacher didn't like me, I didn't want to give them the satisfaction of my best work in class. (I got a D in calculus on purpose. I got a 4 on the AP test. The teacher just made me feel so crappy; I never wanted to finish my homework for him.)

When I started making music with other people, in high school and college, I discovered something really nice.  Music students playing in all the studio recitals--I knew them.  Soloists in the symphonic band--I knew them.  It wasn't long before they knew me.  Hearing people play music. Playing with them. Communicating with them. Interactions.  In the midst of my difficulties connecting with people through conversation, I could connect with them through music.  I had to be the best clarinet player I could possibly be. I practiced an average of 2.5 hours a day.  I owed it to the people I made music with.  I had to make my communications very clear.

So why do I play music? The music I make is a very personal part of myself.  I'm sharing part of myself with others.  Other people play music and we have moments and conversations.  It is a big deal to me, as a person who has always been shy, that I can share my sound with others for the sake of the bigger sound.  Suddenly I have a voice.  Suddenly I don't feel run over in every group conversation by someone who asserts himself better.  My line is written in the music. I am important. I'm part of something bigger.

The reason I was thinking about this recently is because of one boy I teach at C. Elementary.  He is in fifth grade and is learning the baritone for the first time.  He's been identified as a GATE student and often asks me questions that challenge what I know about music and sound in general.  I can see huge potential for musical growth in this student.

However, when I teach classroom music in his 4th/5th grade class, he is very reluctant to show effort in singing. I've been able to engage most students in vocal warm-ups, and in learning songs and practicing them. This boy's facial expressions show me that he is far from engaged.  He'll roll his eyes, giving half-grins like this is the silliest and most useless thing he has ever encountered in his life.

Two days ago, on Wednesday, I asked him after his baritone lesson if he really doesn't like singing.  "I don't really like it," he said. "Can I ask why not?" I asked. He said it's just not that enjoyable to him.  "I see you sometimes doing silly things in class and looking like you could be doing something better," I said.  "Singing is a very personal thing for lots of people. It took me a long time to be able to sing with others. It's pretty special to be given an opportunity to make music with other people."

I asked him to give singing another chance.  My guess is that he's afraid to open up in front of others. My guess is that he's afraid of not being good at it if he were to really try.  Watching how he interprets the world around him, and how he can really engage in something if he is interested, I think he could probably do a good job singing. But there is the social aspect. There is the human voice, and the way a voice is so ready to make errors in pitch if it hasn't been trained.  I think if this student can make training his voice into a personal endeavor, singing will be a more meaningful experience for him.