Teach the Students In Front of You

I’ve heard many people lamenting recently about students musicians who are weak players, behind, or not performing up to expectations. I’m sure this is true in the eyes of the educator, but there are several things we must put into perspective.

Teach the Students In Front of You, from Off the Beaten Path in Music

The last two years have been something else. No one teaching has ever experienced this educational disruption before. Therefore, we cannot compare today’s students to any others! There are always factors making each group of students unique. But what we are dealing with now is even more so. What I’m encouraging you to do and remember as you continue this school year is to teach the students in front of you. This may sound silly! Who else would you teach? But in reality, it’s something we all have to remember. The students in front of you today are not the same students who were in front of you last year or the year before. They are unique. They have different goals, interest, aspirations, and prior knowledge. The experiences of the students in front of you today are not the same as those from two years ago or really any other students you have taught. And as a result, you cannot expect the same things from them.

The students in front of you today are not the same students who were in front of you last year or the year before.

Teach Whoever Walks in the Door

Several years ago, I worked in a private school teaching third and fourth grade general music and fourth through eighth grade instrumental music. One year we had an excessive number of weather related schedule changes – delayed openings, snow days, and early dismissals. It was not uncommon to come into the school building unaware of what the schedule for the day would be because of these weather incidents. This caused a lot of stress for me! I am a planner. I like to be prepared and I like to know what’s coming up in my day. One day, when I was expressing my frustration about not knowing the schedule, even though the school day started in 20 minutes, a colleague said to me, “Theresa, just teach whoever walks into your room.” He was right. I was so worried about the schedule, what time each class would start, how long the class periods would last, who would be in class when? I forgot about what was really important. Teaching the kids music. Which kids? Which ever ones walked into my room.

Your students might not be performing at the same level as previous years were. You might find students are lacking background knowledge you expected them to have. Maybe students aren’t as motivated as students from the past. It’s okay. Just teach the students who are in front of you.

Ask yourself, what do these students need to know to be successful in music? What skills can you teach that will help them as musicians? What musical experiences can you provide that will encourage students to want more?

Build the foundation for future success.

You May Need to Re-teach Skills

There may be skills you need to re-teach. Or skills you need to introduce for the first time. If that’s the case, take the time to do it! Build the foundation for future success. I often found with young students, instead of going back to review book 1, I would give the students a book 1 from a different series. That way I could review and re-teach skills without students tuning out, saying, “but we already did this.” We were working on the same skills, just with different songs. To the students, it was new information! You can apply the same principles and find popular melodies to help reinforce skills and techniques. Baby Shark is a great tune you can teach wind players by ear to practice articulation and even transpose to multiple keys. Use We Will Rock You or Lean on Me to review playing the first four notes. Whatever you do, take the time to fill in the gaps and teach the skills they need to be successful moving forward.

The repertoire might not be as difficult as previous years. The music may not be as polished. But you can ask yourself, are the students enjoying their music making experiences? Are students excited about music? Are students looking forward to joining your class next year? If the answer to those questions is yes, then that’s all that matters. We want students who are musical. Students who enjoy making music and want to continue making music. The other things aren’t important. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Thinking about what else you can do to motivate students? Check out these ideas:

Here’s an article by John Spencer, speaking to a similar topic: Why I’m Not Too Worried About Learning Loss

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