How will I use my understanding of communication and human behavior to create a classroom community that fosters positive social interaction, collaboration and active inquiry?
I believe that teaching is not just a career or a role one fills in life but a vocation, a calling with heavy responsibilities. The teacher owes these responsibilities not only to the students in his or her class, but also to the parents, the school and the larger community in which the student lives. The teacher must, therefore, be a builder of community at every level to which he or she is accountable, offering his or her very best at all times and in all places.
I know from the outset that wherever I teach, my standards for classroom behavior will be quite high. This is not to say that I want an army of technicians who leave their personalities and differences at the door, but if I wish to get any learning or performing done, I must set the bar high and offer every opportunity for my students to surpass it. My rules and expectations will be stated quite clearly at the beginning of the school year, and I will put a graduated system of discipline in place, so that I can curb destructive behavior in the least obtrusive manner possible. The most useful tool for encouraging learning behavior and eschewing distracting tendencies is to involve students in a high-involvement learning environment. Music has both aesthetic and a paraxial dimensions and to fully understand music one needs a good grasp of both. Thus it is in my best interests to make sure that a great deal of hands-on learning takes place at all times. I intend to engage the optimum number of students at a time at any given moment and in any situation. In choir, band, or orchestra, when I am focusing on a particular section I will expect the other sections to be following along in their music, marking their score and applying what I say to the other section to their own musical line. Any expectations I make will, of course, be made known to my students at the start of the school year.
Building a positive classroom environment is essential before one can even think of approaching the subject matter. Bullying, which I take to mean any form of communication, verbal, physical or otherwise, which demeans any person, will not be tolerated. I intend to make it clear to my students at the outset that negative humor is no joking matter to me, and will not take place in my classroom. There will be a large plaque in my room that reads, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” Of course, I will have to model this behavior in myself, which I know to be a challenge for me. Criticism must always be preceded with an encouraging focus on what the student or choir did right, and must also be given in a true spirit of charity. Then, and only then, will my students both accept my criticism of their performance and have a desire to do what I ask of them. My respect for them and their person and my expectation that they will treat themselves and each other with respect will be most effective in insuring a positive and productive learning environment. Student interaction is a given in a group musical setting. Indeed, without student collaboration, no music aside from solo repertoire could ever happen. Mutual affection and amiability are necessities to making sure my classes run smoothly and effectively, thus, I will employ many methods such as name games and retreats to help students get to know one another. I will also voice place, or chair place, in order to discourage the formation of cliques, and I will assign quartets, or small groups, to branch relationships across sections.
The most powerful project musicians can employ to build community is performance. Nothing unifies a group of people so well as performing together, whether the group is as small as soloist and accompanist or as large as a grand performing ensemble. People share their selves in performance and unite to make something beautiful; therefore I wish to stress performance opportunities in my classroom. As I stated above, music is both aesthetic and paraxial. I wish to encourage the development of the aesthetic through the paraxial, and by doing so I teach music and unite persons at the same time. Performing for their peers in class develops individual musicianship and confidence as well as addressing key technical issues through the medium of a master class. Performing in small ensembles such as string quartets and barber-shop groups enable students to form close relationships and raise the standard of artistic excellence. Playing for school sporting events, pep-rallies, or other school-wide events will not only encourage my students to perform well and to do their best in class, but will be a unifying force for the school. Nothing contributes more to the energy of a crowd than a live pep-band playing for their team. This will also, hopefully, foster mutual understanding and appreciation between the various departments of the school, especially between musician and athletes. In addition, the school community will ideally come to see music as an approachable and attractive way of life, one which is very dear to them. The benefits of such an arrangement cannot be overstated. Formal concerts, in which the students dress up and perform standards of their respective repertoire, also bring the school together and have a chance to make money for the school, if they wish to charge an admission fee.
Performance in public concerts and participation in national or regional festivals additionally bring together members of the larger community. As is apparent whenever a school concert takes place, parents flock to see their children perform, and it is a delightful thing to behold when parents have a reason to shower their child with pride in his or her achievements. The town or community usually rallies around a concert, especially if it is well advertized, and success in competition gives the community reason to be proud of their school and support its involvement in the arts. This success brings with it touring opportunities, which advances the school’s reputation and brings in additional support from increasingly larger communities. The students themselves benefit greatly from performance opportunities and the long-range goals of competition and travel.