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field notes: first impressions and thoughts on dialogue between teachers in my placement

transitfan's picture

I finally started by placement today at a private school not far from the college campus of this course, to be called The Boatley School. I will be with the lower school's music teacher to known as Ms. Presley, who is in her first year teaching here after some work at public schools. (She says that Boatley students are uniquely comfortable speaking up and asking questions compared to her past teaching experience, which she says can be good and bad. I hypothesize may be a socio-economic class issue.) I feel grateful that a new teacher was willing to take on a student to do fieldwork in her class, although she seems to prefer I mainly observe at first. She will also try to arrange for me to visit the band director and the middle/upper school music teacher a couple times each for a period or two. Because the school runs on a rotating schedule, I will see different students every week, which will make it a challenge for me to get to know them. That said, I think it will be interesting as a contrast to past field placements in music.

Unfortunately I was unable to observe classes today as this is the one day in the rotation when she doesn't teach in the afternoons. (In the future I will either visit a different day of the week or visit with another music teacher at Boatley when this happens.) The classes are 13-17 students, and I will mainly be with grades 3-5. Ms. Presley was generous in giving me a full tour of the school and spending a significant amount of time introducing me to her teaching practice and beliefs. She is lucky to have lots of prep time in her schedule; on average about 2 hours a day but more during this day of the rotation.

The music department of the lower school, which has about 500 students, has its own music building, about the size if not larger than the music building of my college in terms of classroom space and practice rooms (although not including my college's music library and concert hall.) It was built as a house, and some of the rooms are slightly oddly shaped, although they have beautiful architectural details. While the main building of the school is more modern in appearance, it too is beautiful, and decorated with lots of student art. Unlike my other placements, music students here have access to a plethora of instruments purchased by the school. Students can try out all of instruments in the band [this involves lots of sanitzers after each use, Ms. Presley laughs] or all of the instruments in the orchestra before choosing one. The Lower School doesn't have an orchestra or band this year, but fifth grade will start one next year, while 4th graders (and this year 5th graders also) get a "wind experience" or a "string experience" trying different instruments.

Ms. Presley was taught by music educator John Fireaben (I may be spelling that wrong) who has developed a pedagogy based around the Kodaly method, which I studied a bit when I took my music education course. The idea is to work aurally first, then learn to write on paper. The teacher starts by teaching syllables on which to sing melodies and rythyms, then later teaches how those syllables correspond to written notes. Physical movement is frequently also used. Ms. Presley will share some lesson plans with me. This method of teaching music makes a lot of sense, but is very different from the way I teach reading music to college students and adults through my mini-course for new students to chorale. My style of "this is a quarter note; it gets one beat; an eighth note gets 1/2 beat; etc." is much faster [obviously I'm oversimplifying it here] in terms of what students learn from 1 hour a week for half a semester versus what her students apparently learn for 90 minutes a week for a year (which is actually still a lot!!) However, her method makes a lot of sense and I might learn things from it to put into practice. I tend not to think about "controlling" my students due in part to their age but I'm sure Ms. Presley is right that "if I can control 3rd graders I'll be able to control high school and college students."

Much like the music teacher Dr. Flute at my first field placement in an urban public high school environment, Ms. Presley is basically inventing a totally new curriculum. Her predecessor had a curriculum that was based around music and technology, which is actually a lot of Dr. Flute's curriculum. However Ms. Presley felt that the students had not gained musically literacy from that curriculum, which could be true, although "musical literacy" is sooo hard to really define. [For starters, we usually mean a very specific subset of Western music.]

Two more notes: At one point during the tour Ms. Presley stopped by a conference room:

"This is the faculty room. Don't worry- I'll never make you sit in on a faculty meeting"

"Oh, well, I'd be happy to. I'm sure they can be interesting."

"Um, not really."

Given our current set of readings on the value of dialogue between faculty, it seems sad that in a space where faculty have time for meetings the time does not feel worthwhile or meaningfully spent to teachers. However, Ms. Presley said that as a new teacher she felt very well supported by her colleagues. It will be interested to see how that manifests itself and if there is meaningful dialogue between teachers outside of faculty meetings.

The last thing: Ms. Presley asked me to identify for her my strengths as a teacher. Beyond "patience with students", I wasn't able to give a very good answer. By contrast, without her asking I was able to point to some weaknesses. I believe that I can be a very good teacher because many of my students of my music theory course have told me so, some very emphatically, and I know they learn a lot from me. But I'm really having a very hard time thinking about what I do well. I'm going to keep pondering this over, but I'd also be curious if anyone else has had a similar experience and how you have been able to determine what you do well.


jccohen's picture

what you do well


That's a great prompt -- the question of what strengths you bring as a teacher -- and I agree that you should keep thinking about this; it also seems to me a good question for us to address in our class, perhaps broadening it somewhat to a larger 'educator' role.  Please post again with some answers to this! 

I'm also struck by how much you learned during this visit even though you didn't meet with students.  This issue of different kinds of approaches to teaching music foregrounds some provocative questions for other areas of the curriculum as well, in terms of how we as teachers approach our students, that is, what strengths and challenges do we think they're starting with as a basis for how we decide to teach them?  Age seems relevant here, as you point out, and/but I'm wondering too what other factors come into play.  Also striking, and especially in contrast to your earlier placement, I'm thinking, are the resources here, both in terms of literal space, access to instruments, etc., and in terms of time, programming, status of participating...