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Three Key Themes from this week's fieldwork

transitfan's picture

1. not being confident in the content even when you are an "expert"

I draw mountains and hills on the board, and direct the students to follow with their voices as we outline the shape of the mountains. They do this easily. Next we sing “Boom-di-a-da” as a round. I teach the students this line by line, then we sing it together, then we break it into a round. The students mostly already know the song and learn it more easily than I or Ms. Presley expected; apparently their teacher last year taught it to them (although one word was different in my version, which they are quick to point out- “fountains” instead of “flowers”.)

The only problem in this activity is that I was focusing carefully on myself and my own teaching; thus when Ms. Presley asked me how I thought the students were sounding and how they could improve, I came up blank. Truthfully they were doing pretty good.

At the end of the day, Ms. Presley notes that I have a consistent tendency to go quite sharp on a particular Major 6th interval. The students already knew this song so they are more in tune than I was, which is lucky. But I gradually accidentally led them to modulate from Eb up to F. The song was high for me and I think I need to work on my high falsetto. (Some teachers with lower voices might sing an octave below their students, but my voice is just barely high enough that I should be able to sing with them.) Also, the song was originally written in F; I had brought it down to Eb to make it easier for myself but I guess I was still hearing it that way. This is unusual for me; I'm used to problems with my teaching but wouldn't have expected problems with my musical ability to surface in the context of elementary school music.

Certainly I am a good enough musician to teach elementary school music--I am not a good enough teacher probably but that wasn't the issue here. I guess even in a setting where the teacher has mastered their subject material (as per NCLB requirements, etc.) they can still struggle.

2. generosity isn't always a positive

In another activity; saying rhythms on the overhead projector; Ms. Presley has to stop they class a couple times due to loud sillyness making it difficult to hear the student saying the rhythm. All of the students say their rhythms very clearly, though.

“What do you think Mr. Safran,” asked Ms. Presley, “has this class earned the surprise?” I say “yes” after a moment of hesitation.

The surprise, I know, is to go outside and play the “Old Raggy” Game there. We go outside but this class gets a little too energetic outside. Several times Ms. Presley stops the game to ask students to calm down. At one point a student tags another student so hard that they both fall down in the ground. Given that this class was already having a little difficulty inside, it was probably a mistake to take them outside; which seemed to magnify the unwanted behavior.

3. passive-aggressive discipline

I sent a brief, rather stern (for me) email to my music theory students regarding attendance after class this week:

“Hi all,

Since two of you were absent last week and I never heard why, I wanted to be sure to remind you all that we will be continuing having class Sundays from 12:40-1:40 for the next three weeks.

Looking forward to seeing you soon!


I received prompt apologies from the offending students. For college students, this is probably as much discipline as is ever necessary. I felt pretty good; that was easy and not really punative as discipline goes. Then again, upon reflection maybe it was a little passive-aggressive. Such a message would not be fun to receive, and maybe it wouldn't have much educational value. I could have sent a longer, more earnest message to each student checking in with them to make sure everything was okay and asking if I needed to change anything to make classes more meaningful.