Sometimes on our journey of teaching elementary music we may find ourselves in situations where the respect and dignity of our position is not honored. In short, we aren't treated like "real teachers". This is a difficult topic because the nature of our teaching positions and our subject matter is often very different than the nature of a classroom teacher, and many times it may be viewed as not as important.
In order to be respected to the utmost extent, we have to have professional boundaries while at the same time being respectful and diplomatic to our colleagues. We have to hold ourselves to a high standard and then advocate for our positions and subject matter by presenting and demonstrating it's importance to others. This is the feat and fate of the the modern day elementary music teacher.
Below are 7 situations and solutions to things you shouldn't have to say, and times when you are treated like you aren't a "real teacher".
1."I'm a real teacher too"
At one point or another we may all think or say this sentiment. This is because we feel the frustration of having our professional boundaries crossed and this though is a warning signal to investigate the situation and take action.
It may be that we had our classes canceled and were given another duty during that day or it may be that we don't have a planning period because of the sheer number of students and scheduling difficulties we have. If we have to say this to ourselves, the thing to do is ask "what professional boundary is being crossed?" and then "what can I do about it?". These questions will get you headed in the right direction.
2."Yes Music does count for a grade"
I had to say this when I first started teaching and was in survival mode. In most places (but not all) music class does count as a grade. Unfortunately in some areas, there may be one or more of the following problems:
The grade doesn't show up on the report card
Higher ups "persuade" music teachers to pass everyone with the highest grade
The students don't know that they are being graded
The grading system is so broad that all a student needs to do is show up to pass.
It shouldn't be hard to pass music but the students should have to earn their grade, otherwise you have significantly less leverage against behavior problems and non-participation. If grading is a problem at your school you can:
Review your school and district grading policy
Ask other music teachers in your district how they handle grades
Advocate for a functional grading system to your district music supervisor (If you have one)
If all else fails: Set up your own separate grading system, perhaps tied to incentives or achievements to gives students the sense that what they do in music matters.
3."Please don't consistently pull students from my class"
It seems the most convenient time to pull a student for an alternative need is during their music (Art, P.E. etc.) class. Many times the need is legitimate, such as behavioral difficulties, academic struggles, or working with a counselor or other specialist, but the problem lies in the fact that this wouldn't fly with other subjects.
If a student needs to be pulled occasionally, this is understandable, however if it becomes excessive, it may affect the student's grade in you class (remember the grades we talked about).
The best thing to do in a situation like this is to work with whoever is pulling your students out and try to come up with an agreement based on the fact that your students do get grades and have to learn content in order to earn those grades.
4."Please send your students to the restroom before music class"
We've all been there before; a student raises their hand asking to go to the restroom, and then seven other hands go up. Soon half the class suddenly has to go.
The best way to deal with this issue is to speak to both the classroom teachers and your administration to get everyone on board. You can ask the classroom teachers to take the students to the restroom before music class and then announce that everyone has gone and no one should need to go during your class. This settles the matter at the door. The restroom policy can then be reinforced by having whoever does the morning announcements at your school remind the classroom teachers to take their students to the restroom before music class.
5."I just want to see my students for an equal amount of time"
This one is tough. Sometimes, because of scheduling issues you may see some classes far more or far less than others. This situation throws off lesson planning and makes it so that some students are way ahead of others.
There are two ways to handle this:
-Push for change by examining your schedule and creating a solution BEFORE talking to administration. After you find a solution simply ask to implement it on a trial basis and if it works then your problem is solved. A rotating schedule usually works best for this.
-Adapt to the scheduling conflict by creating alternative activities. If you see one class twice a week and the others once, then you can create an instrument ensemble or use game based lessons so that the students don't get off track with your main content.
6."Please don't bring me an out of control class"
Ideally, when you receive a class, they should be lined up in an orderly fashion and there should be a sort of "handing-of -the-baton" from the classroom teacher to the music teacher.
Unfortunately this doesn't always happen and sometimes you may receive an out of control class.
What you can do to handle this is:
Let the classroom teacher know that receiving their class in a disorganized way is a problem and work together to find solutions.
Ask an administrator or respected (read: feared) person in your school to stand by when that particular class arrives.
Be prepared to firmly reinforce your expectations even if that means spending most of the time working on discipline and correct classroom behavior.
Create an arrangement for a time out teacher for students to go to with written work if there are a few students creating big problems.
7."How am I supposed to manage X amount of students?"
Oversized classes can be a blessing and a curse. The sound of fifty students singing together in unison can be glorious and uplifting, however, unfortunately the situation is usually fifty students that think they are talking quietly enough so you won't hear them.
Here are some things you can do to work through a class size issue:
Check your schedule and see if you can find a solution that others may have missed
Check you teaching contract and or school board guidelines where you teach and see if there is something about class sizes
If you have access to Union representation ask about class sizes (I know many do not)
Request to have another teacher or aid in the classroom if you receive a amount of students over a certain number (I know this may be wishful thinking but it's worth asking)
In conclusion, when you find yourself in a situation where you feel your professional boundaries are being crossed it is always important to do the following:
Identify the specific problem
Educate yourself on the laws/rules in your school district and your rights and responsibilities as a teacher
Come up with your own solutions to propose
Ask others for help or opinions
Address the correct people diplomatically and with the students in mind first.
Be open to feed back or alternative solutions
Be willing to either accept and manage the problem if you cannot find a solution or speak to Higher ups and take action if the situation is unacceptable (this is difficult but you will have to take time and decide what is right for you and your specific situation.)
What other things have you said as a music teacher that you shouldn't have to? What other solutions have you found to the above problems? Leave a comment below and share what's working for you!
Disclaimer: The above content is not legal advice and is food for thought, presented for entertainment purposes only, if you are struggling with a legal issue you should contact a law professional.