I spent my first few years of teaching trying to “follow the rules.” Like many others, my undergraduate education was based on certain music principles and methods. As a new teacher, I was anxious to put four years of education into practice with real students in a real school. While things were going smoothly with my younger grades, I quickly came to the harsh realization that I wasn’t connecting with my middle schoolers. I was heartbroken. This was age-group for which I had a passion. What I had been taught to teach wasn’t working. I wasn’t meeting my students where they were.
For a while I stayed my course. I tried to use my formal training to convey all the musical knowledge I thought (keyword there) they needed to know. But deep down in my gut, I knew something had to change. What mattered more—that every student in my class knew how to correctly identify a half note by name, rhythm syllable, and beat value OR that every student in my class became a life-long appreciator of music.
A Shift in Paradigm
Slowly, I began to switch my approach. Research became my main mission, Googling middle school music programs and reading books. Many of these were helpful, but the most valuable thing I did was to begin networking with other music educators. “Can I pick your brain?” became one of my favorite, and most frequent, ways to start a conversation. Even now, after 12 years of teaching, I still start many conversations with this. I realized something in my quest to change my approach. I had so many great educators around me to offer advice and suggestions. They became my resource.
I began incorporating the ideas I gathered and adapting them for my own teaching placement. My students were not only engaged but excited about what they were learning. I also became excited! I started to meet them halfway; and, in turn, saw huge benefits. My students began to think of themselves as musicians, finding success in something they never thought they could do.
What I do is not always neat and tidy. It’s messy. It’s loud. And sometimes the change is slow. My hope in writing this eBook is to not only share my ideas but to start building a community specifically designed for middle school music teachers. A place where “brain-picking” is normal, regular, and encouraged. The more we talk, collaborate, and share our ideas the better we become for our students.
These Song Request cards are always displayed in my classroom. Students are encouraged to fill them out before class, after class, or if they have some free time. I then play the songs as their entrance music to class. There’s nothing they love more than entering the classroom to their favorite song. It is also a great way to learn about your students and generate conversations about music. (Make a copy of my template using the link and make it your own!)