Way back in September–which feels like 10 years when measured in teacher years–I shared my disappointment with my sophomore foundations class that so many of them no longer understood references to the classic teen coming of age movies of the 1980s, like “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” and “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.”
Snippets from these films, like the ones below…
…have been staples in my classroom “schtick” over the years, and it was sad to see the new generation of students lose their connection to what I once was convinced were cultural “touchstones” guaranteed to unite the generations. Telling them that I’d consider it the highlight of my teaching career to have a pizza delivered to one of my classes, we moved on to the day’s activities.
What wasn’t disappointing was the brilliance, compassion, and commitment of this group of 16 second-year music education students. As we wrapped up the semester today I found myself already wistful, and knew how much I’d be missing our three times per week class sessions–equal parts debates, lectures, sing-alongs, and camp revival sessions.
For those of us engaged in education policy analysis, the challenges facing the teaching profession can seem overwhelming at times. From the teacher shortage (or slow-motion teacher exodus), teacher strikes, and Betsy DeVos’ radical agenda of pushing charter schools and private school vouchers down the throats of a public increasingly uninterested in these things, to alarmist warnings of poor international test scores, and a morale crisis the depths of which we’ve never seen among the members of the teacher workforce, things can look pretty dark in the education world these days.
But these young would-be teachers were never daunted by the severity of these challenges. Instead, like good teachers, they asked hard questions:
- “Why won’t school leaders and policy makers read the research?”
- “Why would politicians cut funding for schools attended by over 90% of the population?”
- “If we believe every child should have access to music instruction, how can school districts eliminate music teachers and programs?”
- “We know standardized tests don’t help teachers to improve their practice–so if that’s one of the main purposes of evaluation, why keep requiring more of these tests?”
- “Why aren’t parents screaming about these decisions? And why do they keep electing the people who make them?”
And they did so not with rancor and bitterness, but with enthusiasm and a sense of hope. Because they know how much music has meant to each of them in their educational journeys, are deeply dedicated to equity and inclusion, and the proposition that all students should have access to a high-quality education including music and the arts–not just those who attend schools in well-off suburbs with rich curricula and offerings.
As we approached the end of the term, we also came up with a list of “Big Enchilada” thoughts that summarized our semester’s readings, class assignments, and discussions around the essential questions we’d been deliberating. I think they provide a solid outline for any arts teacher who is working to effect positive change in their classroom or school:
- Music study develops the skills (i.e., critical-thinking, team work, problem-solving) that employers claim they value
- Quality music study helps develop the ability to recognize and appreciate quality, beauty, diversity and craftsmanship
- Music study and performance require the use of multiple forms of knowing, learning and thinking–and is a fertile ground for collaboration between persons and disciplines
- Music education is a form of cultural studies, helping students understand more about the world(s) in which they live
- Music–when taught well–is the “antidote” for the test-driven “culture of accountability” in our schools
If one of the goals of being a life-long learner is to learn from your students, then this semester was a smashing success on all fronts. These students pushed me, asked great questions, and didn’t accept platitudes or vagueness–they demanded to know how they could be a part of making things in our profession better, and I have no doubts they will. Our schools need teachers like this, and I can’t wait to welcome them in a few short semesters as my colleagues.
As this morning’s class began I noticed a young man walk across the open doorway of our classroom, peering in as if to check on its contents. The second time he passed the door I asked him if I could help him find something–he asked if our classroom was “Room 219,” and if someone had ordered pizzas. Just as I was about to tell him “no,” three of my students jumped up, fumbled in their pockets for money, and ran to grab the steaming boxes of pizza.
Returning with broad grins plastered on their faces, they opened the pizza boxes on the tables they’d set up behind their desks, grabbed some paper towels, and invited the rest of their classmates to join them. “We wanted to wait till the last class of the semester to do this, but we’ve been planning it all semester–ever since you told us that story about the guy who had the pizza delivered to his class! We hope you’re not mad!”
Mad? How can you be upset on one of the best days of your teaching career?