This post is intended for a group of North Texas Students in Mrs. Tucker's Class. Anyone can read it, but that might clarify this post to any of my confused students that stumble upon it.
Hello all of you displaced college students. The world is looking a little strange isn't it? We'll it's my privileged to try and distract you with a little optimism and share a little about my job with you.
My name is Stephen Cox and I am the director of bands for Eastland High School in Eastland, TX. It is a really amazing place and an amazing job. I'd like to tell you about it and share the few things I have learned in the last decade of teaching. With any luck I can save you some of my mistakes.
As a quick aside, I don't have this all figured out yet. I completely change what I am doing every semester. I know I have a lot to learn and I'm okay with that. Once you have it "all figured out" that's when you stagnate. So, take from this what you can, but not everything works for everybody.
In order for you to get to know a little about the Eastland Band, I'm going to share two videos.
This last January I was privileged to be selected as a Grammy Music Educator Award Finalist. These are two of the video submissions that describe a little about our program and students here at Eastland:
Small School Vs big School
When I was in college I was convinced that I wanted to teach in a big school. The bigger the better. I grew up in a 3A school and saw the amount of responsibilities vs the amount of resources and decided I wanted nothing to do with that.
Those eventually became the reason's I wanted to teach in a small school. What a challenge right?
As a small school director I have the following advantages:
1. My commute is 2 minutes.
2. I get to work with students 6th grade through 12th grade.
3. My program is an integral part of the community. Everyone in my town is directly connected to the band program in some way.
4. My students are every bit as good as the students anywhere else.
Yes the staffing and resources look different. The pay is less (though when you factor in cost of living not much less) and there is a lack of access to private lessons and certain services. However, there are challenges in every situation and these are just ours.
I recently presented about small schools at the Texas Bandmasters Association. I asked a number of people around the state to share something they like about their small school. this is the resulting video:
Big Picture Advice
1. The students are people. So are you...
Figuring out the mechanics of making good music it very hard. In the end it boils down to playing in tune, playing in time, and playing with emotion. While quite challenging, this is the easy part of being a music teacher.
The hard part is doing all of that while guiding developing minds through adolescence. You will have students of different races, socioeconomic backgrounds, a religious backgrounds, and students with disabilities. There are also students who a) are being forced to be there by their parents or b) had to beg their parents to support them being there.
Navigating this enormous mix of values, goals, and (let's face it) teenage hormones, is no easy task. I would argue that motivation and discipline are the most important factors for individual success. If the students are motivated they will learn no matter how good the teacher is and discipline will push them through the many times that motivation waivers.
Teaching self sacrifice, leadership, and teamwork are a massive challenge. I would spend a great deal of my time focusing on these ideas before I got in the classroom!
Seek to understand your students, let them know you care, explain the logic behind your decisions, and let your true self shine though. That's the best start I can suggest.
2. Get out of the band (choir, orchestra, elementary) room and into the community.
Find places that you will encounter a new audience. Go to nursing homes, city parks, and civic events. Get those kids in front of an audience and watch the student's and community pride grow.
3. There are no rules (I mean there are, but not as many as you think).
Please go for the crazy ideas you have. I had so many ideas when I started teaching. Many of them turned out to be bad, admittedly. However, all of the things I tried changed the way I taught for the better. Please experiment.
4. Finally, please go learn from all the really smart people out there.
Go to the internet and just search every question you have. It's so easy now! There is so much for learning how to teach. You could spend days watching rehearsals on youtube. Please, just go do it. Don't wait. I still do this anytime I'm having trouble. STEAL STEAL STEAL teaching ideas, that's how the craft has flourished and grown.
Bonus: Have some fun.
Here is a little something we do for our students every year. It's targeted for our 6th graders, but every student in the band program looks forward to it:
I'd love to get your questions in the comments below. I'd be happy to give you whatever advice I can! Good luck.