Saturday, March 19, 2011

Promote the best, shoot the rest!!

There is a story that the great Baroque composer, George Frederic Handel, was displeased with a soprano soloist that was performing one of his works at a rehearsal. Handel became so incensed that he picked her up and threatened to throw her out of a window. I suppose this is the extreme example of the title of this blog: “promote the best, shoot the rest”.

The first 25 years of my career I was a music teacher, trained and disciplined in the performance and execution of music. My conservatory-style training was more of a humanistic experience since I was being trained to be a “music educator”. In this setting an aspiring music candidate is still expected to demonstrate discipline, diligence, and above all technique and mastery of the literature for one’s major instrument. This also meant auditioning, auditioning and more auditioning to climb that proverbial “pyramid of musical excellence” to become the best in your field.

There was a time in public education where this philosophy was quite prevalent. Music teachers seeking glory and pursuit of the consummate musical performance attempted to mimic the likes of Arturo Toscanini, William Revelli and others of dictatorial manner and style. They were labeled the greatest music educators of all time, when all they really were could be compressed in the likes of a dictator or unfeeling slave driver.

21st Century education does not have the luxury or the patience espoused by these types of teachers. I often wondered how these grand maestri of the glorious age of high music education could deal with differentiated instruction, a student on the spectrum that possessed amazing aural acuity, the disabled child that performed the instrument so well but in an uncoventional manner to accommodate his/her disability. I am not sure these "glory hound" music dictators can deal with differentiation. If it prevents the band from getting that “gold” medal performance than that child cannot be in the group. We have all heard this situation before.

There is no room in education for these dinosaurs anymore. Any administrator that hires this kind of a teacher, that has no understanding of differentiation, no patience with children that are classified or have an ESL background, or any child that wants to learn at another level of ability, deserves the problems they will have in this 21st Century of learning. Let me give you a suit, impartial hearing, lack of a free and appropriate education.

I know about this kind of teacher very well, because not only was I tormented by this kind of educator, and worked with many that exhibited this behavior regularly, I was also a teacher of this style, until I saw the light! On becoming a building principal I began to see an ugly reflection of myself in the behaviors of these teachers. 

I knew of two wonderful children that experienced this torment. Kevin and Michael, both children of special needs, but people that exhibited amazing musical acuity and rhythmic sense. Despite their needs, music was something they could do very well. I remember the fight I had with arrogant music teachers that did not want them in their rehearsals for fear their ensembles would have a diminished chance for the GOLD medal. I saw two kids that were amazingly gifted and talented in their own special way, and a unique opportunity to be a part of a wonderful musical experience. Sadly, the fight with these teachers was too much and I gave in to their egos. But, I taught these kids myself whenever I could. And I know in their way they appreciated the music making. Kevin completed his education at our district and whenever I see him in the community always has a big smile for me with recollection of the music we made together. Michael passed away a few weeks ago from complications due to his disability. He was a beautiful and gifted human being that taught me much about differentiation. Working with these two kids were the high point of my 25 years as a music teacher!
We need to teach children from where they are and bring them along in a welcoming and patient manner that protects and nurtures the child, not frightens and torments them from ever trying. Teachers can no longer be the center of attention, the bearer of learning. 21st Century learning requires a new and patient " facilitator of learning". Be that kind of educator for your students.

Dedicated to Kevin and Michael, my mentors!!

No comments:

Post a Comment