Music teachers can easily have many reasons for feeling disconnected from the rest of the school. They are referred to as specialists, teach a subject most other teachers have minimal training in, and work in a room that is probably isolated from most of the other classrooms. Also, music classes are typically taught when other teachers have preparation periods, so planning time with other teachers is rare. Yet in spite of these and other reasons for a music teacher to feel isolated, it is nonetheless important that the music teacher be an integral part of the school community. Such integration fosters school unity, promotes music as an important part of the school day, and ultimately leads to better teaching and learning. I will explain each of these advantages.
First, a music teacher that is connected with the school community can be at the center of school-wide events that bring students, parents, teachers, and administrators together and that celebrate and showcase students’ musical achievements. For example, for my winter concert each, year, I invite every child, kindergarten through eighth grade, to perform. For some grades, entire classes perform, while for others, small groups or individual soloists perform. I have even had older students perform original work. I love getting parents and teachers involved in music events because it builds good will and enthusiasm for the program. The P.T.O raffles gift baskets, and the baskets are put together by homerooms throughout the school. Food is served after the concert, and is donated by teachers.
For our fall cabaret, children in grades 3-8 perform. We make it a dinner theater. Teachers and parents donate pans of pasta, sell tickets at the door, or prepare programs. Because they are invested in the project, they are also present for the performance, giving the children a large audience to perform for. The winter concert is always filled to capacity. In the spring, when we do our musical theater production, parents and teachers are busy building sets, selling tickets, making photograph displays, making costumes, coordinating props, taking t-shirt orders, making and hanging posters, etc. Projects like these involve the entire school community. When teachers see the level of commitment and excellence displayed by the students, their view of the music program is high and remains high. Teachers will support quality programs that have a visible benefit for their students. Teachers and teaching assistance can be seen wearing our t-shirts from shows years later. They are proud of the shows and of their contributions to them.
Second, a music teacher that is connected with the school community promotes music as an important part of the school day. Most music teachers see their classes once or twice a week for an hour or less. Whatever is taught during that limited time will be more meaningful and more remembered if it is connected to other things the students are learning at other times during their school day. When the fifth grade is studying Native Americans, my fifth grade classes prepare a Native American ceremony, and learn how Native Americans make music and use it to celebrate important occasions in their community’s life. The final performance of the ceremony is video recorded, and then shown to parents at one of our exhibition nights when our school is transformed into a museum, students serve as docents for collections of student work. When the third grade gives their demonstration of volcano eruptions, my students provide a drum ensemble to rumble around the eruption, and accompany the presentation with prepared and improvised drumming patterns. When a class is studying sound in science, I teach them musical instrument acoustics by having them make working instruments that are then used to perform original works that students compose specifically for those instruments. It lends practical musical application to lessons that bridge music and science. Students remember and assimilate what I teach them better for having a direct link to what they are doing in other classes. This ultimately leads to better teaching and learning.
One more reason for a music teacher to be connected with the school community is that it is simply more fun and more rewarding beging part of the whole educational mission of the school, rather than etching out a separated presence. A music teacher who is integrated into the school is not likely to be fighting to be noticed, acknowledged, valued, or respected. All of those things are a natural consequence of being part of the school community. This leads to more interactions with other teachers, more cooperation and support, and a better attitude toward teaching, and more job satisfaction.