We Are More Than Teachers of Music

2011Symposium_1_2Today my post is a little different; it is more about life than about music. As music teachers, we have the opportunity to impact our students’ lives year after year. Unlike many of our colleagues who teach different class of students every year, we teach all of the students in our buildings year after year. This allows us to develop teacher-student relationships that are more significant in the student’s lives than those with other teachers. Our students also get to know us pretty well. They learn to put up with our quirks, anticipate our moods, and settle into how they work best with us. This longevity gives us the opportunity to build into our students’ lives principles for living that go beyond our subject content. Here are a few aspects of good living I try to model and instill in my students. I think they are things that every kid needs, and every teacher in some measure should strive to provide. These are adapted from the curriculum for a men’s group curriculum called Knights of the 21st Century, but I’m sure they are worthwhile for all.

  1. Character comes from within. It is a result of beliefs, conviction, and inner strength built upon life experience and choices every person makes every day.
  2. Every person is responsible for his or her own choices. The freedom and power to choose is great and precedes all other abilities. To use this power and freedom well, a person must learn which choices were good and which were bad, and learn from both.
  3. Every person has infinite worth. This simple fact is lost in the all too frequent events of our time where human life is disregarded or held valueless. Understanding that every person has infinite worth elevates how we treat others and how we view ourselves in a challenging and ever changing world.
  4. Be dedicated to continuous learning. Maintain a healthy skepticism and spend the time and effort needed to reach the right answer. Not knowing the answer to a question must be the beginning of an effort to learn, and not a signal to give up.
  5. Be yourself. You will not succeed at much trying to be someone else.
  6. Influence others for good, and do not be influenced by others for bad.
  7. Every challenge and hardship is an opportunity to learn and grow.
  8. Do life with others, never alone.
  9. Admit when you’re wrong, and make it right. If you don’t get it right the first time, keep trying until you do.
  10. Live by what you believe.

As I teach music, I have frequent opportunities to teach these ten life principles. A classroom is not a room; it is the sum of the relationships between the people in it. How those twenty or so students relate to, treat, and learn from each other is the key to their success in school. My goals for the year are to build skills in performing, creating, responding to and connecting music, and my lesson plans will reflect those goals; but along the way, I will be teaching these ten things, because I know that if my students don’t get those, all the music in the world won’t make for a successful life. Music is hugely important to everyone’s life, but it is not the whole person and will languish in superficiality if it does not flow from and through a person with well-developed convictions, beliefs, and character. There are plentiful examples of what happens when music flows from people of poor character. When that music flows into people of poor character, the whole of humanity degrades further. Music combined with character is a powerful tool in restoring at least some of humanity’s goodness that has been eroded.

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