More than a year ago, a frustrated middle school band director turned to a Facebook group for help with a problem. What was it? Students and parents weren’t returning forms. The post included a reference to “kids these days.”

I couldn’t resist the urge to put in my “two cents,” and wound up putting in a whole lot more. March is “Music in Our Schools Month.” I can’t think of a better time than now to take my response and present it to you. 

My response

This thread is an interesting one. As someone who was a middle school band director “back in the day,” principal, central office administrator, and now one who writes and speaks on organization and time management professionally, let me weigh in. 

First, when I started teaching in 1982, the older teachers talked about how kids weren’t like they “used to be.” They blamed it on the parents who were the now-grown-up “flower children” of the 1960s. We tend to see the world like an English lesson…We make the “present tense” and the “past perfect.”

Bringing forms back plays into a larger issue…having a system to handle papers. It’s a skill set that some 9-year-olds have mastered and where some 49-year-olds still haven’t a clue. Ditto for handling digital information. Neither the kids nor the parents are failing to return paperwork just to tick off the band director. And since band is a place where kids WANT to be, imagine the challenges faced by teachers where taking the class is mandatory. Kids don’t come to us knowing how to form an embouchure. We teach them that. The good news is teaching organizational skills is far easier. Since we have students for multiple years, we’re the kids’ best shot at teaching organizational skills that will benefit them throughout life.

What does the paper workflow look like for your students? In your school, when a paper to be acted on is given to the student, where does it GO? What’s the “inbox” where each and every piece of paperwork that needs to be handled is put? If there’s a good answer to that question, then the kid is fine regardless of how complex his/her life gets. Without it, it’s like handing the kid a clarinet and never giving him a fingering chart. Maybe he will figure it out on this own somehow. When the kid gets home, where is the one spot that all paperwork for the parent’s attention goes? (Again, the “inbox.”) 

In band, when you assign lines 1-6 from page 14 tonight, you play those lines the next day in class, right? You have the whole class play…you call on various sections to play…you call on individual students at random to play, right? What if you assign those lines and you don’t say anything about them for days? We wouldn’t be surprised if the kids didn’t work on them.

It’s the same with something as simple as paper flow. If it’s due today, you ask for it TODAY. If turning in forms is an issue, then call roll and have the students bring their forms to you. (Yes, it takes time…but this is what’s going to SAVE you time and frustration once you teach a system and set expectations.) The next day, start class by calling on the students who did not bring the form and ask for it. Do the same the next day. Follow-up is everything. 

More input than ever

Our students live in a world where there is more input than ever before. We know that. Survival depends on making choices about what to ignore. Ignoring the noise is essential to allow any of us to focus.

When we give students a form…and then send the same thing home in an email…and put it on the website…and put it on Instagram…and put it on the Facebook page…and use an automated caller…we become part of that noise. We become part of the problem.

When we give the students a system that is going to work not just in band, but across their lives now and when their children are in band, we give them skills they can use for a lifetime.

A shining example of doing it right

Charles Peters and his Joliet Grade School Band are legendary in the arena of middle-level bands. A mother of one of the students wrote to him about the influence he was having far beyond the mechanics of playing an instrument. I don’t think you’re going to find it anywhere online, and it’s one that’s worth the read.

To Mr. Charles Peters:
I guess he hypnotizes them. 
Yes, I’m sure it’s true. 
Otherwise, how would he get them  
To do the things they do?
Skip hardly ever washed his face,
And never combed his hair. 
But now he always does them both.
I simply stand and stare- 
He’s perfectly willing to wash his hands, 
And always wants a clean shirt.
Of course, I really am quite pleased 
But, just a little hurt.
To think for years I have tried 
To influence him this way;
To help improve these habits
I’ve done everything, I say. 
All at once it is important
To always be on time.
I can’t help it, I simply wonder 
If it is that “boy of mine
“It’s – Mr. Peters will and Mr. Peters won’t
It’s – Mr. Peters says and Mr. Peters don’t.
I know there are other mothers 
Who feel just as I do
But might not remember 
To say these things to you.
So little by little I’m beginning to understand
That my son learns more than music
In Mr. Peters’ band.
-Dorothy N. Fletcher

And that was my response

And that was my response. Organization is a teachable skill and it’s important that we teach it. It doesn’t fit neatly into any one subject area. The poem you read, from long ago, shows how one teacher installed worthy qualities in his students. Since this is “Music in Our Schools Month,” would you like to hear the grade school students who were the subject of this poem?

Enjoy the Joliet Grade School Band in their rendition of “Symphonic March,” Movement 3 of Tchaikovsky’s 6th Symphony, and “Tamboo”:

The best teachers, regardless of the generations they taught, have always gone beyond the subject matter and included life lessons.

As we begin “Music in Our Schools Month,” who are some of the current day teachers, in the music room or in any aspect education, who are teaching these life lessons to students? Leave a comment.

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