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Music teaching: special or unique?

So I've entered into a philosophical discussion with a non-music teacher colleague regarding elements of music teacher evaluation. He states,
"While teaching music is special, it is not unique.  Think of a auto shop teacher, a mechanical drawing teacher, art teacher, a lab-based science teacher, etc.  Rather than immediately focusing on music, I suggest that you view teacher evaluation through the broader aspect of pedagogical content knowledge.  Fellow math/science/English teachers can talk the talk and know what good teaching is; music teaching is yet another example of that."
Do you agree or disagree? Why?
Replies (12): Threaded | Chronological
on November 11, 2013 8:48am
I have been considering your post for some time now; and I feel there is one variable that weights music toward unique.  A student does not take "drop" Math for two years in high school and then register for Calculus - rather, there is a scope and sequence of skills in math that districts *require* students to follow.  (I'm making this up off the top of my head; forgive me if the next part is inaccurate/out-of-order.)  You take alebra, geometry, and advanced algebra/trigonometry and pass with flying colors prior to taking Calculus.  Courses in English, science, and social studies work in the same way.  Advanced courses are based on pre-requisites. 
However, in many districts, the chorus ensemble is expected to be a "come one, come all" classroom.  If you can talk, you can sing.  Students may want to try choir for the first time in their senior year of high school, and we are to welcome them with open arms.  This, I believe, makes our classroom teaching unique - A student who has never been introduced to 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10 are not taking Statistics and Probability; students never introduced to A, B, C, D, E, F, and G are not taking British Literature.  However a student that doesn't know FACE, rhythmic division, solfege, where the half-steps are in a major scale, or what their lips are supposed to look like on an [o] vowel can sign up and take choir.     
Does that make any sense?
on November 12, 2013 1:37pm
"However, in many districts, the chorus ensemble is expected to be a "come one, come all" classroom.  If you can talk, you can sing."
[My comments are interspersed in brackets- JSM]
[Oh, if only! That mindset (Y'all come as either an option, or necessary) is THE primary reason that:
1) Administrations know NOTHING about the science, art, OR Craft of Music. How many principals study voice, hmmmm?
2) School Districts cut music budgets before they cut sports, every single time- and for what reason. MISPERCEPTION of the necessity of music, and the tacit realization that some groups will never learn how to do Bach's counterpoint, but can do 'midnight basketball.' How often have I told my own children, "You won't play ball after you are twenty-five, but you'll be singing the rest of your life, if you learn this LIFE SKILL." It was referenced that musical study helps in the spacial, analytical nature of higher math and science. There's a reason for it! And we don't market to the lowest common denominator, simply because we want to be 'fair.' If life were fair, imagine how many composers, singers, violinists, etc. would never have overcome their obstacles to become artists!
3) The types of choirs that are the 'y'all come' sort, are the ones REAL musicians avoid like the plague- for good reason. Such choirs (such districts?) rarely make music happen, and/or the dumbed-down rep (that the co-dependent teachers in positions such as this [whom I don't envy at all!] perform with such 'choirs') is/are of such questionable value and musical taste that it would have been better to say, "NO" when such a question is posed, than to degrade the Art in the first place. That is, if one is still ABLE in most secular school districts to really DO 'real music' - Bach, Beethoven, Palestrina, Brahms, Thompson, etc. with their attendant religious/Christian texts. which brings me to:
4) The overt, palpable bias of most school districts toward what was once our 'bread and butter' rep- the DWEM Christian wealth of thousands of anthems, oratorios, cantatas, requiems, offertories, etc.  As Choral directors, we are (in many places) now unable to choose such musics. And if we do, we are actively opposed (and threatened with lawsuits!) in the choosing by whom? By Christophobes both at Adminstrative levels, as well as by those whose 'offense' of this music, is that someone might actually learn something from it, (Morality, Truth, Beauty) This last is nothing short of a blatantly discriminatory double standard, and  has been demonstrated time and time again in most of the 50 states, and is known to suffuse American Public Education. And no, 'solstice music' or 'multicultural music' doesn't cut it- at all, when compared to "Ave Verum Corpus" of Mozart and the Austro-Germanic school, or "Salvation is created" from the Orthodox tradition.]
Am I 'elitist'? Oh, yes. But then, so were Bach, Beethoven, Ravel, Stanford, Parry, Purcell, and Mozart. Don't confuse rabid egalitarianism with nobility of spirit, please- or being 'more noble than thou.' Music is a High Art, precisely because it is noble. Making it common, destroys its very life.
"Students may want to try choir for the first time in their senior year of high school, and we are to welcome them with open arms."
[Are we?  How many students don't want to take the time to learn to read music? How many 'teachers' resort to rote learning, by copying vocal lines on cd's and not 'teaching the skills' needed- all to do our variant on 'teach to the test.' If you disagree with my scenario (and I encountered this on my watch where I teach) well, then, put them in the FRESHMAN choir, make them WORK, teach them solfege, music literacy, so that they no longer live in their musical 'ghettos.' Enable them NOT to be musically crippled the rest of their lives as adults- they're already "awful-tuned" to death by the pop music they ingest 24/7, whose melodies are non-existant, whose lyrics are infantile (when they're not pornographic), and whose intervallic structures consistently remind one of the "sol-mi" of 5 year olds taunting each other on the playground! 
But DON'T let them in the Senior/Select choir, or let any student think that Glee is 'real,'  just because 'their friends are there' or 'it's on TV!" That capitulation short changes EVERYTHING one works for, to build a choral program- or a singing nation, IMHO.]
"This, I believe, makes our classroom teaching unique - A student who has never been introduced to 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10 are not taking Statistics and Probability; students never introduced to A, B, C, D, E, F, and G are not taking British Literature.  However a student that doesn't know FACE, rhythmic division, solfege, where the half-steps are in a major scale, or what their lips are supposed to look like on an [o] vowel can sign up and take choir. "    
[Unique? I would say darn near impossible. - As a vocal pedagogue, it has been made glaringly apparent to me over the last two decades, as I entered the choral realm as a singer, after singing professionally in opera for 25 years, that even where I live, (in a land suffused with "10,000 choirs") very few of those who DO sing, know HOW to sing- either properly or well. And we choral directors naively assume (?) that because someone can ' a little' (as was said in HMS Pinafore) that they should be able to sing, because 'anyone can sing'? Can they? Can they really? The problem with that sentence above, is the modifier 'well' is left out so often. Can they sing...WELL? How often have I had to rehabilitate a human voice, because of what an insensitive choral director has done! How often have I helped a 'choral alto' become the dramatic soprano she really was, because a choral director didn't want 'THAT' sound in their soprano section? More than once, let me assure you. If you don't want full-voiced women, own up to your Sopranophobia, and start a BOY's choir, if you want peepy sopranos! But don't make grown singers get nodes, laryngitis, paralyzed vocal cords, and all the rest. Arrgh.
Should not the choral directors who never learned to sing admit to themselves, that they need continual vocal training as the REAL 'continuing ed' for their Craft? And not more seminars on how to learn 'tricks' in the classroom, or cheesy octavos that only line the pockets of the tinpan alley modernists? I'm being brutally honest here, but it's a fact. Part of the blame for shoddy choral programs lies with choral directors who never learned how to sing. But just because such is the case, or is widespread, 'don't make it right.' [Mikado] As a matter of fact, it's the root of the problem in many, many instances.]
Does that make any sense?
[Not to my mind. Music- real Music- is far too noble a Craft to be drug through the mud as it has been, these last 50-plus years. In America particularly, I think Choral music has suffered a great deal since R. Wagner, R. Shaw, H. Swann et al. passed on- and for an obvious reason. We're the most recent victim of the 'instant everything' mentality, that poisons the West. We think that we can be 'awesome'- or that our choirs are 'extreme' when we can choreograph them, but not teach them music literacy; especially, when we ourselves aren't willing to work decades on learning our craft as choral directors- and that most assuredly includes singing- both the mechanism AND the technique, as Vennard so wisely put it. ]
Applauded by an audience of 1
on November 17, 2013 11:10am
Some thoughts, in no particular order:
1.  As public school music teachers we are obligated to have our programs open to all students who can behave, make an effort, and actually WANT to participate (as opposed to those who are required to enroll, or whom we are required to take--because they want to be with their friends or whatever-- by school policy).  Ideally, we would have different choirs and bands for students at different levels of ability, and certainly if that were the case, a beginning senior should not be allowed in the senior choir just because he or she is a senior.
2.  There are many great singing traditions around the world which are not operatic, and do not require and did not develop with that kind of vocal production nor the reading of music.  American Negro Spirituals, the South African tradition of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, etc, and the Balkan tradition are three that come to mind.
3.  I've taught in NY and AZ and both have education regulations that specifically allow the study and performance of religious works in music classes (and art, history, etc) There is some verbiage that this must be part of a comprehensive, multicultural curriculum.  For 12 years in those two states, I have regularly used sacred music, Christmas carols in my classroom and choirs.  Administrators who forbid religious works need to educated, and we need to publicize this misinformation and malpractice--respectfully-- to our superintendents, boards, state ed. offices, politicians and communities.  If we don't lie down, we won't be doormats.
on November 27, 2013 7:48am
Music education evaluation should not be treated any differently than other disciplines.  Nothing about our field of teaching is more or less challenging, unique, or special than the other disciplines. If you want to be an effective, inspirational educator, you've got your work cut out for you, plain and simple.
Our belief in the value of music in people's lives however is very subjective, and we should be zealots for the cause.
Applauded by an audience of 1
on November 15, 2013 3:25pm
John-Scott and Jacob,
All excellent points.
So from the launching platform of music teacher evaluation I ask you: are we teachers or coaches? It seems the choral ensemble classroom shares elements of both, yet choral music educators are constantly assessed by the same rubric as their core area counterparts. And how should the element of performance be assessed? A winning coach keeps her job; should a choral director lose his when performances fall short of an administrator's expectations?
on November 24, 2013 2:30pm
   Phil, regarding your question about how performance should be assessed, and your comparison with a winning coach who keeps her job: I think the latter is an example of the way it should NOT be in sports, though certainly the way it usually is.  With the exception, perhaps, of professional teams, a coach should not keep her job based on winning (this is the one-size-fits-all-test-score of sports, or the one-size-fits-all-evaluation-rubric), but on the opportunity and teaching she provides.  How many students are involved?  Does everyone get to play regularly or do a few stars play continuously?  Are there JV and intramural opportunities for "ordinary" students?  Do her players exhibit good sportsmanship and character?  Are they involved in community service and working with younger athletes?  Are they successful in their studies?  Does the coach herself set a good example by being respectful of officials, other players and coaches, and her own student athletes?
   An administrator could make a simple checklist out of these, or even a rubric, but one does not need a more detailed and frequent assessment to determine if a coach and an athletic program embody the above positive attributes.   Anyone with basic experience and training in education can look and see the results, just as in a good music program one can see the student involvement and enthusiasm and hear the results.  
   It would be appropriate for us teachers to use a detailed rubric to help our student musicians understand their areas of success and what they need to improve, but to have someone who is not a musician "perform" such a rubric on the musical details of our work as music teachers does not make sense.  It would be, and is, irrelvant, unhelpful, and even a distraction and barrier.  I do think there is a place for more general assessment criteria, like how successful we are in providing opportunities for all students, and how well our classrooms are managed.  Frankly, I would LOVE to be evaluated in detail by another music teacher for a full day--at all my grade levels, plus my performing groups.  Alas, none of my colleagues is deemed qualified to do that, nor is there provision of substitute teachers or time to do that, and that's the way it's been throughout my 12 years of teaching.
   Bringing this back to the non music teacher colleague of your original post, I see the same limitations in the evaluation of teachers of auto shop, art, mechanical drawing and laboratory science.  These teachers could be evaluated in the "broader aspects of pedagogical knowledge" by colleagues and administrators in other disciplines, but each teacher needs and deserves an evaluation by a fellow specialist colleague who can "talk the talk" in that field.   
on November 26, 2013 6:52am
Bart, in an ideal world what you describe would be the case. However, the stipulation in virtually all barganing situations and their resulting contracts is that since a credentialed teacher is involved, the evaluation must be done by a district-appointed administrator using an agreed-upon instrument (the assessment form).
The idea of peer evaluation is beginning to take hold in some districts, but unions tend to reject it since they're more interested in the legal elements involved than in good pegagogy.
on November 27, 2013 10:18am
I've worked in a union and non union state (NY and AZ), but am not familiar with the fine points of contracts.  Perhaps a starting point for change would be to qualify the term "district-appointed administrator" to read "special area teachers shall be evaluated by a district-appointed administrator or teacher in their field."  This would be a big help, even if there is only a single assessment form for all teachers.
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