Confessions of a Band Director

Experiences and thoughts on technology and teaching music.

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Balancing Work & Fun

Posted by dougbutchy on October 21, 2010

In the course of my first few weeks at the new job, I have found myself once again asking if I push my students too hard. This comes from a strange happening in my Jr. High group in which about 3 or 4 students have dropped band all together and several more (and their parents) have been discussing dropping band with the guidance counselor. I should mention that I did away with a study hall that the Jr. High Band used to have built into their schedule – this has become most students’ reasons for wanting to drop. I’m not convinced that this is the sole reason, however.

But these students (and subsequent discussions with the guidance counselor) have made me think once again about the work ethic that I impose on my students.

I have always firmly believed that I only wanted the students in my program that truly wanted to be there and always gave 100%. If that only meant that I had 20 kids, so be it; at least it would be 20 dedicated students! I believed this would also lead to a great program, where every student was totally dedicated and hard-working. This indeed did happen in my last position. I always had a small group, but they were excellent musicians, and very dedicated. Unfortunately, parents and administrators don’t always recognize and/or understand quality in music performance. What they do understand is number of students participating. I always supposed it was other factors that kept my numbers low – scheduling conflicts, lack of support, etc.

Now I have much larger ensembles (50 in Jr. High & 65 in HS), but that also means that the range of student abilities is much wider as well. In my new position, I have students that are much better musicians than at my old school, but I also have a few students who sometimes don’t even play because they lack ability.

Other recent events in my rehearsals have caused me to think that maybe I push students too hard. I find that I tend to be a very laid back person, but on the podium, I am extremely focused and want to make the best use of our rehearsal time. Sometimes I get the feeling from the students’ reaction that this is more intense than what they would like.

So I find myself saying, “Am I too hard on them? Are my standards too high? Do I push them too much?” The problem is that I’ve tried to compromise who I am and my standards for the students before. It doesn’t work. I end up being miserable, and then so do the students…it’s not a good situation for anyone. I can’t just stand in front of them, wave my arms and collect a paycheck. I just can’t do it.

A wise man that I respect very much recently told me that we as music educators must teach to our best students. I believe this is good advice. Those students should have the best experience possible, and I believe everyone else should rise to the occasion. So the question becomes how do we as teachers balance the work and fun in our classrooms? How do we push students to be the very best that they can, but at the same time ensure that they are having an enjoyable experience that keeps them coming back for more? I always thought that seeing the fruits of their labor in their performance would be enough, but I’m not always sure that’s true for every student. What do you think?

2 Responses to “Balancing Work & Fun”

  1.   Brian Says:

    A good friend once told me:
    1/3 of the students well succeed and flourish, no matter what you do.
    1/3 of the students will fail and not be motivated, no matter what you do.
    But the success and improvement of that middle 1/3, is where your affect as director is measured.

    Have others heard this?

    Love the blog, keep up the great work!

  2.   Kris Says:

    Thanks so much for posting this!! For the last 2 years I had been asking myself the exact same questions. I was dealing with an administration that preferred quantity over quality. I was also working with a colleague with the exact opposite view. He was blaming me for students quitting the program even though his numbers held steady from year to year. I was told about this time last year that I would not be teaching band this year and would move down to the elementary school. I hold a huge respect for the job that elementary music teachers do but I miss the challenge of middle school band. Thanks for making me feel a little bit more normal!


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