We aren’t music teachers. We are child teachers who teach music.
One of the teachers I used to work with is a very reflective person, and once in a while she sends me a text message out of the blue with her thoughts about this and that. We’ve talked about her family’s road trips across America, the history behind the songs she’s teaching in her classroom, how difficult it was to be a teacher at the beginning of the coronavirus lockdowns, and how the students we used to work with together are growing up and learning. Behind all of it is a conversation about what it means to be a teacher.
She is an excellent teacher—hard working, perceptive about her students, honest and hardworking, and exceedingly thoughtful about the experience of the students in her classroom. What she wants is what she best teachers want—space and time to learn more about her curriculum and hone her craft.
I won’t tell you who she is, but I thought I would share some of the things we’ve been talking about lately. They have helped me understand some things about teaching, and teaching music in particular.
Observation: It is challenging to teach music in our classical schools, especially for the average applicant.
- The curriculum in our schools is so rich and varied. Students learn music history, memorize the melodies and lyrics to hundreds of songs, learn basic music theory, and they learn to play a simple instrument like the ukulele or the recorder—all before 6th grade!
- Most people who study to become music educators, especially in the lower grades, focus on performances, like putting together end-of-semester concerts for the parents. The average music teacher isn’t preparing to teach music in a classical school. As my friend says, “their bias is toward ‘doing’ the music,” which means performance.
- This is especially true in the early grades, where the teaching of the “grammar” or the building blocks of music–notes, rhythms, music history, and songs–means that the teacher must slow down the “doing” of the music in favor of understanding music deeply, and thinking about how its related to other subjects.
So what should we be looking for when hiring music teachers for classical schools?
Here’s a slightly unconventional job description as food for thought.
Classical School Music Teacher, Kindergarten-Sixth Grade
- Loves music and has an ear for it. Has played an orchestra or band instrument into adulthood.
- Can sing pleasantly.
- Knows a lot about history or literature, and can see connections between the music curriculum and these other subjects.
- Loves to learn.
- Things highly of small people and enjoys being in their company.
PS. For an idea of what can happen when a student has an excellent K-12 education in music, here’s a glimpse into the music program at Hillsdale College.