Tuesday, September 23, 2014

New Clientele

I remember back in my earliest days of teaching--before I was even student teaching--I subbed for a music teacher, and later had a chance to observe him. He did some Music Math with his middle school kids, to help them memorize the number of beats in particular notes. Like any teacher would, I promptly stole the idea, and I'm pretty sure I've used it in every music teaching position I've held ever since.

Today, I rolled it out in piano lab, giving a quick "Ten-Minute Theory" lecture to help the newer pianists, then offering up a small work sheet for extra credit. "You don't have to do it," I said, "But if you want extra cred--"

A clamor went up, cutting me off, as students practically leapt over pianos to get the worksheet. (It's not as if any of them are failing, or particularly needing extra credit, though some have struggled in their theory books and may want the points to make up for it.)

Once the theory was out, a low buzz of noise settled over the room as kids helped each other--not copying, simply discussing how to do the math problems. I didn't make them simple, using exponents, parentheses, and a combination of functions. I know these kids can get it.

But the most amazing thing happened.

I had written one problem to look like this:

[whole note] + [dotted quarter note] = ____ x [half note] = ____

About half the class missed the second equal sign, so instead of making this a linear equation, in which 4 + 1.5 = 5.5 x 2 = 11, they all started solving it as though it was an algebra problem. This is remarkable to me, because every other school I've taught at where kids are at algebra-level and beyond, that sort of automatic foray into higher-level thinking has never been so automatic or instinctual. It says a lot about the Large Suburban High School that its students are:

  1. So eager to get a few points of extra credit on already excellent grades, even though it means extra work for them.
  2. So willing to work together, discuss possible answers, and even help each other see why a problem works out the way it does, rather than simply copying answers from The Smart Kid in the room.
  3. So quick to utilize the skills they've been taught in other classes to automatically look for another way to solve a simple problem. 
I've been there a little over a year, and it still surprises me sometimes. I am definitely not complaining. 

But lest you think this school is full of perfect children, they are not. They're teenagers. They are glued to their cell phones, eager to flirt, and I returned to my choir room yesterday to find this all-too-common problem:

Why? WHY?!
(For the record, this was not choir kids.)

...So, yeah. They're definitely not perfect. But I love them anyway.

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