Sunday, August 26, 2012

To Be Oriented

Pictures below post

Thursday and Sunday were orientation days, with a weekend in between. Overall, I found the time informative, thought provoking and rarely boring.

In so many ways, this school has it together. They seem to be aware of both the limits and possibilities of their building, teachers and students. There are high expectations without unnecessary pressure and firm leadership without condescension. There is something comforting about being told what to do, with the understanding that the reason they hired me was that they knew I could do it.

So much of what the secondary principal had to say was “obvious,” a term he himself used to describe the information. But then again, sometimes the most obvious, simple concepts are forgotten in an otherwise complex job. We took one step back from the fads and the “new ideas,” another back from the cynicism and doubt, and one more back from poorly utilized test scores, homework time and busy work. We were left with some very simple thoughts:
  • Students will fulfill our expectations, good or bad, so why not expect more?
  • A “learner-centered” school (rather than a “student centered school) focuses on all who learn: administrators, teachers, support staff, parents and students.
  • A lack of English should not be mistaken for a lack of intelligence.

There were plenty of other items with which I disagreed, mostly because the applicability in the arts or in elementary education was unclear. I was happy, though, to hear new information and start forming opinions. It was exciting to feel these “obvious” ideas slipping into my mindset before I begin teaching here.

Some facts about the school:
  • 780(ish) students in grades Pre-K through 11
  • Pre-K starts at age 3, then Kindergarten 1, Kindergarten 2 and First Grade
  • The school has a huge teaching staff and an even larger support staff—just at this location there are bus-drivers (and busses), a business office, carpenters, many maintenance workers, security, bus matrons (to ride with the students), teacher assistants, secretaries, custodians, IT personnel, supply store attendants, etc. Everything and everyone is on-site.
  • The school is open 24/7 (including the pool). Security will let teachers in at any time to work or exercise.
  • It is about a .8 mile walk to school, so I estimate with other errands, I’m walking at least 2 miles per day.
Whereas Friday was invigorating, Sunday was overwhelming. The music rooms (and all classrooms) are pretty much empty, with all instruments stored high on shelves (including the electric pianos). There is no curriculum, save some high-school level sheet music and a box of recorder books. The instrumental and technological resources are plenty, but no written text to organize the activities. That realization mixed with ongoing apartment and Internet issues caused me a minor breakdown right before lunch.

Trying to explain the difficulty of having no textbook or curriculum is difficult, because there is a common assumption that music is easy. Don’t we just have thousands of songs memorized? Can’t we just play piano without sheet music and sings songs without written lyrics? I tried to compare music to other standards-based learning. You would not hand a math teacher a set of state standards and no resources. Imagine teaching history to 450 students. You have eight different grade levels and several separate classes in each grade. Any reading you assign, you either have to find on the internet (and purchase the copyright) or write yourself. Any worksheets, pictures, video clips, and information must be produced from hours of research or your own memory. Think of doing this with math, or biology, or any subject.

I know that if I am to be the teacher I want to be, this is going to take hours of work. I will not go into a classroom unprepared or unorganized. But I am starting to see this as my opportunity rather than my downfall. My interest is in curriculum development and my Ph.D. work (so far) is in curriculum integration. Part of me has always wanted to write a curriculum, and here is my chance to write eight of them. And if and when I move onto the next job, I will not just have my resume, education and experience. This music teacher has a curriculum included at no extra charge!

There is still a chance I will find and or purchase some sort of alternative, but right now, I need to fill my empty classrooms, figure out my schedule and work with my teaching partner and the grade level teachers to see how I can be a positive member of the school community. I have the support of my wonderful principal and the advice of a staff full of experts.

People expect me to do this, and as Robert said, that means that I can.

As always, your questions and comments are welcome. Still to come: a video blog tour of our compound!

Orientation on Thursday. I love the set-up. They provided both breakfast and lunch.
The football (soccer) field, track and tennis courts.
The new auditorium (just finished last fall). 
We estimated (an art teacher and a music teacher), seating for 600 or so.
The HUGE gymnasium.
Great view of the pool and the football field and tennis courts beyond.
The courtyard where the elementary children have recess. They are working on adding a softer ground.
The black-box theater that is the classroom of the drama teacher, who is also the head of Performing Arts.
Me before walking 1.5 miles to have dinner at Arkan. The lack of sidewalks made the dress a bit sandy, but that's okay.
These rolling animals are all the rage. When the children bounce, they roll. It's adorable.
They DO have sushi here. Marcia said it was delicious so I shall get it next time.


  1. Megan,

    I had to write my curriculum from scratch, too. I realized that, since it was a regional charter school, the kids entering had little-to-no common music experience, so I focused on rhythmic and melodic literacy. And I taught the same stuff (differentiated, of course) to all levels the first year. Then the second year I re-taught that curriculum to the youngest grade level, and taught all the higher ones a new one that came next in the sequence. Don't make yourself crazy trying to come up with 8 different curricula the first year, since it's not like your 4th graders will have had your 3rd grade curriculum.

    Good luck! I know you can do it!!

  2. I love you subtle disclaimer on the seating capacity of the auditorium...(an art teacher and a music teacher).