Posted by: emilyrfarrell | December 31, 2012

New Years Realities

This past year was a biggun for me. I graduated from college. I got my first big girl job. I have an apartment, roommates, and rent. I have a car payment and as of this month: the dreaded student loans. Yet here I am, at 11:00, the last hour of 2012, thinking about all of the failures. All of the things I put aside, decided were not important, and now seem overwhelmingly important. So I’m faced with a choice. This new year I can make the sames decisions that got me here, alone in my little sisters bedroom on New Years Eve, or I can make the choice to focus on the victories. This year, I am not making resolutions, but I am excepting realities.

Its Not Going to Be Easy

I can put off everything, ignore the necessities and do whatever I feel like. Its easy when you live alone with very few consequences. I can very easily take the easy way out. But I have seen what that has gotten me. If I work just a little harder and put just a little more effort into everything I do, it will pay off ten fold. For me, for my students, and for my friends and family. Its an extra five minutes cleaning. Its staying up a little longer to finish a lesson plan. Its doing my laundry once a week instead of 3 loads every three weeks. Simple changes that are not easy, but necessary in order to get where I want to go.

Not Everyone Will Notice

I cannot expect everyone to praise me for what I am doing. Especially if I’m doing the minimum required. I need to appreciate the work I do for me and not expect everyone else to take the time to praise me and keep me going. I’ve always needed the approval of others to make me feel good. I have a difficult time doing things for myself. I’m not going to overanalyze why. So its going to be an important task to begin doing things for me, and no one else, without being selfish of course.

Life Goes On

If I make a mistake, no matter how small, I break down. I let bigger things go because I already messed up once, so there is no point in changing. Small problems seem huge and then all of the sudden big problems are no longer a big deal. I don’t know if that makes sense to anyone else but I’m going to go with it. I need to except that I am a human, and that means that I am bound to screw it up sooner or later. Probably sooner. The important thing for me to remember in situations like that is that the next day I will have to make the same decisions, and I can make them right this time around. I realize this paragraph was muddled, but I get it, so I’m going to keep it.

I am Loved.

There is no way around it. And sadly, this is the hardest reality for me to accept completely. There is always something in my life that makes me feel unworthy of anything, let alone love. But there is absolutely nothing I can do that will keep God from loving me. And once I can believe that, I can strive to deserve it more. I can know that I am loved and use that as a motivation to become a better person. So 2013, get ready. I am firmly planted on the rock that is God’s love for me and I am going to face every reality head on. If anyone else is struggling, or if you just feel like helping me out in this endeavor, please e-mail, text, call, facebook, tweet, etc. me. We can all use a hand. Happy New Year!

 

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Posted by: emilyrfarrell | December 16, 2012

Discovering Grace

I love to read.

 

But my room is full of books that remain unread.

I spend more time watching TV shows on Netflix than anything else that matters.

I skip articles and the like on the internet if they have to many words.

 

I love music.

 

But I don’t actively seek out new music.

I don’t spend my time listening to good music, just whatever is on the radio.

I haven’t listened classical music on my own time in years.

 

I love my job.

 

But I don’t put in the work to do it well.

I avoid doing tasks that I know would make my life and job easier.

I do the minimum and don’t try to change.

 

I love movies.

 

But I don’t like watching movies I’ve never seen before.

I avoid the new experience and fall back on movies I’ve seen a thousand times.

I watch crappy chick flicks that create ridiculous expectations.

 

I love myself.

 

But I can’t make simple changes that will keep me alive longer.

I try and hide things I’m unsatisfied with, but I’m not fooling anyone.

I continue to make decisions that I know are no good.

 

I love my friends.

 

But I can’t make time for them.

If I don’t have the opportunity to see them, I don’t try to connect with them.

I’d rather stay alone in my room all day than try to be with someone.

 

I love God.

 

But I haven’t tried to make that relationship work.

I can’t expect God to love someone like me.

I haven’t tried to spend time with God, but still want him to fix my trivial problems.

 

So what, are these lies?

Do I not love these things? These people? Or am I just constantly letting myself down? Doing things that I know will leave me unhappy. Working against myself at every turn. I know exactly what my problems are, and I know the ways to fix them, at least for the most part. But I don’t. And I’m not sure why.

 

There is so much in this life that I have to be happy about. I have a wonderful job, where I have met so many incredible people. My students are beautiful, even when they aren’t listening. I have incredible friends, some of which have made this move to Maryland with me. In this new life, I can keep old friends, which is such a blessing. I have a family that I brag about all the time. And through the magic of the internet, we can still come together as a family and talk about everything. I have a stable income, a place to live, and means to buy things that I really need/want. I am really and truly thankful for all these things.

 

But as for me, I have so much to work on. Everything about myself makes me feel not worthy of the things I have. And of course, in the great scheme of things, I’m not. And that’s ok. But the concept of grace, the gift that it is, is still foreign to me. So I think that’s step one. Discover Grace.

Posted by: emilyrfarrell | September 2, 2012

Management Potential

Hello! So its Labor Day Weekend and I’m in the midst of my first three day weekend as a teacher and I’m loving it. I’ve completed two full weeks as an elementary music teacher and so far I have loved everything about it. My kids are wonderful and I’ve found that I really have a passion for teaching these students who come from lower income families. My goal as their teacher is to create an environment that causes students to look at music as a privilege as opposed to something they have to endure twice a week. And so far its been going pretty well. I’ve really enjoyed getting to know my students and the other teaching in the school. The most interesting thing that happened to me in the past two weeks was not an interaction with a student, but rather, with one of the teachers. I was teaching one of my third  grade classes, which has been my favorite grade so far, when another third grade teacher came in and asked to observe my lesson because she liked my classroom management skills. First reaction to this was absolute shock. I have literally only been teaching for two weeks and this said teacher had been there for quite a few years. So yeah, I was flattered. And yes, I’m bragging a little bit. But that’s ok. The second reaction I had was panic, because I had to make sure I had the best classroom management I’ve ever had. Which didn’t happen, but it was still a good class. So, since I seem to be moderately successful at it, I thought I’d share my management style and methods, which are largely composed of things I’ve observed other teachers doing or tidbits from the internet or books that I’ve particularly enjoyed. So here it goes.

The Bipolar Problem

My “management style” is very laid back. As I said before, my goal is to make music feel like a privilege, so that students will find the passion for music which I strive to demonstrate through my actions. So far, it works for me. It also helps that I have no problem making a fool out of myself. I keep things fun, interesting, and musical. At least that’s the goal. In short, I get my students to like me and they want to keep me happy. Yes, I realize this is not foolproof, nor is it revolutionary. But as a music teacher, I think it is 100% possible. Everyone likes music, you just have to prove it to some people. The Bipolar Problem, as mentioned in the title of this segment, coms into play when I am teaching in classrooms where the teacher doesn’t share my happy-go-lucky methods. There are a number of teachers in my school who have a very stern and strict classroom management style that involves quite a bit of yelling. And I am talking about elementary teachers, even kindergarten teachers. While maybe that works for them, there is no way it will ever work for me. I don’t yell. I raise my voice, I talk with a stern voice, but I do not yell. I do not think it works. But as a cart teacher where I go into other peoples classrooms it is incredibly difficult to bring in my management style into a room where a different one has already been established. Especially in younger grades. This is something I will work on, any suggestions would be helpful. My methods so far have been to  keep things moving, having as little down time as possible. Students are less likely to freak out if you don’t give them the time to. I keep things upbeat and avoid raising my voice. Not that it hasn’t happened, but I am trying.

The Go Method

This has been my life saver when it comes to getting stuff done in my classroom. Once again, not at all revolutionary but it works so I thought I’d give my two cents. Because I go into other classrooms desks are often an issue. I don’t like doing a lot of worksheets or written work and I do like to utilize as much movement as I can while still having an educational lesson so desks often get in the way. What I have been doing is keeping them at their desks, just standing behind them. To get them to quietly stand up I pull the old, “When I Say Go, I want you to . . .” The only problem I’ve have with this is that students translate that into, “Oh golly, a race!” Which can be easily be countered by telling them to move in a certain way, like slow motion, or like a monkey. So they get to play a game, and you get to move on with your lesson.

And Now It’s Time For . . .

A totally awesome transition. Or at least I like to think so. On the first day with each of my classes I explained that one of my favorite parts of music class is that we got to do it together. Music is a group activity and I treat it as such. But, instructional time is necessary. So I made it a game. After we finish our vocal warm-ups, which I start every lesson with, I say, “And now its time for . . .” and my students finish with, “A moment with Miss Farrell.” That way they know it is time to listen and I get to feel like a gameshow host. Which feels pretty awesome. Even though they’ve figured out that this time is basically lecture time, I make it as interesting as I can, move around as much as possible, and call on them to answer questions whenever the opportunity arrives. 

Toot Your Own Horn

This sounds horrible. I am aware. But don’t be afraid of it. As a music teacher, you probably can play an instrument pretty well. Or sing pretty well. Or at least do something musical somewhat adequately. So show your students. If you teach choir or band, many of your students are looking forward to doing exactly what you did in college and becoming successful on an instrument like you. If you teach elementary school, they just enjoy being impressed. You have a gift, and you can use that as a management skill. I enjoy singing, and have sung my fair share of pop tunes while driving and listening to the radio. So when given the opportunity, I’ll sing for my classroom if we finish the lesson a couple minutes early. Now, I don’t suggest just randomly bringing it up. Your students will ask you. And when they do, imply that you will in the future. That will get them interested enough to ask you all the time. Once they really think you can do something they will be incredibly motivated to get you to show off, and that can translate into their behavior. 

So that’s it for today. I hope I helped a little maybe, and feel free to comment with questions or suggestions, I’d love either. Have a great Labor Day!

Posted by: emilyrfarrell | August 14, 2012

Next Chapter.

So despite the fact that I haven’t written anything substantial in probably close to a year, I’m starting this back up to document the happenings of a first year teacher, that teacher being me. I recently was hired in a district near Washington D.C. to be an elementary/vocal music teacher at one of the hundreds of schools in this district. I’m not going to say which district, for know reason other than to be very careful. I would never say anything bad about my employer or the students there but protecting both their identity and mine seems important. Here I will post the happenings of a first year teacher from point of hire till the final bell.

Part of the Process

I spent my summer after graduation working full time as a summer intern in a for a company near my house. It was a pretty good job but it was stressful applying for teaching jobs while working that much. That being said, I did apply. Maybe not as much as I would like, or my parents would have liked for that matter, but I did consistently apply to jobs. Last count, I applied for about 30 jobs. Not including the ones my mother began applying to for me, which probably not totally okay, but I didn’t get any of those jobs so no harm no fowl. I had eight interviews this summer, all of them through Skype. Living in the middle of nowhere and applying to jobs around the country meant that I really couldn’t go everywhere for a first interview. The interviews were the hardest part for me. I worked hard to get the interviews, I got super excited that I had one, and then it went nowhere. It was beyond frustrating. I don’t know why I thought it would be easy but it was anything but. My dad has been an creative/artistic director for various companies since before I was born and he is somewhat of an expert at finding jobs. He told me that even in the best situation you only have a 50/50 chance of getting a job. This really humbled me and quite frankly made rejection a whole lot easier. Well, not a whole lot.

Getting the Job

So when I got an interview with my current school district I was kind of shocked. This was a school I had talked to while I was still in college and then didn’t hear from them until 3 weeks ago. That’s right, 3 weeks ago. It’s been a whirlwind. The interview process was typical. They asked me my classroom management style, how I would go about arranging a choral concert in the winter and spring, what kind of repertoire I would pick, my teaching style, and how I would define diversity. They also had me teach a short lesson using a children’s song. Throughout the interview, however, I had a feeling things were not going well. I wasn’t answering the questions to the best of my abilities and I got a little flustered at one point. So I did something not to normal. I sent them an e-mail rehashing some of the answers I gave. Here is what I sent:

 I just wanted to make a few clarifications with what I said during the interview. I’m not always the most articulate when I’m speaking right of the top of my head, which is the main reason I always have a lesson plan, so I feel as if I may have said some things that were not intentional.

First and foremost, diversity to me is an acceptance of culture with out calling extra attention to it. For me as a teacher, it means that I teach world music not because I have students in my class from different cultures, but because we are all Americans and those cultures created the one we have today. I think it is important to unite a classroom and accept differences and appreciate them but not make them the most important factor. I may be Irish, but I’m an American first and I can connect with every student through that banner.

Also, when it comes to winter program, while I think it is necessary to at least address holidays like Christmas and Channukah, I’m afraid that I made it sound like that is what I would build a winter concert around, which is not the case. Like in the classroom, I think a winter concert is a place to embrace world music and culture. When I discussed the use of “classical” music, I really meant traditional. There are thousands of winter songs that are easily accessible to children that come from all around the world. When I taught for a camp, a big part of my lessons were teaching students holidays and songs from different countries. I also would embrace the season as well as the celebration, as there are many wonderful songs about it just being winter.

I realize you may not have the extra time for this, I just wanted to make sure my flustered ramblings were not misconstrued. As the oldest of five kids, I have been “teaching” since I can remember. I have always had a passion for teaching music, to any age level, and am excited for the opportunity to start that love of music from an early age with the elementary students in your district. Thank you again for your time today and have a wonderful rest of the week.

So probably not my finest work, but it did the job. I got a job in the district later that day. Crazy right? While I had a job in the district, I had to get a job in a specific school. I thought this meant that I still had to interview to be part of the district. Not true. I had a job in the district, I just had to find a place that would take me. And I found a place! I am teaching the younger kids, like age 3, pre-K, and so forth. I will be a cart teacher, which is cool. This is pretty much what I wanted to cover for this post. More to come soon.

Posted by: emilyrfarrell | February 18, 2012

Philosophy of Discipline

Philosophy of Discipline

            Growing up as the oldest of five children, I was never a stranger to discipline. Being a talkative child did not help me much when it came time for school either. For a long time, I thought I knew how to handle children and adolescents when it came to a classroom teacher. I am a loud person with a good sense of humor, I was sure that I would be able to stand in front of a room full of students and handle myself without any difficulty. Then I began student teaching in Farrell Area School District. Farrell is a relatively diverse school in a town that has recently seen its share of economic difficulty, with 100% of students on free lunch and breakfast. The students of Farrell, while definitely outgoing and energetic, are not the most well behaved student’s I have ever encountered. For the first time in my life, I was placed in a room full of students who did not want to be there and expected me to just roll over and let them do whatever they want. It did not help the previous choir director had just retired and the students were not used to her style of teaching.

            There is no greater wakeup call than realizing that you are completely out of your element, but I have learned, and am still learning, very important lessons from my students at Farrell Area School District. The most important of those lessons is that it is all about respect. Whether or not students like you has to be a second thought. This was a difficult lesson to learn. In a particularly horrible choir rehearsal, I was trying to get through a piece that none of the student’s enjoyed, when several students began loudly voicing their opinion. I eventually got them to move on, but I still heard some of them angrily muttering their dislike for the piece, and sadly me. At first I took it very personally, and felt like a failure as a teacher. With the help of some friends and colleagues, I saw that being liked was not the most important thing in the world. What is important is proving to students that you deserve their respect. The way you do this varies from person to person, and from school to school, but it needs to be done. In the words of Eldridge Cleaver, ‟ Respect commands itself and it can neither be given nor withheld when it is due.”

            Another lesson I have learned from student teaching is that the best way to prove that you are serious about something is not always yelling. What it comes down to is knowing your students. While some students might respond to yelling, a lot of students will shut down and continue to create more problems in the future. On the other hand, standing there and expecting students to notice that you are waiting for them to get quiet. As a teacher, I believe it is my job to find the right balance between yelling and silence that will get my student’s to realize that I mean business. The advice that my co-op gave me when I was trying to figure this out is that sometimes you just have to move on when you’re lesson and start writing down names. I will never again underestimate the power of keeping a student after class. I know I do not have all the answers but I do know that it takes a lot of time. Another important factor is keeping a positive attitude, not only about yourself but about your students. If you are sure that your students will rise to the occasion and convey that clearly to them, they usually will. Even the lowest achieving student in school needs someone who will find something positive that they are doing and praise them for it. This is especially important in schools like Farrell, where often students may not have that kind of support at home.

            Aristotle once said that ‟We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” He has said, more eloquently than I ever could, exactly what I think discipline should be; a consistent reminder about how a person should act in a classroom, and in life. One of the most important lessons that I learned from my co-ops, and from my students, is that what students need is consistency. The students I encountered while student teaching may have given me a hard time, but I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything. I know now never to demand or expect the respect of your students, but work to earn it. Students may not always like you, but they will respect you if you are fair, consistent, and high expectations. I believe that with a positive attitude, you can achieve just about anything and I will try to teach that to my students every day for the rest of my teaching career.

Posted by: emilyrfarrell | August 29, 2011

Say Yes to Education – Week 2

Though the program is over and I have made the great journey back to the fabulous institution that is Grove City College, I do plan on finishing this series of posts on the wonderful Say Yes to Education summer camp. In my last post, which you can obviously see right below this one, I wrote about what the program does and the first week of working with the kids. In the second week of camp I encountered many new behaviors, as well as more of the same.

A Lesson from the Students

To be honest, it was really hard for me to adjust to the kids that I had in my classroom. I was lucky to grow up in a nice, middle class area and attend schools that were filled with students from similar background. That was one of the main reasons I decided to work with Say Yes, so I could gain experience in a more diverse environment. And man were they diverse. Syracuse is a town made up of cultures from all around the world. 21% of the students enrolled in Franklin Elementary come from refugee families. I had students from Nepal, Korea, and Kenya and they were not all fluent in English. More than that, the students that did speak English were so different from anyone I would have ever met in my elementary school. These kids had already been through way more than I could have even imagined and they were still smiling. Seriously, for the most part they were happy upbeat kids who had the appearance of not having a problem in the world. But dealing with the bad times, was the biggest lesson learned from this camp.

Dealing with Bad Days

To be honest, this being only the second week of school, I was still on the learning curve of handling the kids with behavior issues. Which most of them had. But this was the week where I perfected my method. At first, I was afraid to be too harsh on them because I didn’t want to push them away or hurt their feelings. After I realized that they were not going to listen to me, I took a stronger approach. It was definitely difficult to find the balance between being too nice and too mean. And to be honest, I probably never found it exactly. But what I realized that week was that it is best just to be careful. The most important thing is to follow through. Because even though my kids were only 6, they knew when they could get away with something. While I know it’s not very innovative advice, it is definitely some of the most important to listen to. Which also means that you should probably abstain from saying things like, “Sit down right now, or I will glue you there.” Mostly because to a six year old, that sounds awesome. But also because if you don’t do it, they assume that all of your orders are jokes. Elementary kids are very literal, which is something that I struggled with, being a fairly sarcastic person.

Field Trips . . . Oh Goodness.

Being a Say Yes counselor provides you with a lot of  great teaching experiences. I had to turn in lesson plans at the beginning of every week, create a budget for all of my supplies, and worst of all, plan a field trip to the zoo. First of all, I taught a world music class. And sure, you can talk about what music goes with each country which goes with each animal, but that’s a lot of  connections for a six year old to make. But we tried. Secondly, even if you manage to connect music and the zoo, there is no guarantee that the kids are going to listen. Because lets face it, the zoo is such an exciting place. I’m 21 and I still get overwhelmed. So now you have 10 kindergartners who already refuse to listen to you in a place where dreams come true attempting to teach them a lesson which, let’s face it, doesn’t really make sense in the first place. Can we say best day ever? Oh, and it was in the middle of a heat wave. But, lesson learned. First, begin preparing for the buddy system at least of a week ahead of time. Treat your elementary school kids like a marching band. If you don’t teach them the drill before the game there is no way it’s going to work. Second, make sure you know where you’re taking the kids. If you have a field trip to a zoo, it is probably a good idea to go there before hand and find everything you want to see. Me not being from the Syracuse area, I learned this the hard way. And finally, if you are doing a worksheet, make sure you do it somewhere the kids can sit and complete it. Without the paper flying away in the wind. Also learned that one the hard way.

It’s the Simple Things.

Let’s face it, nothing in this post is ground breaking. It’s the same lessons you learn in every single education class in college. I thought that I knew all this going into it, but sadly I forgot it all the second I needed it. It’s really hard to be under that much pressure, trying to entertain the kids, impress your boss, not to mention the principal of the school. The most important lesson I learned in week two, and throughout the entire camp, was that I am not ready to just go out and teach. I need practice. I guess that’s why student teaching is so important, huh?


Posted by: emilyrfarrell | July 9, 2011

Say Yes to Education – Week 1

This summer I managed to find a job that I really enjoy and educational. I was really excited when I heard about the Say Yes to Education organization but there was no way that I could have anticipated the awesomeness of this program. In the past three weeks I have attended a week of education classes, written a four week course on World Music for kindergarten students, and written 19 lesson plans. I’ve also had my first experience teaching in an inner city school. If you haven’t heard of the program, I hope I can shed some light on this great organization.

The Program

The mission of Say Yes To Education is to value and realize the promise and extraordinary potential of economically disadvantaged youth and families. Say Yes recognizes the daunting challenges faced by children living in poverty, and believes children can overcome these challenges when given significant, holistic support.

Say Yes is committed to providing this support to at-risk children and their families, enabling them to graduate from high school, accomplish post-secondary educational success, and achieve meaningful life goals, including giving back to their communities.

Say Yes to Education  is a national, non-profit education foundation that was created by George Weiss, president of a money management company that he founded, in 1987. What was originally just a promise to pay the college tuition of 112 students at Belmont Elementary in Philadelphia turned into a program that helps over 22,000 students in Philadelphia, New York, Syracuse, and Cambridge, and Hartford inner city schools. The program starts in kindergarten and sticks with the kids all through their high school career. During the school year students are provided with after school care and mentors to ensure that they are reaching their highest potential. In fact, in the Syracuse chapter, there is a Say Yes representative located year round in each elementary school. Syracuse is especially unique in the Say Yes program because it is the first to embrace the program throughout the entire school district, which makes it the largest school enrichment program of its kind. During the summer, Say Yes hires college students, from a wide variety of majors, to come in an teach summer enrichment courses in several different subjects including writing, fitness and health, and music. During the Say Yes Summer Camp students spend the mornings learning math and language arts from one of the teachers in the school and then transition into the enrichment classrooms taught by college students.

Say Yes Syracuse

Because I moved to the central New York area fairly recently and I spend most of the year at school, I really didn’t know much about the city of Syracuse when I took the job at Say Yes Syracuse. Especially the fact that it is an hour away from my house. But that’s not important. The city of Syracuse is a fascinating place filled with beautiful buildings and Dinosaur Barbeque, which I have been to and there is a reason it has been featured on the Food Network several times, just saying. But there is definitely a harder side of Syracuse. Inner city Syracuse has a lot of problems, the biggest of which is their schools. There graduation rate as of last year was 47T%. It is Say Yes Syracuse’s mission to change that. When the Mayor of Syracuse spoke at our opening day of training, she used the phrase <“no child left behind<” several times. Now usually when people say that it is associated with the national education plan, which for me has negative connotations. However, this program has figured out how to actually leave no child left behind. They provide resources for schools in trouble and work with the students on a personal level to help them out. I was placed at Franklin Elementary School which is located on the south side of Syracuse. The students are from many different backgrounds and 22T% of the student body are from refugee families. As you can probably guess, this leads to a little bit of a language barrier.  But through hugs and laughter, as cheesy as that sounds, the other youth enrichment specialists and I are able to communicate with the students and hopefully teach them something.

The First Week

Going into this week, I thought I was pretty prepared for what was coming. Unfortunately, learning about how to work with young inner city kids is completely different than actually working with them. Luckily, I do have a partner who is there to help me teach the class but sometimes we just can’t compete with 15 screaming kids who just don’t know how to stop talking. I actually was losing my voice from having to talk/half-yell over them. We went into the first week with all of these great plans for what we were going to teach the kids, but I don’t think we got to half of it. The class is very diverse, spanning from kids who never say a word to me to kids who are very affectionate. There was almost always someone holding my hand or trying to sit on my lap. Now, don’t get me wrong, they were adorable. But it is very stressful to be in a situation where you are supposed to be the teacher and have everything together and at the same time have no idea how to be in control. But I’m getting better. By the end of the week, kids almost stayed in line, listened to me 40T% of the time, and even knew what a whole note and half note were and how many beats they have. It was very exciting. But we’ve still got a long way to go. As an education student, I am very excited for the experience that this program is providing. And as a human being I am very, very excited for the help that is being provided to these kids.

Posted by: emilyrfarrell | May 16, 2011

Affective Advocacy with Richard Victor

As some of you know, I attended PMEA 2011 and did a Live-blog of all the sessions that I participated in. Now that school is over and I have a little more free time, I will hopefully be able to summarize all of those sessions on this website, as well as putting my own little twist on it. If you read my last post, you probably know how frustrated I am with the state of music education in the United States. Allentown School District is just a stepping stone to the slashing of funding for the arts. So right now, more than ever, Advocacy is a vital part of your music education job. You cannot be just a teacher anymore, you have to constantly stand up and tell people why your job is important and prove it through what you do. Richard Victor, the advocacy chair for PMEA, gave a great presentation on effective advocacy and I would like to share what I learned with you.

Crisis Prevention

One of Victor’s main points was that Advocacy is not crisis management, it is crisis prevention. Now to be completely honest, the entire state of music education is in a little bit of a crisis. Therefore many music educators need to be doing crisis management. But if you are in a music education position and things are still going well for you, do not just assume that that is how things will stay. Chances are they will not. Show your administrators and community that things are still working and your job is important. And don’t just do it for you! This is one thing that as a future educator, I cannot stress enough. Your job is not the most important thing in the world. If you do the bare minimum and do not fight for the importance of your job, not only will you lower your chances of getting that job again, but you lower the chances of your administrators bringing back the position at all. Advocacy of music education effects everyone. If you don’t care if you have a job, at least care that if you don’t stick up for your job, music education students looking for jobs right now will not be able to find them if you proved to your administrator that the arts don’t make a difference. That little tangent aside, let’s define advocacy. Advocacy, according to Victor, is “influencing outcome”. It is so much more than just good public relations. Advocacy is proving to your administrators that music is worth the time and money that they are pouring into it. Right now schools are losing money. There is no way around that, education cuts are a big problem, just look at Pennsylvania. Schools are losing thousands of dollars and they are being forced to cut programs. They have to postpone updating textbooks and technology and stuffing more students into classrooms so they don’t have to hire more teachers. More and more students are being forced to pay to participate in activities like marching band. And if that’s not enough, there is still the issue of time. PSSAs and all other forms state testing are taking over the schools. Because of funding cuts, it is more important than ever to administrators to have good testing scores. So, there goes your time. Any money and time that the school has is going to go to the STEM subjects – Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. We want to add the Arts to the equation. Make it STEAM!

The Procedure, The Parents, The Profession 

In any administrative decision, students will lose something and students will gain something. Our job as advocates for music education is to prove that what the students are gaining is worth a whole lot more than what they are losing. If a student no longer has music in elementary education, it should be pretty simple to show what they are losing. Victor also stresses the politics of the situation, saying, “The decision belongs to those who show up.” Always remember, if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu. As much research as there is defending the importance of music education, it doesn’t matter to administrators. Understand how decisions are made, where and when it happens, and the entire procedure they follow. What will keep your music program alive is a lot of parents, otherwise known as taxpayers, showing up and telling them that the cutting of the music program is unacceptable. While this is not foolproof, as seen in Allentown, it is definitely a good thing to have. Administrators are worried about being made into a bad guy and if they tick off a bunch of parents, that will not look so good. While parents of individual groups are good, you want to have a unified group of parents of students from every musical activity standing up together to protect music education. Form a K-12 Music Coalition. Also, work together with all the music teachers in your district. It is not a competition, you all need to unite and protect your music program.

Effective Advocacy

“The best advocacy is a quality product.”

It’s as simple as that. You are a music teacher. If you are doing your job right and teaching the best that you can, you are already proving to parents and students that your program is important. What you have to do is constantly show your administrators and other members of the community that you are doing your job. There is no standardized test for music. Therefore, the administrators are not getting a report on how well you are teaching it. While this can be a good thing, you don’t have to teach for a test, you have to go out of your way to prove that your program is viable in the new education system. We have seen the research, we have experienced that value, we believe in what we are doing, and we are ready and waiting to make a difference. Share this with your administrators. Invite them to concerts, go to as many meetings as you can,  and get your students’ parents to do the same. Also, come up with an objective for your music program. A short, simple, catch-all phrase that represents your music program and what you stand for. Think about the past Presidential election. Obama’s running campaign was based around the phrase, “Yes we can!” While this is simple, and obviously the same as Bob the Builder’s, it was memorable. Anyone remember John McCain’s? Didn’t think so. Be a spokesperson for your music program and think about different ways to support it every day.

Posted by: emilyrfarrell | April 6, 2011

So We’re Living Here in Allentown

So in case you haven’t heard, on March 31st the Allentown School Board voted unanimously to cut 43 honors courses, 47, electives, and all French and Latin Classes. This means that 247 teachers will be out of the job. It’s crazy to think that in a meeting where 700 students, parents, and teachers show up to argue this plan, it gets passed 8 to 0. Of course, since I am a music education major, I am quite peeved on the unwarranted attack on the arts. While the plan is meant to bring up PSSA scores and decrease the drop-out rate, they obviously have no idea what is going to happen when you rip music out of schools.

And They’re Closing All the Factories Down

Gerald Zahorchak, the superintendent for the Allentown School District, first proposed this plan in March 24th. The original plan calls for the hiring of part time teachers, but the termination of 300+ full time teachers. From the number of courses being cut, in the elementary school Zahorchak’s plan is to focus on the core subjects, rather than the arts. This means that most of the music, art, physical education, and library teachers would be cut. So the plan is that the homeroom teachers will teach those in the regular classes by incorporating those subjects into their regular lessons. They will keep on enough specialized teachers to teach a 9-week courses in library, music, art, and gym. High schoolers that do not speak English will not go to high school with everyone else and will instead be sent to another school by themselves. Also, students who need extra help and motivation will be sent to a completely different school. The plan, found here, says that all middle and high school electives will be kept to state standards, which most likely means that most ensembles will be cut. Overall, they will cut 84 elementary positions, 121 secondary positions, and 42.2 (what the what???) student support positions.

“Pathways to Success is a model that aligns with federal forward looking goals,” says Gerald L. Zahorchak, D.Ed.,superintendent. “It is designed to provide equity and opportunity, prepare college-and career-ready students America desperately needs. The essential principles of our vision are efficiency to maximize more equitable education for more students so that higher achievement is possible for all of our students. We want everyone to achieve beyond individual expectations. All need to be college ready leaving high school. This model also saves money for parents/guardians with programs that reduce college tuition with students beginning in high school.”

Every Child Had a Pretty Good Shot

While researching this topic, I found a lot of problems with this program, and the school board, and the superintendent. First of all, I am shocked that Gerald Zahorchak, a man with a doctorate in Education, thinks this plan is a good idea. I went to high school near Allentown, I understand the climate in the inner city school district, and I realize that Governor Tom Corbitt’s education cut is costing the Allentown school district $15 million. BUT, this is not the way to go about it. Also, Zahorchak’s information isn’t checking out. First of all, it is illegal to cut faculty based on budgetary goals, and while Zahorchak assured everyone this was all just part of the plan, if you multiply 247 by the average salary of an Allentown teacher, it just happens to be be around $15 million. There were also some numerical inconsistencies when it came to the number of teachers currently in the district. Secondly, during the board meeting discussing the changes, Zahorchak said, “We need more teachers in our district.”  In the words of Allen High School sophomore Joshua Risi, “Taking away 247-some jobs but saying we need to add teachers sounds like complete hypocrisy.” And that was just one of the  many great quotes from that night. 700 members of the community showed up to speak on the behalf of education and reason. Stacy Cunningham, a teacher in the Allentown School District said “You said teaching matters. Obviously teachers don’t.” Lacey, a 13 year old eighth grader at Trexler Middle School stood up for her teachers, saying, “If you are cutting teachers you are basically cutting students too.” Out of the 700 people there, none of the people who spoke supported the plan. And yet, when it came time to vote, the school board passed it unanimously. In a response posted on the Morning Call website, Paul Jayson wrote that this decision had caused some people he knew to consider moving away from Allentown. He wrote, “I predict that there might be an exodus by the parents of students who have succeeded in Allentown. In my experience, once parents pull out of a community because of a loss of confidence in the schools,  the school system will fail.”

And It’s Getting Very Hard To Stay

So here’s the thing. Yes, this situation is horrible. But you have to realize this is happening everywhere. If we don’t stand up for music in education, it will be continued to be overlooked by school boards trying to cut the budget. I know, and you know, that music is an instrumental (pun intended) element in a child’s education. We know that music can increase test scores and can help provide an outlet for at-risk kids. Then Allentown school district is a struggling one. But it’s music department wasn’t. Having observed there before, I saw the strength in the choral program. I didn’t get to see the band but I know they had a rather large one. The choir teacher there was one of the best teachers I have observed. Even though he was working with under-privileged and troubled kids, he had complete control in the classroom, something I’m sure many of his colleagues did not have. So where did it go wrong? The simple answer is, it didn’t. This is one of those “wrong place at the wrong time” situations. It was a thriving music program, but because of the people that were elected for the school board, it is going to be cut down significantly. But this fate can be avoided. Get involved in music advocacy. Make your school administration aware of the facts when it comes to music education. The MENC website has a section on advocacy with a lot of great resources. LeadingNotes.org has several informative articles on the benefit of music education. Also, watch who you choose to elect to your school board. You do have a choice, so make sure you know where they stand on music education and the importance of the arts. Take action, and prevent situations like the one in Allentown. For more information, please go to the Morning Call website, where you will find many short articles about the meeting.


Posted by: emilyrfarrell | March 29, 2011

PMEA 2011 Here We Come!

So I am so freaking excited for the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association Conference this year in Hershey. It is a really great experience and I really learned a lot last year. But this PMEA is especially exciting because 4 other Grove City College Music Education majors and myself will be live blogging the entire time. Yep. That’s right. You can basically be there without actually being there. Really exciting right? Right. So here’s what’s going to happen.

Get On the Website

Let’s be smart about this. If you’re not going to PMEA, because you either don’t live in Pennsylvania or you are incredibly lame, you should at least go to FutureMusicEducators.net/pmea11 to find all of the different sessions and their corresponding live blogs. It may sound complicated, but its really not. Just go and find what sounds interesting to you and click on it. Or, if you’re really cool, just go to my page and stay there the whole time.

Remember When it Is

If you’re really honest with yourself, you’ll realize that you are a forgetful person. So once you find a session that you are interested in, click on the link and go to the live blog page. There you can sign up to get a reminder for one day before PMEA, which starts on April 14, 2011. Even if you are absolutely positive that you won’t forget, sign up to be reminded. Because life is crazy, and you are not going to want to miss this event.

GET EXCITED!!!

Seriously you should be pumped. This is going to be a great opportunity for you to learn a lot for FREE! I’d like to thank Grove City College, specifically Dr. Joseph Pisano, for providing the funds for us to have internet access at the conference so we can bring this to you. This is a huge event and it is great for them to support us in this way. And, while you’re waiting, go visit the other live blogger’s blogs:

Andy Ritenour – Future Music Educators

Brittany Bell – Brittany’s Adventures in Musicland

Elizabeth Heist – Music Education Highlights From an Undergrad

Ryan Dore – The Journey from Undergrad to Band Director

It’s going to be a great conference and I look forward to sharing all of the information I learn with you guys. So check out the landing page, check out my page, get a reminder, and get psyched!


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