Holiday Greetings! A year in review!

Hello everyone! I thought I’d take a minute and reflect on 2019.

As it comes to this blog, I haven’t been very active as there has been very little movement in the world of technology and music education. We’re really not seeing much in terms of breathtaking new apps or online services, and there has been very little news in terms of hardware, too. With the exception of functionality on Chromebooks, which continues to improve, the landscape in this area looks very much the same as it did three years ago.

The biggest change is the continuing dominance of the Chromebook in education, even with the (school model) iPad at the same general price point. In my own school district, the latest initiatives have been Chromebooks at the high school. GoGuardian is a far better tool than Apple Classroom to control those devices in the classroom (and you pay for it), but the devices are traditional clamshell devices, and they are seeing damage far above the levels of the iPads that are distributed 1:1 at other schools in the district.

So on the whole, the Chromebooks that schools are deploying remain hard to use in class (integration) and require subscriptions (e.g. MusicFirst, Noteflight, SoundTrap, Flat.io, SmartMusic) to be really useful, and most of that usefulness has to occur outside of the classroom (outegration).

I fear that the use of technology in music education has remained at low levels. There are exceptions…check out the podcasts by MusicFirst and Katie Wardrobe. But I still think the technology users in music education are the exception rather than the norm.

Ah, yes. Podcasts. Paul Shimmons and I have not recorded a podcast in a long time. We’re still here, but I have a new job at late-start elementary schools, so the time frame that used to work for us to record podcasts doesn’t exist any more. We’re trying to record a podcast soon, so watch for that.

As I wrote last Spring, I was notified in April that my position as a middle school choir teacher was going to be cut to .8 FTE. This was difficult, and it felt like a personal attack. Some of you have gone through similar situations–or are going to–and I feel your pain. The only positions available in our district were elementary positions–something that I had not taught in my career. The spring and summer came and went and there were no positions in other school districts that made sense to apply for, so I decided to let things fall as they would and moved to elementary. I’m tenured in our district with high seniority, so at the least I had a job (and a lot of people reminded me of that).

Well, I started teaching K-5 this past fall at our Spanish immersion school, and at another school (literally across the district), for one class at the end of the day. I teach four sections of Kinder, two sections of a merged K/1 level, four sections of first grade, three sections of second grade, three sections of third grade, two sections of fourth grade, and two sections of fifth grade…and also a before school choir once a week. Each section is thirty minutes long, twice a week.

The transition to elementary was scary and tough. My district doesn’t have a chosen curriculum, and the curriculum I did manage to find is from 1995; two years BEFORE I started working in this district. Yikes.

Thankfully, I have been following Amy Burns (amymburns.com) for a long time, and she has discussed the work of Dr. John Feierabend. I had been using the work of Dale Duncan’s S-Cubed at the middle school level (http://inthemiddlewithmrd1.blogspot.com). I had already created my own ukulele curriculum (available here: https://ukestuff.wordpress.com/the-video-ukulele-method/) and I knew about Recorder Karate (https://www.musick8.com/html/store_page.php?cat_id=3). So if you blend all that together, you can teach elementary music (well, you can TRY to teach it).

What I struggled with was how to organize thirty minutes of class time, especially in K-2, as 3-5 are working with instruments (3-4 on recorder, 5 on ukulele). The Feierabend method presented lessons almost like a Choir rehearsal, and that set the light bulb off in my head. I treat every class like a mini-rehearsal, with the same types of activities (although they change) every day, and I use a blended method of our district’s dated curriculum, S-Cubed, and Feierabend. And it’s working. For 3rd and 4th grade, I’m making videos for Recorder Karate, and I use my own work for 5th grade ukulele.

Well, there are days that teaching K, K/1, or 1 is a bit like herding cats. But from what I understand, that’s age appropriate. My general rule is this: no activity longer than their age.

I follow a number of elementary music teacher groups on Facebook these days, and I have to tell you…there are a lot of horror stories out there. I do have a couple of tougher classes (all in the youngest years, which makes sense) and a few students that make life harder than others…but I have to be honest…I’m pretty happy in my career at the moment…happier than I’ve been in ten years.

My last two teaching assignments were tough for different reasons. While I’m not a pure “elementary music educator” (whatever that means), I feel like a weight has been lifted off my chest. It is wonderful to be greeted by kids…even the tough ones…with joy and happiness. The staff has been incredible and supportive. And I have been getting a lot of positive feedback from administrators, teachers, and parents. It is amazing what that can do for your mental health.

So what I want to say to everyone is that I feel like I’m back. Optimism has returned in my life. I don’t dread driving to school in the morning. And I don’t have to bring any of my anxiety or fear or anger home with me. I’m happy. And the other funny thing is that I was always hearing about school drama (not the school activity but the social illness) in my prior positions…there’s just no drama for me at my current positions! Can I tell you how great that is?

I will say that the technology I have available at my new schools is very limited; I have my school-provided MacBook, and an iPad to use with Seesaw. At my .10 position, I am in a classroom that isn’t mine alone (think about a teacher on a cart, without a cart) with a SMART Board that I only use as a projector (I’m setting up when I enter with the students as I arrive just barely in time, if not a little late). But I have my own technology, and that’s okay.

And ukulele continues to be a huge blessing. Much of the singing we do in class is accompanied by my ukulele. I honestly don’t know what I’d do without it!

And I’m learning so many things…the importance of floor dots, tape lines, Musication (https://www.youtube.com/user/derjanson), Koo Koo Kangaroo (https://www.youtube.com/user/kookookangaroo), and any freeze dance.

I’m not sure what 2020-2021 will bring; at the moment, I’m hoping that I can be assigned at my main school full time (admittedly, the actual crossover, the driving in the middle of the day–not the crossover school–stinks), but with additional cuts, people are going to be bumped all over the place and all I know is that I’m guaranteed a 1.0 position somewhere.

And I don’t know where my future lies. I’m still a secondary educator at heart, with a goal to be able to teach at the collegiate level…I’m just not sure I can afford to do so until I retire! I do love that fact that a few years of K-5 experience can open up some collegiate music education positions that I would not have been able to apply for in the past.

As far as this blog goes, a huge percentage of my time has been focused on my ukulele work, which has brought me a lot of joy, and has rekindled my love of music (it got pretty dark when I was teaching middle school music), and has also tapped into all of my skill set (technology, pedagogy, music theory, etc.). That said, I’m keeping an eye what is changing in the world of technology in music education, and as I see new developments, I’ll be sure to let you know about them.

I hope you have had a great 2019, and that your 2020 will be even better! I’m finding myself incredibly grateful for the changes in my life (painful as they were at the time)…and I hope there are others that can find encouragement from my own experience. I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!