Looking back over the semester, one of the biggest learning experiences for me has been 7th Grade Band. This fall Mark Rupelt, a new teacher from Tennessee moved to Juneau and took over middle school band and high school orchestra and choir. The move was an epic moment in Mr. Rupelt’s life; it was a bucket list dream to come to Alaska, and through the first quarter of school he began to open up about his life, the ups and downs, aspirations, and struggles. Unfortunately, Mr. Rupelt passed away suddenly in September, and this created huge disturbances in classroom climate and the learning environment. Following Mr. Rupelt’s sudden absence, a string of substitutes taught for a month, and finally Ken Gaier, a retired band teacher and longtime Juneau resident, has taken over for the semester.
The ups and downs and sudden changes have shown me firsthand how important consistency is in a classroom; each teacher and substitute that has stepped into this role has had different expectations and teaching methods, which makes it a challenge for the students to take discipline and expectations seriously. The class spiraled out of control by the end of October; even high achieving, teacher pleasing students talked, and shouted over the teacher. Students rarely brought music, often forgot instruments, left the room in a disastrous state.
When Mr. Gaier took over in November, I got to see a master teacher at work- and he did have a lot of work to do. The first huge change was regular assessment; everyday every student played a B-flat major scale individually in front of the class. On day one, half the students could not make notes come from their instrument. A week later, as I entered class, I heard students asking each other if they had practiced the scale. This week, students are asking each other how much they practiced. Assessing students made the students accountable for their work, and being consistent about assessment has motivated students to improve. Next week, the students will have their first concert! This has added goal setting; students have three simple songs to focus on for several weeks- attainable, short term, yet challenging goals that are guided by the teacher.
Consistent assessment is so important in music. Learning an instrument can help students develop self-regulating skills that can transfer to other areas of life, but assessment and feedback must be utilized frequently for positive outcomes to come to fruition. I am so glad I get to watch this class grow and watch these students step up to the challenges presented to them. It has made the classroom reading really come to life in an authentic way, as I see methods and philosophies come to life with clear effectiveness.
The beginning of the school year is all about retraining muscle memory and rebuilding music reading schools, but my teacher also uses this time to create a culturally responsive classroom by bringing in diverse music to support the learning. My teacher uses this period of drills and assessments to introduce to students music from different cultures and time periods; we warm up our bow holds with diverse music: lots of Micheal Jackson, Polynesian music, Irish music, etc… As for place based learning, we are working on some concerts throughout the community; Holiday Pops with the Lyric Opera, Culture Night performances, and 8th grade orchestra is performing at the Heritage Festival at Disneyland!!!
I can’t give the school a high score for being culturally responsive; at the beginning of the school year I learned that the Native Culture Group (I am not completely sure of the name) was cut from the school, so there are few language or cultural groups for native students on campus (I did just see a flyer for an after school weaving class, so I can’t say there is absolutely nothing). It is such a shift from the elementary school that I teach at; in elementary school, there are Tlingit phrases and names posted throughout the school, an after school Tlingit dance group, and I hear Tlingit phrases being used over the intercom and by many teachers throughout the school. Unfortunately there is little of that in this middle school.
A good teacher is in love with his work; good teaching interlaces the teacher’s love for the subject with a love for the students. The class is an entanglement of heart and head that both enriches and exhausts the soul of a good teacher.
My 6th grade teacher, Mr. Mills, was one of my favorite teachers, and that was one of my happiest school years. He is the only teacher, with the exception of orchestra teachers, that I have any memory of seeing outside of the classroom. Mr. Mills would sometimes visit with students in the cafeteria, and once he took a classmate and I out to lunch! Every year he held three writing contests: a paper for the best breakfast ever, a paper for the best lunch ever, and a paper for the best dinner ever. The class would vote for the best meal, and Mr. Mills took the winning student, and a friend, to any restaurant of their choice. For each paper I pulled out my dad’s hardcover thesaurus and used every adjective I could fit into the papers. My meals averaged ten courses, fifteen pages. Mr. Mills would read some of the student’s papers out loud, and the students would ooh and ahh at the different foods and restaurants or scenes in which the meal was served. Mr. Mills read all three of my papers out loud, and I won the “lunch paper.” True to his word, we went to one of my favorite restaurants for burgers and milkshakes. I remember very little about my teachers in the grades prior to Mr. Mills class, but I remember him, his class, and especially my prize lunch. He was funny and came to school excited to teach, and he went out of his way to know connect to his students- even if it took him past his hours and out of his classroom.
- I have learned a lot in the course about the real but invisible ways racism word in our society. The classroom is, in many ways, a microcosm of our culture that can unfortunately maintain racism by creating individual gaps, community gaps, and academic gaps. Through this course I have been able to view how racism works through many perspectives beyond my own. As Enid Lee wrote in Beyond Heros and Holidays, most white people are unaware of how racism works and is maintained in our society; I agree with that statement. Listening and discussing issues and experiences in class made me aware of how real racism is. It will be an awareness that I will now have when I enter the classroom. It will be something more real to me now that I have taken this course. I will not be “colorblind,” but I will work more intentionally in the future to close the “gaps” by being culturally responsive and aware.
- As students move through the educational system a number of gaps are created between minority students and white students. The community gap is the broad gap in achievement and socioeconomic status between different cultures caused by the academic gaps and individual gaps that develop in many school setting. I chose this word, because it is a very powerful and present problem, but it is something I believe we, as teachers, have the power to change.
Critical Thinking makes knowledge relevant to the student, scaffolding questions so that the students find conclusions independently. When students think critically they go beyond “yes” and “no” questions and seek the “why”inside; subjects are explored and students discover connections between the material and themselves. As a music teacher, I want my students to be critical thinkers so that their playing reflects themselves; without critical thinking music is mechanical, not musical.
Determination is vowing to obtain a goal and doing whatever is necessary to finish. I picked this word for myself; I am determined to close the community gap, to take my class outside of the classroom, and to push all my students to think critically.
3. As a culturally responsive teacher, I want to make sure that there are no barriers that keep certain students from performing by communicating directly with parents when possible and being available for students and parents when needed. I know that being a culturally responsive teacher requires me to be a teacher beyond school hours and away from the school building. I want to use place based learning strategies by taking my students into the community, not just to perform but to learn about their community and the cultures within their community; I would like to touch some of the cultural music traditions throughout the state. I would like my students to become critical thinkers so they can find their own way to make music reflect their own cultures.
For a class taught by a teacher with little knowledge of Alaska, I came out of the course having learned so much about the state and excited to learn more. I think the biggest takeaway for me is that, through the project based learning approach, I learned so much more than I would have if I had been given a specific topic to study or memorize or write about. By eliminating the subject boundaries, I believe I went deeper and broader than I otherwise would have. It was tough to be handed an assignment that I had no prior knowledge about, I had to come up with my own questions and consider the path I chose carefully. In the end that freedom was very rewarding. I also appreciate that we worked in teams; it was helpful to have peers that I could bounce ideas off of or go to when I needed technical help. I think in a classroom full of kids I would be more careful about how students were grouped, but in this situation- with no background knowledge of each other- it was good to find that balance on our own. It also freed up the teacher to work logistics beyond our abilities, spend time with each group, and help one on one if problems were too challenging for other class members to help with.
I can’t wait to check out the book(s)!
The cultural Standard my group discussed was standard B:
- A culturally responsive curriculum recognizes cultural knowledge as part of a living and constantly adapting system that is grounded in the past but continues to grow through the present and into the future.
My group drew a poster depicting a Tlingit home, followed by a mission boarding school, followed by a current classroom. We felt this represented a culturally responsive perspective able to look to the past, present, and future.
Cultural Standard B is also the standard my lesson activity focuses on:
students start with a basic history of Athabascan fiddle and then look at how their fiddle tradition has bloomed into an internationally celebrated tradition and how fiddle is used to support a healthy community. Today there are so many resources available to learn and study about other communities and cultures, I think that Cultural Standard B is very possible to meet in the classroom.
Imagination+Imagery+Combined Disciplines= Effective Teaching
Michelle shared a history lesson about the Japanese invasion of the Aleutian islands; she used beautiful black and white photos to guide our conversation and require us to use problem solving skills to discern what had happened. The photos were very powerful, and I could see this being very effective in the classroom. The students get to be detectives, combining imagination and common sense to deduce the story behind the photo.
Scott shared a book he had his students put together in Nikiski. The students shared everything from poetry to statistics, and sought material throughout the community. His students pulled skills from multiple disciplines and were allowed to showcase their own creativity and feeling.
I think both of these lessons demonstrate effective teaching and culturally responsive teaching. Michelle’s lesson started opened with photos and then built on personal knowledge instead of what the teacher already know, or what the teacher expected students to already know. Scott’s lesson allowed students to build their own experiences and use academic subjects to reflect on their community, as they experience it.