Music Teachers: Times Are Changing!

Artikel 04.09.2014 17:06

An article by Dr. Hedrick on his observations about the changing role of the music teacher during his 40+ years of teaching in public and private educational institutions.

Music Teachers: Times Are Changing!

By Dr. David Hedrick

The Times They Are A-Changin' is the third studio album by American singer-songwriter Bob Dylan, released in January 1964 by Columbia Records.   If this sentiment by Bob Dylan was his assessment in 1964, one may speculate it is even more applicable today in the area of education and the field of music.  In an era of fast-paced changes, the value of a career today is often measured by academic preparation, observation, rapport, discipline, methodology, and assessment. Being an excellent teacher demands superior knowledge, high standards, creative thinking, and meaningful assessment and is applicable on all levels of academia.

In A Nutshell

Teaching careers may be ascertained in part by the aforementioned principles listed above, but teaching excellence and success is also demonstrated by specific goals within specific areas of endeavor, including, students’ demonstration and implementation of these various educational dimensions through the application of learning to real life situations. 

Successful teaching is also is an administrative goal where teachers are provided dynamic leadership with significant professional development to challenges the teachers’ skills, talents, and intellect.  Administration should encourage the teacher’s classroom abilities by assisting with practical instructional guidelines, consequential professional development, review of application processes, and significant assessments of all facets of educational dynamics.

  Successful education is also a parental goal and responsibility.  Studies indicate students of parents  involved in their child’s education at school and at home will achieve a higher level of success in school when compared with students whose parents are not actively engaged in their child’s education at school and at home. 

Finally, the community must also share ownership and responsibility for educational goals and excellence by supporting scholastic programs of realistic teaching-learning goals, facilities, supplies, and salaries.

Personal Reflections

As a public school music teacher, my personal experiences began in the spring after graduation from college.  That first teaching assignment was at a small, rural school system with only one music teacher for grades 1 – 12.  The position was funded by Title I federal grants. There was no high school chorus or elementary music programs.  A first priority was creating and implementing a high school choral program with students who had no background in music, not even elementary music classes.  There had been no choral program in the system for twenty years.

This first experience was instrumental in developing my personal philosophy of music teaching and learning and the realization high school students could learn at high levels and be successful in music elements, including reading music, singing expressively, and performing in a public venue – even without a previous background in music. 

A World of Changes

As a music educator, I have observed changes in the world in general and music education in particular.  It is interesting to note that students from my generation (sixties and seventies) have much in common with students of today’s generation.  Both generations are talented, intelligent, and skillful in their art.  Areas that have changed dramatically in today’s society are the influences and distractions for the modern student.  In the sixties and seventies, entertainment was basically television, radio, movies, concerts (classical/pop), and the lesser desirable elements of alcohol, tobacco, drugs, and sexual mis-conduct.  All generations of college students have dated; have friends, move in particular social circles, and desire to have things in later life as money, home (house), family, etc.  So the things that drive most generations are basically the same.  (The spiritual and political influences that affect all generations are an immense topic for discussion and intentionally left out of this article for considerations of time and space.)

Although I do not consider myself to be old, I am older.  Just as friends and colleagues of my generation have observed, there have been extraordinary changes in the world (and music) over the decades and most of us have tried to stay in step with those changes with varying levels of success.  It is not my desire to have a forum on generational gaps but reflect on the changes, issues, and influences, on succeeding generations as it relates to the pursuit of a college degree in music.

Upon reflection of my own college career, I acknowledge that we did not have the distractions (and assistance) of today’s youth in many areas.  The biggest personal distraction I recall was having a job working on campus to pay for tuition and other costs. There were organizations to which one could belong and participate - but it was a small campus without an abundance of activities.  Sports activities were always popular and one of the few social opportunities students had campus wide.  Generally speaking, students had more time to study and prepare for class, not that everyone did so.  Just as many students today, those of my generation sometimes chose the vices mentioned earlier to occupy their time and minds.  One thing that has not changed over the generations is that students can easily become distracted and unmotivated in areas of class attendance, study, homework, and practice!

The Onset of the Electronic Age

Other elements that have not changed radically over these generations include student intellect and inherent musical ability.  Students today are as talented as any generation before them but seemingly less prepared in high school and can be more easily distracted in their studies.  This may be due in part to the onset of electronic media: cell phones, computers, iPads, iPods, laptops, gaming devices, and social networking.  Some students seem unfocused to the point that more time is spent engaging in those activities than in studious preparation for classes or music practice. An interesting issue concerning social media that students tend to forget is that many of the social networking applications available to students are also available others and can be viewed by them at all hours of the day and night.  Students should be cognizant that this large audience sees what they have written on these social networks.  Classroom teachers, professors, and even prospective employers, may be viewing an individual’s posted comments. Use with caution! And students should be advised it is not wise to use those particular applications if they missing a class since the times of day are usually notated on their posts.

Cell phones were being developed during my generation but were not common. Most students today have ready access to cell phones and other electronic devices and can access thousands of apps on virtually any subject or topic.  Many apps can be useful tools for students if used appropriately without spending an inordinate amount of time playing games or pointless applications and activities.

It is plausible that students who are not attending class regularly, turning in poor homework assignments, or who function inadequately academically, may be spending their requisite class preparation time engaged in electronic activities, whether socializing or literally playing games.  There is nothing wrong with these devices and these activities as long as they are used in moderation and not a substitute for good study and work habits.  Everyone needs occasional distractions, entertainment, and interactive socializing in their lives – but must not neglect the necessity for study, work, and preparation, when planning a successful college experience and a future career.

How Serious Are College Students?

Are music students and students in other fields really serious about their studies today?  Yes, many are, but this author’s twenty-eight years of teaching in the public schools, and years of teaching in colleges and universities, have led to the conclusion that a segment of the student population is ill-prepared in the basic subject areas to succeed in the average college classroom.  Additionally, music students ostensibly lack the knowledge of what a music degree or any other program requires of them relative to academics, talent, skill level, and background. By the very nature of music studies and performance agendas, music students put in more physical time for coursework, ensembles, rehearsals, and practice, than most other undergraduate disciplines.

Incoming freshmen may be somewhat naive about college life and the ensuing academic requirements and may require adjustment to college life and study.  But for students who are sophomores and juniors to continue an insensitivity to what is required for success in their academic area does not speak well of them.  And the time remaining for them to succeed in their area begins to close!  In the music area, some students have not come to terms with what it means to be a musician and what is required of them to be successful.  These principles are applicable to all academic areas and makes one wonder if some students are really serious about their chosen field or a competent career.  Many students feel they are entitled to an education without putting forth much effort because it may have been that way for them in high school.

An unfortunate fact for students auditioning in music for acceptance to a college music program is low performance level due to little or no concept about preparing for the audition.  One cause may be a lack of participation in the process by their high school music teacher or the fact the student made no effort to determine what the standard college audition requires.  Most colleges and universities have such information on their website and with all the electronic media and apps available to students, is it not reasonable to expect students to check audition requirements and make some preparation?

Additionally, when students arrive at college, they often demonstrate a lack of effective study habits, class preparation, and personal practice for applied lessons and ensembles.  It seems to elude some students that practicing is how one grows and develops their art or any other activity.  Practice is not just a requirement for applied studio lessons but is applicable to ensembles and large performance groups.  There are many benefits of consistent practice that aide the student in the development of music reading skills and performing in tune – with which many students struggle – even the more advanced  upperclassmen.  Sight reading and tuning skills (intonation) are acquired skills which demand constant repetition in the studio, classroom, rehearsal hall, and practice room.

These same principles apply to class preparation and study.  If not done on a regular basis, these skills never become a habit – a habit necessary to compete and survive in today’s academic classroom and building the basis for a future career.  This is a concept that spans all generations and all academic fields.

For immature and unfocused students, being at college without parental supervision often leads students to follow a path not beneficial in their quest for a college education – and reflects on the student’s attitude about getting an education.

Where Does the Senior Educator Fit?

Many of my colleagues and friends can honestly say we have been there, done that!  Hopefully we have learned from our past experiences and the history of others and understand the dilemma of the modern day student in their struggle to compete in the world today.  It is regrettable some students do not believe the older generation understands or cares about them or their place in the modern world. Consequently, they turn a deaf ear to their advice.  It is similar to students listening to parental advice during the teenage years – many students believe their parents are out of touch with the real world and will not heed their guidance – even if it is logical and worthwhile advice.

Many students will not learn these important lessons until they become a parent and realize how smart their parents really were.  My personal challenge to students today is to communicate with all faculty members with whom the student interacts, especially the senior faculty and professors who teach in the students’ particular area of study.  They might be amazed and encouraged by what these senior leaders have to say and realize the older generation knows something of the struggles college students face – even today’s students.  These senior advisors could provide insight for solutions that may help a modern day student in their quest to be a worthy and successful servant leader of society.

Dr. Hedrick is currently Associate Professor of Voice at Campbellsville University.


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