In August I started my 18th first day of school as the teacher. With the hustle and bustle that is the first month of school, I am finally enjoying a quiet evening to think about things that are yes, school related (teachers will always bring work home in one way or another), but also ME related.

Upon finishing last school year, I was feeling dejected and unappreciated, not to mention poor; I know many, many teachers felt (and feel) this way. (There were various things that had me feeling that way, but I’m not going to get into that because it’s the past.) Mercifully, summer break came along. I was able to rest, reflect, and refocus on my “why.” What is my purpose in being a public school educator? What is my reason for teaching orchestra? I was able to attend CEDFA (Center for Educator Development in the Fine Arts) Summit XX in July and enrolled in the “leadership in The Arts” track. Spending time with other Fine Arts educators from various areas (not just music) invigorated my spirit. Hearing that I wasn’t the only teacher with those specific feelings and issues made me feel validated. During the summit we were able to find a problem fine arts directors deal with in the schools and we were grouped together to find a solution to the problem. I started to feel as if my management and communication skills really mattered. My relationship building skills mattered. I felt heard in a way that I hadn’t for a long time.

And I felt renewed.

I started thinking about what does matter in my classroom. How does Fine Arts get it right?

I, like most teachers, view success in terms of my students: do they a) love to come to orchestra every day, b) enjoy playing their instrument, c) perform well, and d) work well with others? Are they kind human beings? Are they dependable? Can they speak to me in a respectful way? Are they teachable?

In the Fine Arts classroom (specifically music, because that is my expertise) students’ take away is really, really strong. They’re learning skills that will translate well into various fields as an adult.

1) Fine Arts students learn how to accept criticism with grace. In my classroom, I try to do what I call the “compliment sandwich”: positive comment, constructive criticism, positive comment. Example: “I like how you’re using your bow–your tone is SO strong! I think it would sound even better if you could straighten your left wrist so your notes will be more in tune. You’re working so hard!”

2) Fine Arts students learn that it is okay to struggle. I don’t know one music kid that hasn’t stumbled over a measure, piece, or passage that’s difficult for him or her. It gets frustrating. Starting an instrument is the most difficult; students learn why they’re making those squeaky otherworldly sounds, but they often can’t fix it right away. They learn very quickly that through the struggle comes strength. Perseverance. Don’t give up because of that one difficult thing. Keep working until you get it.

3) Fine Arts students learn how to work well with others musically, but also generally. They are a team. They realize that their combined efforts are what make the difference.

4) Fine Arts students learn to be problem solvers and solution makers. They’re often the most creative people. If you need help, they’ll be the first kids that want to volunteer.

I could go on and on, but I’ll summarize with this. Our students are our future. I want students like mine to work together to make a better world. With a good school administration, parental support from home, and clear expectations from me, I believe they’ll succeed.

That’s my “why.”

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