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Where is the Harmony?

music tunnelWhere to start?  I have so much to say about my district, and I wish more of it were positive.  I am going to make an effort to highlight the positive when and where I can, because it’s important not to paint a completely one-sided picture of what is really going on, but there is also no getting around the truth: Things are Bad.

I’ll tackle my teaching schedule first:  I am a fine arts teacher.  The district contract explicitly states that every child in every grade will take every fine arts subject every school year.  That is important to note, because not only is it the right of every student to have access to every subject taught, ensuring them a well-rounded, liberal arts-style education that nurtures and develops the Whole Child (I use that phrase a lot, so get used to it), indeed it was negotiated between our union and the district and included in the teacher contract.  Which means a grievance could be filed if any students are denied any fine arts subject over the course of a school year.

I teach at two schools; I am full time, split two days at one school and three days at the other.  That right there is in violation of the contract because both schools have a large enough population of students to necessitate a full-time teacher in order to ensure every student gets my class in a year, and even then the scheduling would probably have to get creative.  I’ve seen some schools do a cycle system with their specials, encompassing six or more days per cycle.  This isn’t ideal, either, but still leaps and bounds better than flat out denying entire classes of kids a subject area.  Something like that would probably have to be done at my schools, but neither school wants to take me on FT time to begin with.  By only teaching PT at each school, they are guaranteeing that they are violating the contract even before any actual scheduling is put in place.

Given that I am only PT at each school, you would think my schedule would be packed with classes, right?  There are eight periods in the day; each teacher is guaranteed one planning period and one lunch period.  That leaves six other periods that I could, should be teaching my subject to six different classes.  And each class should only have music once a week, thereby allowing me to teach as many classes as possible.  Thirty different classes, to be exact, in one week.  Right?

My total class lode is 27 classes over the course of a week.  Which doesn’t sound so far off the mark, until you closely examine what is really going on with my schedule.  First off, eight of those classes are Special Needs classes, which I refer to shorthand as SPED classes.  These run the gamut from high-functioning emotionally disturbed students to extremely low-functioning, medically fragile students.  I want to be clear on this matter: I love these kids, and I absolutely believe they deserve music as much as their regular education counterparts.  Working with the SPED classes is often the highlight of my day, because they are such sweet children.  But these kids deserve arts therapists.  When I teach them, I am engaging in a frustrating process of trial and error with rare proof or assurance that I have hit upon something meaningful to the kids.  I am not trained in music therapy, I am trained to teach music to regular education students.  I know in my heart that what I am doing for my SPED students is not nearly as powerful, meaningful, or worthwhile as what a music therapist would be able to do for them.  School is supposed to be about the kids, about doing right by them and providing them with the best educational experience possible.  For my SPED kids, that would mean arts therapy from actual, trained and certified arts therapists.  One of the SPED teachers told me- and feel free to fact check me on this, because I up front admit this is just hearsay and could be wrong- that the state gives schools $10,000 per year, per SPED student, because of their unique circumstances.  I don’t know if this $10,000 is in addition to or in lieu of the district’s budget amount per child, but either way this teacher told me that although the schools get this money, there is nothing that mandates that said money actually gets spent servicing the child for whom it is allocated.  Our principal takes this money and puts it in to the general school fund, which primarily goes towards The Almighty Testing Monster.  For the number of SPED students that are enrolled at each school, an arts therapist, or several arts therapists, could easily be hired to work with these kids, thereby freeing up people like me to teach the regular education students our subjects.

Ah, but it is not just because the schools do not want to spend the money to hire arts therapists.  Examining my schedule further, you would find that at my three-day a week school I see one of my eighth grade classes twice a week.  I was supposed to see another eighth grade class twice a week, but the core teacher informed me that the schedule was “wrong” because having my subject twice a week would conflict with their reading time.  So I end up with this “bonus” planning period, which nobody has addressed.  Why am I seeing any of these classes twice a week, when there are other classes that will not have music at all this year?  Another class I am supposed to be teaching is a pre-school class, and pre-school only happens for half the day and therefore isn’t required to have any specials at all.  And again, as I understand it, it is supposed to be a SPED preschool class (I am not sure, though, because I have yet to see this class).  Last I checked, there was only one student enrolled in the class.  I have yet to teach this class, so there’s another “bonus” planning period.  That’s two class periods when I could, should be teaching other classes.  Oh, but it gets better.

When I received my schedule I was surprised to see that it included band, three days a week.  I a have taught band before, so I do not have an issue with the fact that it was band that was included on my schedule.  What bothered me was that choir would be happening three periods out of the week, instead of three more classes getting general music.  Band, as the principal envisions it, is not a graded class but a voluntary extracurricular enrichment opportunity for students who meet his criteria: they must be doing well enough in their regularly scheduled sixth period class (sixth period being when band is scheduled) for their sixth period teacher to be OK with them missing class once a week.  Guess how many kids are in that category.  The core-area teachers do not want to give up any of their students during sixh period, and I don’t blame them.  These are the kids taking all the Tests, which reflect back on those teachers, on their evaluations.  These are the subjects that the kids are tested on, and the vast majority of our students are far from proficient in these areas.  If I were in the shoes of the core teachers, I would not want to allow any of my students to miss class, either.  So that leaves me with a band of… nobody, so far.   So why not just give me three additional classes for regular music?

And then, finally, there are my two team teaching periods.  When I first read my schedule, I saw that a fifth grade and a third grade were each listed twice, but in each case one of the two class meetings was labeled with “TT.”  I had no idea what “TT” stood for and had to get clarification from the office: Team Teaching.  Huh?  I went and talked to the teachers in question and found out that they had no clue about it, either; one of them, in fact, insisted it was wrong, a mistake, and together we marched down to the principal to get to the bottom of things.  But no, it was no mistake: He fully intends for me to team teach math and science to these classes, with a “music twist,” but the math and science standards are what we should be addressing first and foremost.  What this has amounted to is that I go and sit in the back of their classrooms while they teach their subjects, because we have not had any time to figure out what, exactly, we are going to do to make this Team Teaching thing a worthwhile experience, and they (again, understandably) want to make sure they use every minute of every class to teach their subject because, Testing.  I asked my principal, couldn’t I just teach two other classes music during those periods?  No, he said. There are some classes who will not have music at all this year, I pointed out to him.  Yes, he said, some classes will not have music at all this year.  That didn’t change anything. Well, then, couldn’t I just teach these two classes music twice a week?  Especially since third grade is one of my SLO grades; I’d rather have the time with them to teach them actual music concepts.  No, he said, I cannot teach them music during those times because they need to be in math and science learning math and science.

So you might be asking by now, Why?  Why is the principal knowingly denying more than half the school music class?  Why do this?  And here is the answer to all the lunacy that is my teaching schedule: Because reading is now a special.  On top of the regularly scheduled reading instruction the students receive from their regular ELA teacher, the schools have now hired reading intervention specialists and are treating them like specials teachers, so that the kids get MORE READING rather than music.  Because Testing.  So when it comes to ensuring the core-area teachers their planning periods, the kids go to reading.  Reading is scheduled out the wazoo, but the students can’t have special reading AND music, for two reasons: 1. Being in music would be time that they are NOT spending in their core-subjects (testing subjects) and we just can’t have that!, and 2. Being in music would mean the core-subject teachers would get extra planning time, which for some reason is terrible for them but just fine for me?  I cannot help but question why the core teachers couldn’t be instructed to team-teach with each other, if they would suddenly have open class periods that need filling.  Or they could use that time for TBT meetings, or data crunching or, I don’t know, planning?!?  Would it really be so terrible if a teacher was allotted more than forty minutes out of the work day to plan?  They certainly heap enough work and responsibility on our shoulders to warrant it!

One final thought: No, I have not filed a grievance regarding this issue.  I haven’t ruled it out entirely, but I probably won’t.  After seeking the counsel of my fellow fine arts teachers in the district, I was warned it probably would not end well.  Others who have been in my position and grieved the issue found themselves on the opposite end of terrible scheduling: Their principals overloaded them with classes, scheduling two or more regular education classes at a time.  It went from famine to way beyond feast: explosive gluttony of classes.  Given our class sizes, that could be upwards of sixty students, with one teacher, in a general music class.  Sixty fifth graders in a choir, sure.  Sixty kindergartners in general music?  That’s a recipe for disaster, for me and for the kids.

written by “Macroderma Gigas”,
Ohio Bats very own Ghost BAT Writer

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