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What I Learned As A Long-Term Music Sub


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What I Learned As A Long-Term Music Sub

Tue September 14, 2021

These past 6 weeks I've been filling in as a materinty leave substitute at the high school level. I've learned a lot about myself, and gained some new perspectives while re-enforcing some previous notions.

First, I'd like to say I am extremely grateful for the opportunity as it was just the injection of confidence I needed to stay on top of things going forward. Having a regular job was very beneficial to my mental health and, despite taking a percieved "paycut" in order to do it (took a hiatus from streaming to make it happen) I felt more fulfilled. The answer is that, while I thoroughly enjoy streaming and playing video games it isn't my truest passion in life. my passions are music, teaching others about music, and guiding people on musical journeys both in the classroom, and as an ensemble director.

To start with, I was brought on starting August 4th for an August 13th starting date and paid more than initially advertised due to their wanting to respect my doctorate. I deeply appreciated this, and feel it went a long way to securing my respect both for the individuals in charge and the mindset of the institution as a whole. They respect education, and the value of advanced degrees. That's a huge win! In addition to this, the person i was subbing for went out of their way to create beautiful, detailed 5 day school-week, 50 minute lesson plans for each class through the middle of September. This was great! no lesson planning means less time spent before/after school. The classes taught included 3 sections of humanities (Music Appreciation), 2 choirs (one advanced, and one beginner), an Advisory (not really a class so much as an elaborate study hall), and a new feature of the school: AP Music Theory for 1 section. Neat!

A week before classes started, the person I was brought in for went into labor AND the schedule was changed to high mitigation due to the rampant nature of the Covid-19 Delta variant. This meant switching to a block schedule of 90 minutes each alternating days: Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday with Wendesday being different (more on that later) and not being able to introduce new material on those days. Already this causes a problem.... Just over four hours of instruction reduced to 3 in the blink of an eye, so the meticulous lesson plans I was left are effectively useless going forward. That's fine, I am trained for this. No big deal, so I'll put in the extra work after hours to ensure these kids don't fall behind. So I spend a few days figuring out how to re-arrange the Music Appreciation curriculum to have most listenings take place outside of class as homework and that works out fine. Choir loses their odds and ends basic theory homework in favor of private practice, makes sense. AP Music Theory is a bit more of a challenge, but I can do that in my sleep having taken Music Theory Pedagogy and having strength in the subject-matter. Using the "timeline" provided by the College Board, I proceeded to form a curriculum and daily strategy that worked for them and was successful in the end! (more on that in a different article)

I loosely go over the changes with the person I'm subbing for and she agrees to my proposed changes and apologizes for my having to do so much work to make the changes happen. It's no big deal, as I want to do a good job and mostly care that the students get the education they need.

After the first day of Music Appreciation (John Cage day), I get a thorough enjoyment out of their various responses to prepared piano, and 4'33" while reading through their written responses. So many GREAT responses I almost died of laughter. First day of choir was singing through the alma mater, getting used to my direction of the choirs, and getting them used to the idea of reading a choral score again, OR teaching them how to for the first time depending on the group/individual. Advisory was a mystery to me, but I just let them have the time for themselves so they could kind of "settle in" to highs chool again. Theory got scary quick, though as the initial (ungraded) assessment showed an average score of around 13 out of 39 possible correct answers. So we go back to basics and I spend 2-3 hours making a set of "drill Sheets" to get the theory kids up to snuff and get them to identify pitches quicker and, combined with my instruction, these worked WONDERS. We lost a day or so of that class having to play catch-up but it was well worth while in the end. However, combined with the first day being Syllabus, Sign up for AP Course, Handbook, Intro to course stuff this meant we were technically a full week behind as per the AP College Board timetables. Not the END of the world, but removed any buffer the kids had previously.

After this I got my first "accomodation request" which, for those unaware, is when a student has a disability of some sort and to compensate they need something typically consisting of additional test time, additional time on homework, etc. but in my case I was asked to provide notes from my lecture to the student in question after a week and a half of instruction (3 90-minute classes) and I don't have notes, and they didn't know anybody in the class so I needed to go back and remember what I said/covered and write out a basic outline format of what I covered in class. I ended up needing to do this for the entire course up until my departure which, in my case, was difficult considering I made a determination long ago not to be the "read from the notes/book to the class" type of instructor. I prefer to speak directly to the students using my own knowledge and words occassionally looking at a text or notes to remind myself of an exact wording or date but otherwise never really using anything to lecture off of.

This is just a brief taste of what I've done over the past month and what I've learned and/or re-affirmed is the following:

  1. I am a proficient instructor, able to make connections to students and the subject-matter using their interests to drive things.'
  2. I LOVE teaching. Conveying knowledge to students and helping them gain an understanding DRIVES me.
  3. My passion about the subject-matter has a direct correlation to my ability to effectively convey material to a class.
  4. I am eager to begin a professorship.

I have learned much, but these four points summarize what I've learned best. I'll write more about these adventures in the future, but for now I ask:

What are some of the best/most effective teaching methods you've encountered?

Zachary C. Daniels