Everything Trumps Music

I'm at a loss.

For a month now, I've been rolling with the punches at Margaret Scott. First it was my "room"--or, rather, the lack of a room. I was to teach music in Kindergarten and First and Second Grade classrooms in the morning, in the gym in the afternoon to Third, Fourth, and Fifth Graders. There was no portable available, and the room dividers I'd requested to mitigate noise and space issues in the gym had never been ordered. Most of the instruments I'd spent the last two years accumulating would be gathering dust in the gym storage room, too big to haul around from classroom to classroom and, with PE in the gym every morning, too delicate to leave out should I want to teach units using them to my afternoon classes.

Then came a district-wide hit: the visionary administrator with a plan to put music back full-time in every building left for a position in another district. His replacement was a pencil-pusher with no ideas at all for restoring our program. Since my first meeting with him, he's lived out that initial assessment, nit-picking purchase order requests and doing nothing to facilitate the dividers I and one of my colleagues desperately need to maintain our sanity.

Next it was the schedule: my actual instructional time was cut almost in half. To make up for it, the PE teacher and I would be team-teaching mass "Rhythms" classes to every grade but the fifth, doing very basic movement activities in the gym.

Now came the indignity of having what space remained to me pre-empted again and again without consultation. A fifth-grade music class in the gym had to be moved to their classroom at the last moment so chairs could be set up for a parent meeting that night. Correction: I was given the option of having those kids give up their one music class that week to set up the chairs. A week later, school pictures were scheduled to be taken in the gym. It shouldn't interfere with my afternoon classes, I was told, and in fact, the photography was done by the time my first class arrived. What wasn't done was the photographers noisily breaking down their equipment, which they did for the next hour and a half.

The last straw for me was rainy day recess: the principal came to me during my lunch break to tell me recess would be taking place in the gym during lunch. Which she neglected to tell me was that it wouldn't be over until 12:38--eight minutes into the first class I was supposed to teach in the gym, and with no time for me to set up for it.

Add into this mix the crushing reality of gym acoustics. Even if I do get those dividers, the echo in that room--there is no sound-absorption at all--blow up every bump and giggle to the point that any child with any attention-deficit issues at all is incapable of concentrating on the music lesson. So after three lessons in one month that anything and everything had priority over me teaching a music class in the gym, I decided to give up on having access to my larger equipment, and to just take the whole damn show on the road, teaching afternoon classes in the same way I did morning classes, in classrooms.

And now came the push-back from the teachers. I understand it's hard to do prep work when there's a music class in your classroom. It would bug the bejeezus out of me. It is, however, what half the school already has as its default music location. The last few days, I've been teaching afternoons in classrooms, and have found behavior vastly improved: problem children are much easier to redirect when their every twitch isn't magnified by an echo chamber.

Except there's the noise problem.

After school today, a fourth grade teacher told me it just wasn't going to work: there was too much noise coming through the wall for her to have her mandated quiet reading time with her class, and when it came for IRLA testing (like all public schools, we're required to do reams of standardized tests for every child), they would have to have a silent environment during that time. "IRLA trumps music," she told me.

"In this building, everything trumps music," I replied.

I came home to find an email from the principal confirming what the teacher had told me: the noise issue means I'm stuck in the gym with those older kids. Once again, there is no priority to small to be more important than me teaching music. The quality of my lessons takes a back seat to whatever else is going on in the building. Just so long as those children are in my care for a half hour while their teachers do prep work, it doesn't matter to anyone if I get a single concept across to them.

My principal has offered to meet with me to see what she can do to support me. She realizes I've been handed a shitload of setbacks in this first month of school. I will tell her there is really just one thing I need, and it's the one thing she can't provide in our crowded building and which, according to that new administrator, any other class would have first dibs on if it were to miraculously appear: a classroom. Everything trumps music.

I can ask that the office staff treat me with a little more respect, thinking twice before kicking me out of my teaching space at a moment's notice. I don't know if that will happen. Mostly I'm afraid I'll be in laundry-list mode, telling her all the ways in which my work at this school is being turned into baby seating to a beat. How I'm supposed to teach to the standards the district arrived at through a year of conferencing is beyond me when I don't have access to most of my equipment and, when I do, have to use it in a space that amplifies misbehavior and drowns out quality.

Do I sound bitter? I am. I can't hide it. I love my students, hate the thought of leaving them to take a different job; but if this is as good as it gets, I'm going to be amping up my job search.


  1. This makes me so sad... I am currently teaching at an amazing international school where I have a huge classroom, a decent budget to spend as I please, and an amazing schedule. I am moving to Oregon in the Fall and now I am a bit scared. Ay. Keep on fighting the good fight!! It's worth it!

  2. Thanks, Rachel. At this afternoon's music coordinator meeting, I did at least get approval to purchase dividers for myself and the other music teacher who has to teach in a gym. But when I shared the situation with the high school music coordinator before the meeting, he shook his head and said, "Time to look for a different school."


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