The Sound and Sights of Music Education

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(The adorable children pictured above were my third grade classmates, a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away)

I recently came across a story about a music teacher in Florida.  It seems this particular teacher had reached her limit with her third grade charges not singing on key or perhaps they did not appreciate her efforts to add a little culture to their lives.  While there are many different ways to cope with stress and frustration, sometimes the key to success, or at least to keeping one’s job, is learning which responses are acceptable and which will land one in a lot of hot water.  In this case the response fell into the later category as her coping mechanism was to toss one of her shoes at one of her students.

Rather predictably, in today’s internet connected world, it did not take parents long to turn to social media seeking this teacher’s head.  The uproar led to the Interim Principal responding to parents with an email stating: “We are well aware of the incident that took place last week involving our music teacher… I want to inform you she is no longer a member of our faculty.”  Notice the response was from the Interim Principal because only a month earlier the Principal abruptly left. The story did not elaborate on the departure of the former principal nor did it mention if he or she had been known to throw things at students.

Not surprisingly, the teacher in question declined comment and school leaders declined to give details about what happened in the classroom or what caused the alleged shoe-throwing incident, but it was confirmed that no students were injured.  A story like this might led one to wonder what has become of education in this country.

However what really caused me to pay attention to this story is that it brought back a memory from my elementary school days.  I don’t recall exactly when this occurred but my guess is around third or fourth grade and it was, coincidentally, in music class.  It was a typical elementary school music class where we were singing the same few songs over again and again.  Songs that were pounded into our little brains for so long that after all these years I still remember the  words and the melody even though I have not heard these songs for decades.  Songs like “Born Free,” “If I Had a Hammer,” and “Windy.”

Perhaps the attention of the class was waning from singing these songs for months on end in preparation for some distant PTA meeting where we would perform for our parents.  On the day of this incident, the class had been proceeding as usual when one student made a remark or loudly whispered a word that one was not allowed to say in school.  I do not recall what the word was, but I knew that it was bad.  Today that word would probably not even raise an eyebrow from anyone and might even be included in the lyrics of the song being taught.  But this was a different time and that word, whatever it was, really struck a nerve with the teacher whose name I will not mention.  If I recall correctly, said Music Teacher almost literally flew across the room to where the offending student was seated.  She very excitedly explained to him that the word he used was not acceptable in school and then something happened that has been seared in my memory from that day.  She began to violently shake him as she proclaimed in a very loud voice, “I AM NOT A VIOLENT PERSON, BUT YOU BRING OUT THE VIOLENCE IN ME!”

I suppose it was fortunate for her that was way back then instead of today.  Then it probably scared all of us into not uttering any word, good or bad, for the rest of the week.  If this happened today, there would probably be cell phone video of it on the evening news and parents would be demanding her head just as they did to the teacher in Florida.

I am not saying that education does not need to be improved today.  I am not saying that education was perfect back then.  I guess what I am saying is that, then as now, a bunch of third graders, no matter how cute they might appear, have the capacity to bring out the violence in non-violent people and push any teacher to his or her limit which might just leave the class waiting for the other shoe to drop or fly as the case may be.

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One thought on “The Sound and Sights of Music Education

  1. Pat Godbey

    I remember being shaken in the 1st or 2nd grade. I went back in to get a forgotten sweater before going outside and noticed some people setting up what looked like party items. I came back out to my friends standing in line waiting to remark “I think somebody is going to have a party” or words very much like that, and the teacher came flying over and started shaking me. I was not only shocked, but hurt, as I did not know what offense I had caused. She said, that is a surprise and you are going to ruin it! I didn’t know. Must have been discussed when I was paying no attention to what was being said, and there’s the rub. A lot of my report cards said “Patty does not pay attention well”, and words of that nature. I think I had ADD or something before they ever talked about it! Anyway, I fought back tears as I had no idea I was being “bad”. I lived and am here to tell the tale, but still…..it’s in my memory forever.

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