Tuesday, November 20, 2012

One thing I have learned over my years in teaching is that it doesn't matter if you've taught one year or thirty years.....you will never have all the answers.  However, I don't necessarily think this is a bad thing......when we stop questioning what we are doing in the classroom and striving to do better.....are we really meeting the needs of our students?

The majority of my classes are performance based and don't have daily paperwork.  If I give a paper assignment, it is usually something that is quite short and can be done in class.  Since I'm a band director, most of my students "homework" is practicing their instruments.  I have struggled over the years with how to deal with my homework situation since it's not exactly the same as a classroom teacher who teaches math, science, etc.

When I was in school, I did my homework and practiced my instruments because that was what was expected of me.  I had a good support system at home and my parents were involved with my education.  If I wouldn't have gotten my school work done, they would have known.  I was fortunate in the fact that I enjoyed school and did well in my classes.

I guess one type of homework that I have struggled with the most over the years is what I should expect of students in regard to practicing their instruments.  I had teachers that made us turn in practice sheets every week that stated the amount of minutes we practiced and our parents had to sign it.  When I first started teaching, I tried the practice sheets for a while and soon realized that they were a joke.  The kids who were going to practice turned the sheets in and the other students wouldn't .....or the parents signature looked strangely like the student's signature.  Needless to say, the practice sheets were not the answer.

The second chapter "Homework in the Context of the New Family" really hit home with me.  I understand how important a student's home life and support system are much more now in my sixteenth year of teaching then I did when I first started.  I've heard many comments from students and parents over the years dealing with practicing at home.....

......my parents make me practice in the garage because they don't want to hear me
......I had to babysit my sister/brother and didn't have time to practice
......my mom/dad told me I didn't play very well
......I had so much homework I didn't have time to practice
......I don't think my son/daughter has much of a talent

How can I overcome some of those obstacles?  If I'm trying to show my students that what they are doing is important and they have the ability to do great things and then some of them go home to an environment that isn't supportive.......  I can't change what happens outside of my classroom, and I think that is one of the hardest things for me to accept.  

In my situation, the students who don't practice outside of school are the kids that don't "turn in their homework".   Several years ago I started making private lessons a requirement as part of my class.  This way I could work with my students one on one and they would at least get a bit of extra playing time outside of rehearsal.  

The question remains ......what should my expectations be of my students?  Is it really best to quit pushing them to practice at home?  What can I do to help my students achieve the greatest success?


  1. "When we stop questioning what we are doing in the classroom and striving to do better.....are we really meeting the needs of our students?"

    This is profound. Education is a great profession but also a frustrating one at the same time. Just when we think we have turned the corner with a student, we are hit with a curve ball. The same thing that worked with one student will not work with another. I believe continuous learning and questioning like you mention are the most important things to truly improve ourselves.

    I think we can have high expectations that we need to practice outside of school. We need expectations like that! As long as it is relevant for the students and the homework meaningful?

  2. In my opinion, I would keep setting the expectation that students should practice at home. After all, practicing in the garage is still practicing, right? And if that student gets better and then goes on to Star at state contest, maybe their parents will see their potential and become a little more understanding of their practice time.