Five Lessons I’ve Learned: #5: Murphy was Right, and so were the Boy Scouts

Murphy’s Law states that if something can go wrong, it will. My music teacher in junior high had a poster in his office that said “Murphy was an optimist.” That statement went over my head at the time, but I so get it now.

If you’ve taught music for more than a day, you probably don’t need too many examples of things that might go wrong. Students will lose music. Instruments will fall apart right before a performance. The package that was supposed to arrive this morning won’t get to you until next week. The student with the big solo can’t come to the concert.

One lesson I’ve learned is to not be surprised when things go wrong, but to expect problems. The Boy Scouts have the right idea: Be prepared.

So what does this mean for music teachers?

– Have extra sheet music available.

– Have instrument supplies and basic repair tools on hand.

– Plan lead time into your calendar. Don’t expect the photocopier to be working right before a rehearsal. If you’re counting on someone else to meet your deadline, allow margin for them to be late.

– Avoid depending on technology too much. Will your lesson plan or presentation be a failure if your computer crashes? What if that DVD player you reserved is broken or unavailable? Low-tech solutions can often bail out hi-tech failures.

– Have a Plan B whenever possible. I’ve been amazed many times watching a plan fall through for a classroom teacher, only to watch them pull an activity from their bags of tricks to the delight of the class.

Have stories to share? Comments? Post ’em here!

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5 thoughts on “Five Lessons I’ve Learned: #5: Murphy was Right, and so were the Boy Scouts

  1. Your statement of Murphy’s Law, while getting the meaning, is not quite fully correct. “If there’s more than one possible outcome of a job or task, and one of those outcomes will result in disaster or an undesirable consequence, then somebody will do it that way.” (Source: Wikipedia)

    Some great tips on preventing disaster in the classroom. It’s something that I need to improve upon, in having a copy of all my students music, just in case they forget it (as they often have)

  2. A couple of your points really ring true for my area of interest (music practice).

    Firstly far too many people don’t plan any lead time into their calendar. The thought is that they have until the day of the performance to get something right – this causes a lot of failures. A few extra days or weeks for run throughs, checks and relaxing are very beneficial.

    Secondly I don’t think many people have a plan B. How about if we deliberately practice a performance mistake? It follows that we then have to figure out how to get back in/keep going. Practice a number of different things that might go wrong in performance and more importantly practice how you’re going to get over them (everyone skip to letter D for example).

    Thanks for the post.

  3. Mike: I never thought of actually rehearsing a mistake. In college, one of the profs made us lead a mock music class, but just before we went on he gave us each two or three slips of paper with complications to the lesson, such as “The brass section is absent today,” or “There is a fire drill 15 minutes into the class,” or “Your ensemble plays the music flawlessly the first time. What now?” This was a good lesson in being prepared for the unexpected.

  4. So, what goes in your rehearsal emergency kit? What do you keep at/near the podium at all times?

    I make an extra copy of every part and keep them in hanging folders in a milk crate at the front of the room. I keep a screwdriver, spring hook and pad paper on my stand under-tray. Nurse passes. I have an extra baton (not that I am a big fan of tapping the beat on my stand, but the extra baton has come in handy before). I think I’m going to start keeping one clarinet, one alto sax and one tenor sax reed on my stand under-tray. What’s missing from this list (aside from Plan B)?

  5. Well, I’ve got just about everything I need within a few steps of the podium, so there’s not exactly a need for an emergency kit. But I get your meaning. Extra music, basic repair tools, and supplies like reeds and valve oil are essential. Sometimes I wonder to what extend we enable our students when we provide everything and they know we have spares on hand. Every now and then, I will refuse a student’s request for supplies, and it’s interesting how often solutions present themselves. (The student DOES have the sheet music after all, or can borrow valve oil from a friend, etc.)

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