Summer School is History

As I sit here and write this, I am enjoying the first morning of the day after summer school has ended. Go ahead; ask me how happy I am.

Summer music programs in my district have been off and on, and unfortunately this year was an off year. I have always taught summer school for the extra money, which means during the years without summer music I teach traditional multi-subject classes.

The summer school job application includes a section asking what grade levels you would like to request. I put down 3rd, 4th, or 5th grades. So, as you would expect, I was assigned 8th grade social studies.

Maybe someday I’ll write more specifically about the experience, but that will have to come after a few sessions of professional counseling and massage therapy. But for now, let me just say that I have a new appreciation for teaching music. Here’s why:

– Music students have a basic understanding that when they walk into the room, they are going to take out their instruments and play music. My summer school history students, on the other hand, seemed astonished every time I asked them to open their textbooks. On a daily basis I would hear questions like, “Do we have to read today?” or “Are you really going to make us do work?”

–  When all else fails, a music teacher can call out a piece, give a countoff (or cue or whatever your preference), and start the ensemble playing. The overwhelming majority of music students, even the worst of them, will respond by playing their instruments. Summer school history students, however, have an undeniable tendency to shove their textbooks away, slouch in their chairs, and stare at the ceiling.

– Music students are in class because they want to be there. Of course there are exceptions to this principle, but on a fundamental level, they’re generally there because they have chosen to be there.

– Music classes allow students to express themselves. New students may not dash into class begging to learn “First Suite in Eb” or “American Elegy,” but again, they are essentially open to the idea of using music to convey the emotions and feelings that brew within their hearts. (If that sounds sappy, please remember that I just finished teaching friggin’ 8th grade social studies in summer school.)

In addition to having a new appreciation for teaching music, I also have a renewed respect for classroom teachers. Even in summer school (which, remember, is an optional activity for elementary and junior high school students), classroom teachers face the pressures of pre-tests, post-tests, and lesson plans with educational standards noted, turned in to the principal weekly. They deal with students who don’t want to be there, and face parents and children who feel teachers are the enemy. They rarely hear the applause, get the trophies or accolades, or experience the joy of working with students who cooperate as a team, or on the most basic of levels, follow the conductor.

I could write more, but hey, it’s the first day of my abbreviated summer vacation, and my couch is lonely. See you next time.

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5 thoughts on “Summer School is History

  1. Yeah, I can say that even in college, the classroom teachers are in a different world in terms of workload. A friend of mine, for example, is an elementary ed major, and this past semester, spent more time in one class than I did in all my ensembles put together. Her clinicals were practically at the level of student teaching, and for all that I had with ed classes, music theory/history/ear training, lessons and other things, she was always busier.

    So, how did you acclimate to teaching social studies? Was there already a curriculum and goals, or was much of that done on your own?

  2. Curriculum was the relatively easy part. It was provided, and the other history teachers and I collaborated on other special projects. (Just to comment on that more specifically, the history curriculum was actually a reading curriculum using a history framework. The lessons were very scripted. Many teachers have written and blogged about scripted learning, so I won’t touch the subject here.)

    The hard part, as I mentioned, was just dealing with the attitudes of junior high students in summer school. Who can blame them, really?

  3. Granted I am not a teacher, I just graduated from High School, with high honors, this last June, and out of All A.P. collegiate classes. I have seen first hand how poorly the middle of the line, or average classes would perform, in my High School (in the top 10% of public schools based on academic performance). It astounds me, that people would not bring books to class,or that they cannot put together a half-way decent analytical essay by Junior or Senior year! In my seclusion, with others in A.P. they wouldn’t survive 1 minute. The difference in academic performance is astounding. But here’s the difference, the students in the A.P. program want to be there, and truely care. The required baseline courses mainly are comprised of students who could care less to be there, and are not going to take anything away from the lessons. I commend you for your efforts in teaching an 8th grade social sciences class, even when the students were less than cooperative.

  4. Devon, thanks for your affirmation. Congrats on your graduation.

    As a relatively young teacher (less and less young as the years go by!), I have often wondered whether or not I or my friends gave our teachers as difficult a time as some of these students have. And I have to say NO! Even in the classes I disliked the most, there was at least a basic level of respect for the teacher, and a realization that I’d better do the work to some level of adequacy if I wanted to pass the class and graduate.

    Thanks for reading. Best wishes!

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