Not my job.

The answer is “I don’t know why they can’t ________, we covered that in class.” Now, more importantly, what was the question? Too often, music educators utilize this answer to a myriad of questions about why their students could not, would not, don’t, or can’t demonstrate a vital component of “musicianship” on demand. Unfortunately, the real question should be about whether that lesson really “covered it in class.”

When lessons are taught, understanding should be our goal (of course, that does not mean memorization). Allowing students the opportunity to engage with the material in relevant (to their own lives) and multi-perspectival ways is vital for students to continue developing understanding of that material (with both breadth and depth). Just because the Bb major scale was covered on Thursday doesn’t mean that it will be reproduced four months from now at the honor band audition. Just because rhythmic subdivisions were broken down in Freshman year doesn’t mean they will do it during Sight Reading at the ensemble festival. We spend too much time assuming that students want our music (knowledge and experiences) and will retain all of the necessary activities that helped us “get it” the way we do (…the way we do now, because we have all forgotten what it was like when we were struggling at their age).

When a student participates in an activity that is clearly important to you (because you have stressed it, mandated it, suggested it with guilt, etc), you must take responsibility for a large part of the student’s performance. When your students don’t know their major scales, did you really teach it? When they don’t know how to count (or even feel) rhythmic grooves, did you teach it? When they don’t know how to produce a consistent tone on their instrument (yes, we are hoping for consistent, then we’ll strive for characteristic), did you teach it?

Teaching music is hard. Shoot, teaching is hard. But if we want to maintain the disconnected and often irrelevant content in our music classes (yep, just gonna put that right there), educators must take responsibility for the successes and failures. Placing the blame for struggles and failures on our students, without acknowledging that we were probably the reason for it (or at least, a major contributor) is doing even more disservice to them.  Our role (job) as educators, is as tour guide through relevant experiences… not to just Randy Johnson knowledge at them. But, then again, I just play tuba.

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