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September 1993 College Was Never Like This, The Diary of a First Year Teacher by Ann Crawford

September 2, 1992
   Today was the first day of school; I am so scared. I don’t know if I can do this. The kids are not what I expected at all: the seventh graders are so small, and the ninth graders so big. I discussed my rules and grading policy, but they just wouldn’t listen. I had the feeling that students were laughing at me. Maybe tomorrow will go better when they play some music and have something to do. Still, having been here one day, I am really scared to go back.

September 3, 1992
    I passed out music for the bands to sight-read because I have no idea about their playing levels. Perhaps I’m not picking the right music, but the kids are giving me a hard time. They hardly give anything a chance before deciding that they don’t like it. It’s impossible to hold their attention to work on anything. The concert band has a wide range of ability levels, but they are less experienced than I expected. Many participated in summer band and complain that the music I passed out is easier than what they played over the summer. The rest are lost. The symphonic band just complains that everything is too easy, but they sound terrible. If the students would only pay attention and give the music a chance, maybe they wouldn’t sound so bad. Finding the right music is the key, but this is hard to do when I’m not familiar with junior high band literature. A few lists of recommended works were all I was given in college, and these lists didn’t tell me what the pieces sound like.

September 4, 1992
    Thank God it’s Friday. Today was rough because the kids just don’t behave; it’s impossible to get anything done. I was told that if you don’t lay down the law from day one you will never gain control, but I have never seen such poorly behaved kids before. My student teaching was in an affluent community with no discipline problems. In theory I know what to do: make my rules and expectations clear and be firm, but for some reason I just can’t send anyone to the principal’s office. I know they will not take me seriously if I don’t, but I can’t get over feeling that I’m being mean. It’s still natural for me to always want to be nice, but I have to learn to put my foot down. I wonder if there is any way to teach us this in college.

September 12, 1992
    Today I worked on rules and regulations, and developed a band contract with the help of a high school director. He suggested that I explain to each band exactly what the rules are and the consequences for breaking them, followed by each student signing a contract to abide by the rules. We came up with some common-sense rules, but the main point is for everyone to know exactly what the rules are. I hope this will make a difference. It is fortunate that this is a district where so many people are willing to help.

September 24, 1992
    I spoke about some students who are causing problems to the school administrators and. found them extremely helpful. We even had private conferences with some kids about their behavior, but it just doesn’t seem to make a difference. After giving a detention, students come back to class and repeat the behavior.
    I am beginning to dread seeing certain kids every day. I’m also tired of hearing about how the old band director did things. If something he did worked well, I would be willing to try it, but for the most part I have to find my own way of doing things. I can’t be another person, and the kids are going to have to accept that he is gone. Some of the ninth grade boys resist all change and use it as an excuse to act up. They may never accept me, but at least they’ll be gone next year.

September 29, 1992

    After talking with other teachers at my school, I learned that after 25 years at this some teachers have the same problems with some kids. We are in a poor section of town, and many students come from broken homes without good examples of how to behave. This is a challenge, because I spent my whole life in a small, upper-class suburb. I have never had to deal with anything like this, so it is reassuring to learn that experienced teachers have similar problems. Other teachers have simply accepted the fact that there is not much they can do with some of the difficult students here. Some teachers seem burned out and cynical; I want to try to make a difference. I didn’t want to teach in the suburbs because I felt those kids already had everything and working there would be taking the easy way out. I wanted to go somewhere with students who didn’t have much so I could add something meaningful to their lives. It’s hard to tell if I’m making much of a difference though. It probably won’t show unless I stay for five years, gain the students’ loyalty, and become accepted as their band director. I just don’t know if I can make it that long.

October 5, 1992
    I passed out an arrangement of Batman to the symphonic band. They loved it, but I feel that I sold out. I guess it’s O.K. to play something fun, as long as there is some musical content, but I feel guilty because I did it as a bribe. We will only play the piece as long as they behave. I guess if I’m going to use bribes, music should be the vehicle. I still receive complaints that the music is too easy but there is plenty to rehearse and improve. There are still so many behavior problems that it’s almost impossible to rehearse easy music, much less anything harder. I’m becoming a much better disciplinarian, but I have a long way to go. I’ve never been an extremely assertive person, and my friends and family said I might have difficulty disciplining junior high students; I never paid any attention though. I was always respected by other music education students, so I never expected to have problems with discipline. This is definitely my biggest challenge. Many kids will take advantage of a new teacher. I can’t give up.
    I knew some kids would resist me this year, but I never expected pandemonium so great that I couldn’t single out the offender or even a core group of offenders. Now I am better at pinpointing who the main problems are, but those kids complain about being treated unfairly. My problem is that I want to believe them, but it seems to be the same people all of the time. I’m going to have to toughen up and not let it bother me when kids get mad. It’s difficult for me to leave this behind. After school I worry and stew all afternoon and have trouble sleeping. I’m going to go crazy if I don’t learn to distance myself, but I don’t know how.

October 6, 1992
    I gave a kid a referral because he kept goofing around in class. I can’t help feeling bad, although I know it was his fault. He knew the rules and consequences and deserved to get in trouble. I shouldn’t have to reassure myself, but I can’t help caring about his feelings. A colleague asked how much one kid is worth in the long run, but I have a hard time believing that one kid doesn’t matter. It seems paradoxical to say that to teach, you can’t care about kids.

October 10, 1992
    We recruited elementary students the past two nights. This was a nice change from being in front of a big junior high group. Sometimes I wonder if it wouldn’t be easier to be an elementary band director, but I have always felt that junior high is the most important age to teach. No matter how hard this year may be, I still feel the same way.

October 20, 1992
    A woman called today because her fifth grade son wants to play the horn, but they can’t afford to rent one. She called all over the district trying to find out what to do, before someone referred her to me. She asked if any of the schools had a horn that he could use. I knew my school had one but its condition was doubtful and the mouthpiece was missing. I took my horn down to the shop to get it fixed and it made my day to tell the woman that her son would have a horn to play. I am so glad that I went out of my way to help her when no one else would because of the sound of her voice when she said that she couldn’t wait to tell her son.

October 23, 1992
    Today I took the horn over for that kid’s first lesson. The smile on his face made my entire year so far. Lately it seems that all I ever do is paperwork and discipline, but today I made a difference in a student’s life. I hope I never forget that this is the whole reason for being a teacher.

November 2, 1992
    I just had a really good weekend. I picked up some good ideas during two days at the state music educators association conference and can’t wait to try them. I also went to homecoming at my old college and many people encouraged me to keep trying. My professors taught me high ideals, and my student teaching showed me how things could be if you have everything. I realize it’s a lot more complicated in the real world.

November 10, 1992
    On Saturday the jazz ensemble played at the district wide jazz festival, my first performance. It was an incredible experience, and I know that I am in the right profession. The guest conductor was my college jazz band director. It was wonderful to have my band play, then be critiqued by my own professor. Luckily the band played well, although I don’t feel that I can take much of the credit because most of the kids are ninth graders and played well before I came. Some of the kids complained about being there, but I had such a good time it didn’t get to me. I felt like a band director for the first time. Now I remember why I wanted to be a band director: there is
no better feeling in the world than making music.

November 20, 1992
    We are busily preparing for our winter concert on December 17.1 am frustrated because the symphonic band is not working up to its potential, and the students seem convinced that they are worse this year because of me. I don’t have their loyalty yet. I’m still the enemy, and they want to fight me instead of working with me. It is difficult to think about anything but work. I worry about it all the time.

December 18, 1992
    My first band concert went fairly well, but I felt like a temporary conductor filling in for the regular one. I worried that parents measured me against the former director and wondered how I got the job. The fine arts coordinator, who hired me, and one of the high school directors congratulated me. There is still much room for improvement, but that’s what the rest of the year is for. Right now I’m just glad it’s over.

December 19, 1992
    Today I showed the concert videotape to each band to evaluate the performance. I wrote several musical concepts on the board for the kids to evaluate such as dynamics, tempo, and balance. The concert band and the symphonic band reacted very differently. The concert band watched intently and talked about how they could improve next time, while the symphonic band didn’t want to make or hear any suggestions. I had to send some rowdy students to the office; they will be hard to win over this year. They have such potential, but just won’t work. There is a core group of six ninth-grade boys who were loyal to the former director and won’t accept me, and this small group affects the morale of the entire band. Many of the kids are cooperative, but the disruptive ones get all of the attention. I have to try harder to reward the kids who are working hard and not just punish those who are not. I wish the good kids could be more influential, but unfortunately the disruptive boys are leaders. Maybe the only way to save the band this year is to get them out.

December 21, 1992
    I made it to winter break. I can’t wait to have time off to see my family. You would think we could relax a little after our concert, but the district band festival and Band-O-Rama are only four weeks after vacation. The symphonic band has to prepare six pieces and the concert band, three, so no rest for the weary.

January 7, 1993
    It was hard to come back after vacation. I started having doubts about whether this profession is really for me. I just don’t know if I’m band director material. I love music and kids, but just don’t feel that I’m doing a very good job. In college I had doubts but decided that if I didn’t give it a try I would never know for sure if I really wanted to be a band director. Maybe I’ve given it a try and now know that it’s not for me. Still I know that if I quit I’ll feel like I failed. Is that a bad reason to stick with something? In high school and college, even when I had doubts, I always came back to wanting to be a band director, but was that only because I didn’t know what it would really be like?
When I go to meetings with other directors and the fine arts coordinator, they seem so confident and involved with the job that I feel out of place. Perhaps they once felt the way I do. Many directors burn out and quit after a few years, but this is what I have to do. Is that only because I don’t want to let my friends, family, and teachers down? Am I really doing what I want? Am I just suffering from a first-year slump?

January 13, 1993
    I am not looking forward to Band-O-Rama. This is a big deal in town. Each junior high and high school band plays a solo tune, and students treat it as a battle of bands. According to them, the parents and everyone else treats it as a test of the best. Unfortunately, last year the symphonic band got a standing ovation and thought they had the best band. Now, of course, nothing but a standing ovation will satisfy them. I sense poor morale in the symphonic band and still have discipline problems with the ninth-grade boys. When I talked privately with students, two of them said the band wasn’t as good this year so it wasn’t worth trying. This makes no sense to me. If there is a problem, students should try harder, instead of dragging the band down and making it worse. These things are dragging me down and making the job more difficult. I spend more time and energy counseling and disciplining than teaching music.

January 15, 1993
    The same two boys are giving me a lot of trouble by clowning around, getting out of their seats, and talking back. Some days they either don’t bring their instruments to class or simply refuse to play. I have called their parents, talked to the assistant principal, and given them referrals, but they just don’t get any better. Every day we seem to have a confrontation and I end up sending one or both of them to the office. It is impossible to get anything done. I feel terrible for saying this, but if they dislike band so much, I wish they would just quit.

January 16, 1993
    I called the two boys into my office after class today to talk about their behavior. We ended up having a long discussion. They really liked the band director last year and are having a hard time accepting a new teacher. That is understandable, but it doesn’t excuse their poor behavior in class. They have problems with other teachers and generally do not do well in school, but they always loved band and feel that it is being taken away. They complain about the music I pick, how I teach it, everything. I think they simply do not like me because I am not the old director. I told them that they should still try and not make things worse, but I don’t think I got through to them. They seem intent on being disruptive and preventing the band from making any progress.

January 20, 1993
    I had a revelation in symphonic band today, and feel really stupid for not having thought of it before. The other night a mother explained that her son’s alto saxophone was in the repair shop and asked if he could play the school’s tenor saxophone in the meantime. He had been clowning around during class, and I saw no point in having him play a different part with a concert coming up. Her comment was that at least it would keep him occupied. Then something I had learned early in music education courses came back to me: busy students will not misbehave. I was so concerned with having the correct parts covered, that I forgot about this basic principle of classroom management. Today I asked him to help the percussion section by playing crash cymbals. At first he was dumbfounded that I suggested this, but then he was happy as a clam. 1 had started to think discipline meant sit there and be quiet and forgot that it could be creative.

January 26, 3993
    This is the beginning of the second semester, and over the three-day weekend I set goals for the rest of the year. After Band-O-Rama this weekend, I will start fresh with seating auditions and challenges in symphonic band to motivate students to practice and sound better. The old director never had seating auditions because he thought it was wrong for kids to compete against each other. I agree in a way, but think this might motivate them. When 1 was in middle school, challenges always motivated us. I realize that it will be different and they might not like it, but I will try anything. Besides, sooner or later they have to get used to doing things differently.

January 28, 1993
    There is so much planning involved with Band-O-Rama. Every school moves equipment to the high school Friday afternoon, and students set-up early Saturday morning for the rehearsal. We rehearse all day with the guest conductor for performances on Saturday and Sunday afternoon. On Monday morning the set-up crew moves the equipment back to our school. For some reason my infamous ninth-grade boys all volunteered for the set-up crew. I may regret it, but I agreed to this. If they want to contribute, I shouldn’t stop them.

February 5, 2993
    What a weekend. I didn’t do a good job preparing for it, and all of the logistics got messed up. My set-up crew made things difficult. 1 definitely should have picked more reliable students for the job. I brought over too many music stands, and on Monday morning the set-up crew went to our school instead of straight to the high school. Tuesday the fine arts coordinator received a note from a high school teacher, whose room my kids used to store cases, saying that someone had gone through her desk. The symphonic band played O.K., but was upset not to receive the standing ovation of last year.

February 6, 2993
    The assistant principal told me that if the problem boys didn’t start behaving, she would take them out of band for the rest of the year. Finally something is starting to happen. The good kids are suffering and perhaps the only
way is to get rid of some of the bad apples.

February 11, 1993
    Now that Band-O-Rama is over, I can get back to picking out more music. I looked through the music library for scores and ideas from old programs. The concert band doesn’t perform again until the spring concert in May, so we have time to sight-read. For the symphonic band I chose the Carter Overture for Winds as one of the pieces for the contest in April. I also passed out music for the seating auditions. Many students do not understand the concept of having chairs, but I’m going through with it anyway.

February 16, 1993
    Many kids have not signed up for seating auditions yet. I told them that it’s part of their grade, but some students are still dragging their heels. Whoever doesn’t audition will automatically be last chair, but they still are not convinced.

February 19, 1993
    It was no surprise during seating auditions that the eighth graders outplayed the ninth graders, who assumed they would automatically get the higher chairs and didn’t take the audition seriously. A seventh grader was highest among alto saxophone players but a ninth grader was a close second. I was unsure at first whether to place a seventh grader as first chair, especially because I knew the ninth grader was probably the better player, but I decided that to give the audition any validity, I should assign chairs according to the audition. Some people will be upset when the results are posted on Monday, but I hope this will spark some practicing for challenges.

February 22, 1993
    The ninth graders were almost unanimously shocked that a seventh grader had outplaced a ninth grader for alto saxophone. I tried to be positive during today’s rehearsal, but the morale was visibly low. It will take time for them to adjust but eventually they will accept the changes. One ninth-grade boy kept blurting out comments about how unfair the auditions were. I sent him to the office.

February 23, 1993
    I found a drop slip in my mail box for a problem boy. He had many chances and knew this would be the ultimate consequence. It’s too bad that it had to come to this, but things just couldn’t continue the way they were.

February 26, 1993
    The mother of this student talked with the dean of students and me to say that her son wanted a second chance after putting so many years into band. The dean and the mother agreed it was my choice; I wanted to think about it over the weekend and give my answer on Monday.
    This is a dilemma. After so much stress and emotional wear and tear there would be problems having him in the classroom again, but I have to be objective and decide what is best for the band and this student. On one hand, I have to show students that the consequences for misbehavior are real, otherwise no one will take me or the rules seriously. On the other hand, I have to think about the student. If he is truly sorry and wants another chance, should I deny that to him? If he gets another chance and messes up, he’s out again. I think I know what I should do, but it’s going to be very hard.

March 1, 1993
    I let him back in. I hope I don’t look like a wimp for not standing my ground. I’m not sure that I did the right thing. We’ll just have to see what happens.

March 8, 1993
    My challenge system is not really flying. One girl threatened to quit for a couple of days. When she decided to challenge for first chair, I thought my plan to motivate the kids was working, but she never went through with it, nor did several other students who were disappointed with their placement. I think I will try it again at the beginning of next year. If students expect it, this is a more logical time, and it might work.

March 11, 1993
    The student I readmitted was well-behaved for several days, then it was back to the same old thing: talking, getting out of his seat, not playing, clowning around, and being disrespectful. I should have just sent him out the first time he did anything out of line, but today he just kept on misbehaving and that was it. I gave my final referral. At least now I know for sure.

March 12, 1993
    His mother came in again today because she feels her son is being treated unfairly. I still don’t feel comfortable in dealing with angry parents. They are so much older, but I had to put my foot down. This was the hardest thing I’ve had to do this year. I don’t like having people mad at me and have always avoided conflicts at all cost. I wish 1 didn’t have to kick anyone out of band this year, but I guess it happens to everyone. I’m just going to have to get used to coming down on kids and not feeling bad about it. This is something they never taught us in college.

March 19, 1993
    Rehearsals are going better. I think symphonic band is going to play well at the contest. I would love to get a first place rating, but I’m afraid to get my hopes up. April 5, 1993
    We received ratings of 1, 2, and 2 for an overall contest rating of 2. At first I was disappointed. The students had rushed sometimes and didn’t make as much dynamic contrast as they could have, but overall I thought they performed well. I felt that the judges’ comments were accurate: they commended us for playing challenging music but said that we needed to improve balance, intonation, and dy-
namics. Even though I agreed with the judges’ comments, it would have made the kids so happy if we had earned all ones.
    Today at school I tried to be positive in class. I told the kids they played well but were marked down for dynamics, balance, and intonation. I read the judges’ comments, which were full of positive things, so they wouldn’t just see the score and think they didn’t do well enough. We listened to the tape of the judge’s comments while the band played to hear exactly what the comments referred to. When I asked what we could do to sound even better, some of the rowdiest ninth-grade boys said, “have better rehearsals.” I think they realize now that they simply cannot goof around in rehearsal and expect to get ones. They have to pay attention and work hard to be the best. Even though this rating was disappointing at first, it might have been the best thing that happened to the band all year.

April 29, 1993
    We are back from spring vacation and only have a month until the spring concert. I told the symphonic band that we have enough time to learn new music instead of just playing the
contest music, but only if they pay attention and work hard. I see a difference in their attitudes. They are finally working with me as if I am their teacher.

April 20, 1993
    Today I wanted to work on a tough section of West Side Story. Usually students become frustrated every time we stop, but at the beginning of class I explained that our goal today is to put this one section together. It’s better to get one section perfect by the end of the period than to play the whole piece a little bit better. We got it right and had time to spare at the end of the period. I have never seen them work so hard or so quietly. I think it’s partly better teaching, but they are letting me teach instead of fighting it.

May 5, 1993
    This Saturday the jazz ensemble will play for the band boosters’ breakfast. At times I feared we might not have a jazz ensemble by the end of the year because so many people quit or failed to show up. Finally I recruited some new players and those who were on the fence dropped out, leaving a smaller band that showed up consistently. I spent last week running sectionals,  and now we are putting it together.

May 10, 1993
    Breakfast with the bands was a success. I finally feel that I’m not a substitute teacher; this is now my band.

May 12, 1993
    I actually feel ready for the concert next week. The symphonic band did an incredible job preparing two new pieces this month, along with one held over from the contest. The concert band has worked on two pieces since Band-O-Rama, and they sound good. The other two pieces learned since spring break need more work.
    I taped each band last Friday in a dress rehearsal as we played the pieces without stopping or talking. Besides being a good teaching tool, it kept everyone quiet on a sunny Friday. The concert band was not happy with the way they sounded on tape, but this should motivate them to work harder this week. Each day we listen to the tape of one piece before practicing it. When they hear a problem they know what I mean when I make corrections. This helps a lot, and next year I will use the tape much more.

May 19, 1993
    Last night, the concert was great. After the Band-O-Rama and the contest, I wasn’t nervous at all. The bands sounded the best they have all year. I’m so happy; we really needed this to happen. The orchestras played first, and the ninth grade orchestra members presented their director with gifts. I couldn’t help but hope my kids had done the same for me, but I didn’t know if they would because I wasn’t their band director all the way through junior high. After we played, I followed the orchestra director’s example and had all of the ninth graders stand, and to my genuine surprise they brought up flowers, balloons, and gifts. Each ninth grader came to the microphone and thanked me for being a good teacher. A lot of them told the audience that they hadn’t behaved too well this year, but now they were glad that they had me this year. I think some were more sincere than others, but it was nice all the same. More important was the way the bands came through on their last performance. Now that the year is nearly over, I finally feel a sense of ownership of the program. I am looking forward to next year when I can start out with the feeling that the bands and students are really mine.

May 24, 1993

    I have to keep everyone busy until the end of the year, but I am concerned that they won’t be motivated to play without having a concert to work towards. The symphonic band will tour the elementary schools to recruit elementary kids for the band; this will give them something to work towards.
    With only a week to prepare, I don’t want to play the concert music again and picked out some fun and easy tunes that the elementary kids will enjoy. The concert band is reading some of the music that the symphonic band played at the beginning of the year to get a taste of what symphonic band will be like.
    I’m worried that their playing ability won’t be up to par with this year’s symphonic band, and I want to give them a head start on some harder music. They responded better than I thought they would.

May 25, 1993

    I pulled out Ployhar’s Overture on a Norse Theme for the concert band to read today. This is the hardest piece the band has ever played, and we only played through the introduction and first theme. Our goal for the rest of the year is to play the entire piece.
    The symphonic band will actually be ready with the music for our tour, which is a goal for them to work toward. I doubt they would have been receptive to sight-reading like the concert band.
    Next fall we will face many of the same problems as at the beginning of this year, but I realize that much of it has to do with losing all of the ninth graders and gaining a whole new crop of students who have never played in symphonic band before. Students will remember how they sounded at the end of this year, and after not playing together for an entire summer will go backwards a bit. If I explain this to them, it may go better. At least if they are negative about how the band sounds, I won’t feel that the blame is on me.

May 27, 1993

    The principal came into symphonic band to obseve me for the third time. The class was attentive during the rehearsal and sounded good, too. Afterwards he just said, “I think they like the music they are playing.” After my first two evaluations went so well, perhaps he expects more of me now. I’m glad that he has confidence in me.

May 28, 1993

    The concert band complains every time they have to play, but when we work on our piece, they get into it. After only three days we can recognize the melody of the piece and play almost halfway through it. We also work on major scales, and I am teaching them how to transpose the concert key for each instrument. It’s exciting when they give the right answer because I know they didn’t know it before. I cannot take much of the credit for how well the symphonic band plays, but I can for the concert band. This is an incredible feeling.

June 2, 1993

    Yesterday the first two performances at elementary schools were a bit shaky, but by the third school, the concert went much better. The students were excited because they got to leave school, but were well behaved for the most part. I worried about how they would act during lunch at McDonald’s. I was pleased with their behavior, but I guess the manager wasn’t. The restaurant was crowded, so some students ate outside. The principal received a phone call from the manager, who said the kids were ill-behaved. I was surprised. If they had been bad, I would have stepped in. I told the principal that the kids’ behavior was pretty good and the manager had overreacted. I had called the restaurant ahead of time to tell them we were coming. The principal said that it was probably the manager’s fault for not providing better accomodations, but it is important to be extra well-behaved in public places because you never know if people might get upset.

June 4, 1993

    As an end of the year reward students may sign yearbooks as long as they are quiet. They are being generally cooperative and well-behaved. Many asked me to sign their yearbooks and I feel accepted now. I will actually miss most of the ninth graders, but I’m definitely looking forward to next year when I will know many of the students and what to expect. I will explain my rules right away and won’t be afraid to discipline the kids. I think the kids going into symphonic band next year are really excited. I’m looking forward to having a good group and already have some ideas about the music we will play. I learned more this year than in my entire four years of college, but I’m glad I don’t have to go through it again.   

Ann Crawford earned a bachelor’s degree in music education from Northwestern University in 1992, and was a band director at McKinley Junior High School, Kenosha, Wisconsin at the time of this article.