Thursday, April 21, 2011

Music Teachers; Lessons Learned from House Calls

By Mark T. Burke

Dr.'s of the 1800's through the mid 1900's made house calls.  In fact, treating patients at home was a core service not only for convenience.  Treating someone at home provides Dr.'s with a first-hand view of a patient's diet and living conditions that impact their health. Fast forward to today and only 4000 Dr.'s make house calls today but doing so is making a come back.

The point of this comparison is that jobs do change because entire industries change. If I were a medical Dr. and someone said, "You're job is changing from an office-based practice to a mobile care model, conducting house calls," I would certainly be thinking of the significant changes this meant for me. I would have significant travel time between patients, I would no longer have access to the same level of equipment and supplies, I would have to participate in training on how to learn more about patients in their homes....the list goes on.

It's April 2011, and in Central PA, the music education "industry" is drastically changing. By industry, I mean music in our schools.  Budget cuts are sweeping local schools and as a result music programs are being gathered up and toss out.  Those teachers who find themselves out of work as well as those who remain on the job will find teaching music a very different job next school year.  The industry has changed and now we have to explore options for keeping music alive.

The tendency will be to think about what these changes mean for us, the teachers, the music educators.  If I loose my job, what will I do?  Do I teach private lessons, do I go back to school, do I....?  What if I am the teacher left in a district where cuts eliminated my colleagues?  What will I have to teach, will I be able to teach new things, what will my schedule be, will I need to spend a lot more time planning, will I...?

While time must and will be spent trying to find answers to those personal questions, real progress can only be made if the questions around the industry are our focus.  Questions that strive to find answers to the global issues will guide us in redefining the industry better than focusing on the one by one, individual issues.  I am a believer that we solve our own problems when we think about the problems of others.  By doing so, we create a demand for our services and talents.  That demand creates opportunity and provides personal direction.

So while I absolutely consider the lose of music educator jobs sad, I believe in "change creates opportunity."  Just like the Dr.'s who are rethinking the value of house calls, we have a new set of challenges.  

1.)  First and foremost, we must consider how countless students will receive music education starting now.  When the new school year rolls around, how will students participate in music education?  With fewer teachers and offerings, are we "OK" just saying, "Well, there is less to choose from"?

Options:  Private lessons, community based programs, after and before school programs, online programs, and other innovative programs yet to be discovered.  I know I am thinking about these options and making moves to create new programs within as many of these areas as I can.

2.)  Employment opportunities.  Where will the many teachers who loose their music teaching jobs work?  Not all will reenter the field, that is certain. While we must all live, creating new programs from scratch can be an exciting adventure.  Will those affected consider spending a year or so helping to build innovative solutions so that the future of music education is more certain?  I hope so.  I also invite those affected to join others in this quest.  (Hint, Hint :-)

3.)  Take charge of personal learning.  While this sounds harsh, I don't believe learning about the same old, same old will pull us through this industry shake up.  Learning to conduct a band if I am a chorus director or learning about music history....those are fantastic intellectual and musical experiences, but they will NOT help create a new music education industry.

Options:  Learn to write courses, learn to build online communities, learn to use an iPad, learn to compose, learn to use music in creative ways, learn to create media, learn why kids are using Social Media, learn to love music again! 

I think every Dr. who's bringing back house calls is doing these things.  They are learning to love medicine again.  They are giving themselves the opportunity to once again feel the pleasure of connecting with their patients, knowing them as people, as friends.  They are learning to appreciate their patient's day to day life and how it influence their health and medical care.  They are taking it on themselves to learn FOR themselves how to provide a new service. They are committed to not allowing patients to fall through the cracks.  They are innovating with an appreciation for history.  That too is our challenge.



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