Schools Should Be Designed for Learning

I may have subconsciously known this when I was a student in public school, but became very aware of it when I became an orchestra teacher in both public and private schools. If what is happening in the academic world is the same as what is happening in the instrumental music world (in these schools), I can completely empathize and understand. I can only imagine at this point how much worse things have gotten in just a few years since I have left the profession.

In my experience, my job was to earn high performance ratings at all costs, and not to actually teach music and offer musical experiences to all interested students. I was rudely criticized at all opportunities for doing exactly the opposite of this. While many other programs “hid” their lower-performing groups by not allowing them to perform in public, I invited all of my students to have the valuable experience of performing in public and working with a local clinician. This resulted in lower overall performance scores, and intense and unfair scrutiny from administrators and department chairpersons who had no direct experience with my teaching, my classroom routines, or the children enrolled in my classes. I had no regrets about this whatsoever, because I could see how the experiences benefited the students in my program. But the years of criticism did wear me down. I felt like I was constantly fighting a losing battle. All interests were on annual performance scores, and not on actual learning. All staff meetings, and all conversations among colleagues essentially centered around this and it got to a point where I could not stand it any more and had to leave the profession.

As a student in the orchestra program at the public schools I attended, I may indeed have benefited in ways I can’t comprehend today. I remember practicing for auditions and “chair challenges” and being really proud of “first chair” distinctions. I do believe that competitive opportunities are valuable, but they have their place in the child’s experiences and overall development in their younger years. It should not define a program or a school nearly to the extent that it does today. And they should definitely not be to the exclusion of real learning opportunities. Focus needs to be more on authentic learning experiences for young children rather than on outward appearances of success, which are usually artificial, and at the expense of alienating many hard-working and well-intentioned young minds.

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