After reigning for 30 years as Queen of the Band Room, I have many stories to tell about building a worthy school music program under adverse social and financial conditions.
There was the time I overheard the football coach ranting at his hapless players: Are you football players or band fags?! There was the time when the president of the Athletic Boosters came to a Band Boosters meeting to ask them to purchase special theme music for band students to play at athletic events, beginning by saying: My son is learning disabled, so I know what it’s like to have a child in band, where everyone makes fun of them.
Then there was the great Leather Sleeves Controversy, where my band students began purchasing varsity jackets in school colors on which to sew their duly earned (and admin-approved) band letters. The Athletic Director took that one all the way to the Board, claiming that varsity jackets with leather sleeves should--by enforced policy--be the exclusive purview of athletes. He proposed that the band (and other lesser-light activities, like drama, foreign language clubs and--oh, yeah--National Honor Society) have nylon jackets in colors other than blue and gold.
We won that one. But only because all kids, musicians and athletes and scholars, were buying their own jackets, not using school funding--thus, not something the district could control. We “gave” students the letters but they were paid for by funds their parents raised.
In the phony and unnecessary wars between school programs, the athletic department is often (but not always) the 800-pound gorilla. Most battles over facilities, budgets and the spotlight--what is generally considered “best for kids"--end up like this one, where the school’s music suite (which includes an office, a library and practice rooms, in addition to a large rehearsal space) will be turned into a weight room.
Last year when I was hired, so was the new head football coach. He came to me early on, asking if we played certain songs because he had played them in band when he was in high school. Okay, note to self, football coach was a band kid. Check. Fast forward to this year. I ask for a list of all football players at the end of the season, complete with their jersey numbers. Each of my band kids created a handmade invitation to our winter concert, for each football player, saying things like "We enjoyed supporting football by playing this year. Now we want to invite you to see what we do the rest of the time." We even included invitations to the coaches. Last night. The concert. Head football coach shows up at our concert with his youngest daughter, skipping a girls' basketball tournament, which included his eldest daughter as starting point guard and his wife as the girls' head coach. This morning I get an email from him raving about the concert. On top of that, our Athletic Director was also in attendance, helping keep the audience from being idiots. What a night! Yes, Virginia, there IS a Santa Claus.
Policy and practice implications for school leaders and teachers?
- Good one-to-one communication trumps hiding in silos, sending out memos as missives.
- School programs should never be regarded or structured as ongoing competitions for attention and power. We’re all in this together. Kids learn from seeing adults in power struggles--and what they learn doesn’t serve them well as adult citizens.
- The influence of adults as role models is vastly underestimated and underutilized.
- Student athletes and student musicians have lots in common--they’re kids who are seriously engaged in wholesome, school-based activities that have a big impact on their development and eventual lives, careers and citizenship. Pitting them against each other is a selfish mistake.
“School spirit” is a real and valuable thing. Its other name: Community.
The opinions expressed in Teacher in a Strange Land are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.