Summary Of Experience
My experience at Lehman Intermediate at the East Stroudsburg North campus was my non-emphasis placement, occurring from October 28, 2013 to December 13, 2013. The content area was middle school general and choral music (grades 6-8). My cooperating teacher was Mrs. Jennifer Scott, who has taught at the district for over a decade.
To gather demographic information for this district, I used the current statistics from East Stroudsburg High School North – specific data for Lehman Intermediate was not available.
The enrollment between East Stroudsburg High School North and Wallenpaupack Area High School, my alma mater, are relatively close in number. Both schools are categorized as “Rural: Distant”. The enrollment in 2011 for both districts was 1,269 and 1,343, respectively, which calculates to average class sizes of 317.25 and 335.75.
A massive contrast in demographic that I observed while teaching at East Stroudsburg North was racial distribution. Wallenpaupack’s student body is comprised of 92.1% Caucasian, 2.8% African-American, and 3.9% Hispanic. Whereas, East Stroudsburg High School North’s enrollment is comprised of 41.1% Caucasian (-51% difference), 29.9% African-American (+27.1%), and 26.9% Hispanic (+23%). The differences in the backgrounds and cultural identities of the students in this school caused me to consider how I structured and delivered the content in my Popular American Music unit in my general music classes.
Test performance data and overall statewide ranking (according to SchoolDigger) is very different between these districts, despite only being 28.2 miles from one another. Wallenpaupack is listed as 157th best (76.8th percentile) out of 676 Pennsylvania High Schools, and East Stroudsburg North is listed as 433rd best (35.9th percentile). Wallenpaupack’s average PSSA math score is 71.2, compared with 51.5 at East Stroudsburg North. Data for PSSA indicates average reading scores of 77.1 and 68.2, respectively. Interestingly enough, the student-to-teacher ratio is actually more favorable for East Stroudsburg North at 13.5 students per teacher, compared to 16.8 for Wallenpaupack.
The largest challenge of this placement was getting used to teaching middle school students, an age group that I had little experience with and was, admittedly, nervous to teach. I felt that I would have difficulty relating to the students in terms of their current interests, likes, dislikes, and personalities. Students of this age are also in a time of immense change physically, emotionally, socially, and academically. This means that there are students who haven’t begun to mature, those who are in the midst of the process, and those who are mostly through it – resulting in a broad range of possible combinations of maturities in any given class.
I haven’t interacted with middle school students since I was one myself. As I expected, it did take a while to figure out how to approach them in my interactions and instruction, but as time progressed I became more comfortable with the manner in which I addressed them. I believe there is nothing more important than making a personal connection with students. The more that a teacher knows about his or her students, the better the teacher can analyze their instruction and adapt it to incorporate content that interests the students, drawing them into the instruction.
Classroom management was undoubtedly the most difficult aspect of this placement. Having never taught middle school children for any length of time prior to this placement, I did not have an accurate understanding of how these students learn, focus, and interpret information during classes. Their attention spans were shorter than I had anticipated, so it took a lot of self-analysis to restructure how I teach so that the class time was best suited for their learning. For instance, I had to spend more time being very explicit when introducing content, making sure that all of the details of my instruction were comprehensible based on the student’s learning levels. I learned very quickly that it’s easy to “lose” the students if they get confused, resulting in spending more time returning back to the original point in the lesson.
In addition to restructuring how I taught, I also had to restructure how I organized everything – my own materials, the materials I created for the students, the classroom itself, and how I organized the delivery of my instruction. For instance, the students’ behavior throughout an entire class period was greatly influenced by the manner in which I started each class period. If something was not in place, or the students didn’t start classroom activities immediately, more often than not, the students were talkative and had difficulty focusing.
One challenge I faced throughout this placement that I did not anticipate facing was the amount of special needs and low-level learning students that would have in my general music classes. Each student was very different in the nature of his or her disability, and it required me to adjust my planning for each situation. For each lesson that I taught, I made multiple sets of materials, scaffolding each tier of materials based on the severity of the student’s learning disabilities. I also had to adapt their assessment expectations as well. The result of the scaffolding materials was increased participation and comprehension from the special needs students.
Secondary Instrument Skills
Throughout this placement, I was able to use a broad range of musical skills in my instruction through the usage of secondary instruments. As a result, my musicianship and creativity grew. In my 7th grade general music classes, I accompanied the students on improvisation activities and singing activities by playing guitar. I also sang with the students on multiple occasions, and introduced digital recording technology to the students, including a brief demonstration of modern auto-tune software (Melodyne) by doing an in-class cover of Lipps Inc.’s Funkytown.
In my experiences with the 6th grade choir, I was able to accompany them on piano for a song on their winter concert, A Distant Shore (arr. Donnelly/Strid). I also played drum set for A Grinch Medley. Throughout the rehearsal process, I also did a lot of vocal modeling, making use of my experiences with studying voice at Penn State and applying it to the choir settings.
My cooperating teacher for this placement, Jennifer Scott, was contributory to the development of my confidence working with the children at Lehman Intermediate. Without her patience, guidance, and insight, I would not have been as successful learning the “ins and outs” of the middle school general and choral classroom. I learned a great deal from observing her in various domains, such as observing how she approaches playing piano during rehearsals, how she deals with classroom management and disciplinary issues, and observing her values as a music educator.
Self-Assessment of Growth & Areas to Improve
I need to keep myself open to possible future employment in all age groups and content areas of music education. If I was to acquire a position teaching middle school choir and general music, I know that based on this experience piano skills are an absolute must. I plan on continuing to develop these skills regularly. I also realized how much students are drawn to technology, especially music technology (recording, playing on electronic instruments, etc.), so I plan on continuing to acquire new recording equipment and learn more about music recording, production, and engineering.
In this experience I was able to overcome a lot of the anxieties that I had about teaching middle school students, special needs students, and students who are demographically and culturally different from myself. My piano skills and guitar skills also improved as a result of utilizing them on a consistent basis, and then using self-analysis to make daily improvements in those domains. Utilizing those instruments in a live classroom setting forced me to react and raise my skills in the moment.
My organizational skills and my classroom management skills continued to grow in this placement, building on my experiences during my primary placement at Stroudsburg High School. Maintaining a classroom environment conducive for attentive, participatory, and cooperative academic learning time requires planning for all possible variables. Keeping the students engaged from the moment they enter the classroom to the moment that the bell rings, which includes accounting for a warm-up/focus activity, transitions during the lesson, and closure for the lesson, setting up for the next lesson and providing crucial context so the students can relate the material they just learned to another part of their knowledge. If I am not organized, focused, and cognizant of my objectives, then I will either lose the focus and cooperation of my students or not make the most of the little instructional time that I have.
In terms of my demeanor, approach to teaching, and the delivery of my teaching, I become much more comfortable as the experience went on. At first I was very uptight and uncertain that the manner in which I was teaching the material was not as comprehendible as it could be. What I realized is that I needed to resist my innate "type A" personality and slow down, but not so much that I did not accomplish my objectives. This resulted in a much more simplistic approach to my instruction, focusing on the "big ideas" of each particular lesson, and relating all of the material that the students learned to the overall themes of the class. That approach was applicable for both my choir experiences and my general music experiences. Taking the time to allow students to digest the material was a overlying premise for both of my student teaching experiences, and going forward in my educational career, I will be consistently assessing my instruction. In the assessment, I will need to be focused on refining my instruction for the best possible comprehension of curricular goals in the shortest period of time possible, while still giving the students a positive, enjoyable, worthwhile, and memorable music education experience.
Most importantly, I learned that my passion for teaching and the observable love that I have for music ultimately is what draws the students in to my instruction. The more enthusiasm that I show for the content, the more the students will believe in it, and see it as something of possible intrinsic value, simply because they're seeing someone else fully invested and enveloped in it.