Music Educator / Performer
Stroudsburg High School
Summary of Experience
The enrollment between Stroudsburg High School and Wallenpaupack Area High School, my alma mater, are close in number, despite the variance in the type of surrounding area for each school (small city vs. rural). The enrollment in 2011 for both districts was 1,486 and 1,343, respectively. However, Stroudsburg High School only contains grades 10-12, and Wallenpaupack is a traditional grade 9-12 high school.
One of the main differences in demographic that I experienced was the racial distribution. Wallenpaupack’s student body is comprised of 92.1% Caucasian, 2.8% African-American, and 3.9% Hispanic. Whereas, Stroudsburg High School’s enrollment is comprised of 61% Caucasian (-31% difference), 20.6% African-American (+17.8%), and 15.3% Hispanic (+11.4%).
Test performance and overall statewide ranking (according to SchoolDigger) are very similar between both districts. Wallenpaupack is listed as 157th best (76.8th percentile) out of 676 Pennsylvania High Schools, and Stroudsburg is listed as 163rd best (75.9th percentile). Both districts’ average PSSA scores in mathematics, reading, and writing are within mere points of one another, with Wallenpaupack scoring higher in math, and Stroudsburg scoring higher in reading.
My primary experience with the Stroudsburg High School concert bands included an intensive focus on one piece with each band. I was the sole teacher of each piece from the first week of rehearsals until the winter concert on December 7. My cooperating teacher instructed me to observe the first week of rehearsals, which consisted primarily of sightreading. I then had to search the school’s music library and make appropriate selections based on each ensemble’s strengths and weaknesses.
I chose Into The Raging River by Steven Reineke for the 10th grade concert band due to a strong french horn soloist, and strong saxophone, low brass, and percussion sections. The ensemble consisted of about 30 members, which proved to be a challenge for some due to the individual accountability necessary to play that particular piece with such a small ensemble. I chose Ride by Samuel Hazo for the 11th and 12th grade concert band based on the level of repertoire that those students had performed in the past. I knew the piece would be challenging for them in a variety of perspectives, but still attainable. I constructed a Unit Study for this piece revolving around the various unfamiliar major and minor keys of the piece, as well as deciphering the “story” as it unfolds in the music. Students completed a scales and terms assessment, as well as a listening assessment where they critiqued two performances of Ride and applied their observations to their own recorded rehearsal performance of the piece.
Aside from the concert bands, I instructed a Beginning Guitar/Piano class once each day. I was only at Stroudsburg High School during the music fundamentals and basis note-reading units for this class. I taught the students basic lessons on rhythmic principles and meter, treble and bass clef notation, and basic intervals. I designed all of my own assessments, administered them, graded them, and used the online grade book to enter their marks. During my final two weeks, the students started scales, cadences, and an excerpt from Ode To Joy in C Major and G Major. Students performed hands separately and hands together for an overall participation grade.
I also instructed a daily Beginning Music Theory class, comprised of students who had a legitimate interest in studying music from a theoretical perspective, but with no prior experience. The course followed the same framework as the Beginning Guitar/Piano class, but instead of the students moving on to playing instruments, they went further in-depth with studying intervals. I emphasized approaching intervals from a concrete perspective, as well as an aural perspective, making the students learn to listen critically and discern between intervals. As with the other class, I designed all of my own assessments and approached that process the same way.
A large part of my experience at Stroudsburg High School was with their marching band. One of the most innovative, unique, and reputable programs in the region, I was able to observe and instruct a top-notch program. Comprised of approximately 110 students from grades 8-12, I was in charge of marching fundamentals. I implemented a more formal and structured marching instruction program than what was previously in place, drawing largely on my experiences with teaching the members of the Penn State Blue Band. Their season was very successful, culminating in an exhibition performance of their 2013 Field Show titled “The Road To The Red Carpet,” a salute to The Grammy Awards, at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ at the USBands National Championships.
I learned a considerable amount from my cooperating teacher, Skip Cassady, who I am grateful to have had the opportunity to work with for over two months. Some of the “big picture” mantras that I took from the experience is to always keep in mind that music should be a positive and enjoyable experience first, and within the enjoyment, the learning takes care of itself because the students have an honest and eager interest in learning about music. Secondly, he was persistent that I needed to slow down and take more time to process what is happening around me; I didn’t need to be tied to my lesson plans all of the time, and that it was okay to react to the students in the moment. Our contrasting personalities, myself typically being uptight and overanxious, and Skip being placid and relaxed, I learned a considerable amount observing his teaching and taking facets of his approach to teaching music and applied it to my situation.
Self-Assessment of Growth
Throughout this placement, I grew in a multitude of dimensions as a music educator.
First and foremost, the initial jitters of being in the classroom and being in front of students are gone. This initial experience has allowed me to settle comfortably into the role of a conductor and teacher. I consistently analyzed how students responded to my conducting and non-verbal instructions, and routinely experimented with different ways to communicate musical ideas to the students. After each rehearsal, I asked myself the same question: “Am I embodying the music in the best way possible?” I had to work especially hard to break myself of my “drum major” habits, focusing less on beating out the conducting pattern and instead thinking about what I can show to aid in performing the music with the best character, contrast, and interpretation as possible.
The area in which I believe I learned the most is in teaching procedure and classroom management. In other words, I discovered that the structure and pacing of my lessons and rehearsals from start to finish sets the tone for rehearsals and determines how students will respond to my instruction. Additionally, I discovered that teaching is not about telling, but about being inquisitive and creating an environment for self-discovery.
This experience proved to be a catalyst for the assimilation of all of the things that I learned over the past five years at Penn State. An analogy that I found appropriate: the academic part of my music education experience is the equivalent of adding to a toolbox; this experience has not only allowed me to take a broad glance at all of the tools I have, but all the instances in which each tool can be used. I now know that my toolbox is quite full, and I have a wealth of useful and applicable skills that I can utilize as a high school band director.
Areas to Improve
Addressing behavior was a consistent difficulty throughout the experience. I feel that if I were the sole teacher of the students, and not a student teacher, I would have had a different experience. I felt that I had a “short leash,” and if I were too stringent, I would lose the respect and attentiveness of the students. That is the part of the experience that was the least “organic,” and will be something I will experience differently as an actual teacher. I hold a personal belief that the threat of discipline should not be the centerpiece for managing a classroom, but rather, creating a collaborative environment where students can actively contribute based on his or her own background and self-discovery. I learned that creating behavioral expectations in the classroom can often be accomplished through non-verbal means, such as simply stopping, remaining silent, and staring in the direction of the improper behavior until the students correct their behavior, or even simpler, changing my proximity to the unwelcome behavior. Verbally reprimanding students or taking disciplinary action should be the last resort.
The beauty about the art of conducting is that it is a never-ending process of developing ways to express sound through physical motions and gestures. The opportunity to have an extended period of time to work with the talented and versatile musicians at Stroudsburg High School pushed me outside of my comfort zone, driving me to develop my own abilities further. I desire more contrast in my conducting, and more ways to embody and communicate musical ideas efficiently. As a result of this experience, I plan on purchasing and reading more literature related to conducting.