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I use the phrase “unique classroom situation” (or something similar) regularly in my blog posts. I often use it as a caveat to accompany my suggestions for lessons and the grade levels in which to use them. It’s a reminder that every lesson idea must first be considered from the perspective of your own unique classroom situation.

For new teachers, or those in their first few years, I know how tempting it can be to compare yourself to more experienced educators. You see someone else’s scope and sequence, and perhaps you think your students are falling behind. You see their second graders working on barred sixteenth notes, while you’re still hammering out the difference between quarter and barred eighth notes. It’s extremely easy to develop the attitude of “I’m not doing enough.” or “I’m failing my students.”

How easy and dangerous it is to start playing the game of comparison!


It’s a game that you can’t possibly win because everyone’s classroom situation is different. As Anne Mileski smartly pointed out in her podcast recently, “We are dealing with human beings…” and each with their own set of experiences, character traits, and potential for success. Some students might be too shy to volunteer for a solo, but are harboring an intense passion for singing. Others might act out every day in your class, but then will be the first to give you a hug outside of the classroom. Some students might be battling a traumatic home-life and look to music as their source of comfort. It certainly was for me.

Music was my refuge. I could crawl into the space between the notes and curl my back to loneliness. ~Maya Angelou

Maintaining a healthy perspective and avoiding the comparison game gives you the space to focus on your own students and their unique needs.

 

DEFINITION

When I talk about your “unique classroom situation”, I’m talking about all the variables that make up a typical public school classroom. These encompass factors such as:

  • length of classes
  • how often you see your classes
  • whether or not your schedule is rotation-based
  • the number of times students are pulled from your classes
  • skill/experience level of your students
  • social, emotional, and behavioral needs of your students
  • whether or not your students have had a music class before
  • whether or not your students have had disruptions in their music education
  • how many music teachers your students have had in the past
  • your preferred teaching methodology or approach
  • your years of teaching experience
  • the support you receive from your district
  • the support you receive from your community
  • the support you receive from society as a whole

I’m sure you could think of additions to this list which greatly determine what you teach and when. While we all may find similarities in our students or our methods, we cannot assume that those similarities extend to all the variables present in every elementary music classroom. In short, every classroom is different, and we need to account for that when planning our lessons.

 

WHY DOES IT MATTER?

The better we understand our own unique classroom, the better equipped we are to reach our students and to advocate on their behalf.

  • For example, if you know that you’ll be teaching second graders who’ve never had formal music instruction, then you’ll know that you won’t be able to follow a “typical” scope and sequence for that grade level. On the other hand, if the second graders had previous music experience, and you have data showing their progress from year to year, then you’d be in a better position to know where to begin with instruction.
  • Likewise, if you don’t have access to any kid-friendly instruments, then you’ll know your students are at a disadvantage when compared to students who have access to musical instruments. You can advocate for them by requesting funds from your district, applying for grants, and contacting representatives to let them know that your music program isn’t properly funded.

All of this matters, because you have to reach your students where they are, and that place isn’t the same for every teacher and student across the globe. While one music teacher might be using brand-new Orff instruments to practice the pentatonic scale, another music teacher might be teaching about timbre using hand-made egg shakers that they crafted from the local dollar store.

 

REFLECTION

I hope that your takeaway from this blog post is a renewed sense of empowerment to do what’s best for your students and to avoid the game of comparison. For most of you reading this, we’re nearing the summer, which is a great time for an end-of-year reflection. Here are a few questions to ask yourself:

  • How often did I compare myself to other teachers? If so, how could my time have been better spent?
  • What type of professional development options are available to me this summer? Will they serve to benefit my students in a meaningful way?
  • What was most lacking in my planning this year? How can I improve that for next year?
  • What is a reasonable goal for summer planning? How can I avoid the temptation to #doallthethings and achieve a rest and recharge over summer vacation?
  • Which should I focus on improving/creating this summer? My scope and sequence, my song lists, my monthly plans, my transitions, or something else?
  • What are my current teaching strengths? How can I build on those to benefit my students?
  • How can I be proactive in building a healthy perspective for next year? Should I spend less time on social media? Should I talk more often with a trusted mentor?

As always, I’m happy to continue this discussion via email or my Facebook Page. I’m curious to hear your thoughts on this topic and to discover how you work on maintaining a healthy perspective throughout the school year.