It's parent-teacher conference night. Yes, the night where you teach all day and then aren't aloud to leave for another four hours. Let's be honest, we've all wondered why we (as music teachers) have to be there. Even a seasoned music teacher is still probably able to count their conferences on two hands.
I'll be the first one to say that I used to feel this way. I felt like nobody wanted to meet with me and I had nothing of value to share with my parents. I stayed in my classroom and got work done on conference nights. I developed curriculum and planned performances.
But this year I tried something different.
Filling My Schedule
I reached out to the teachers in my school and asked them to share their conference schedules as they came in. Once I got these lists I went through and started making my schedule for the conference nights.
I looked at students that were being leaders, those that were new to the school, and of course those that I had some behavior concerns about. I knew that I needed to talk to a few parents, as their students' had been having issues staying on task and participating fully. But I knew that I wanted to have more positive conferences than negative, so I filled up my schedule with that in mind.
I was able to create plans with parents whose students hadn't been working to their fullest potential by dropping into their conferences. I didn't take a large amount of time, as I know that the classroom teachers have so much that they need to get through. I just took a couple of minutes to voice my concerns and then worked on creating a plan to help these students make appropriate choices.
With those students who were "star students" I was able to tell parents how hard they work in my class, and how I look to them as leaders in the class. I was able to answer questions some parents had about private lessons and what would be best for their student to pursue music outside of my classroom.
Advocacy as an Educator
We all know that it can be easy to assume that we, as music educators, aren't really teachers. It can be easy for parents (and other staff) to be blind to the role we play in the education of our students.
I think it is important for us to be involved in conferences so that we can be visible doing things educators do. As Anne Mileski puts it, we are teacher musicians. I love this label because it reminds us of the musical content and understanding we have. I also use this label for myself because it includes the non-musical aspects of what we do.
Let's face it: we have hundreds of students. It can be hard to really understand what makes each student tick. It's nearly impossible for us to understand and remember how each student is performing outside of our classrooms. That is why these conferences can be invaluable for us as music educators.
There are direct connections between how a student performs outside of our classroom and how they perform within our four walls. They won't always directly influence the other, but I think it is incredibly useful to understand how a student is progressing in other subjects.
As I've mentioned in the past, my eyes were opened to the rest of the educational "machine" during my first year out of college. It's because of this experience that I strive to be a part of all of my students' education in and out of my classroom. Part of that is knowing their strengths and weaknesses outside of our classrooms.
Listen, I get it. We are constantly spinning more and more plates as music educators. There's a good chance you think I'm crazy for choosing another plate to spin. It truly does add to my list of responsibilities.
But to me, it's totally worth it. To me, losing a couple hours of unstructured time in my classroom is definitely worth being able to foster better relationships with parents while being more involved in the holistic education of my students.
Because when it all comes down to it, we're educators. We just happen to teach music.
Bryson Tarbet is the music educator and blogger behind That Music Teacher.