By Chris Bernotas
Happy New Year! What an exciting day of the year January 1st is. Everything is new again. We have a new outlook on life and we set new personal goals in an effort to better ourselves. We look at the prior year, consider the highs and lows and try to address anything we would like to improve upon. As a teacher, we celebrate New Year’s twice a year. The start of school (August or September) is also our New Year! At home, we have our resolutions—you know, I am going to lose weight, go to the gym, eat healthier! Sadly, those usually last about a month—okay, a week—then it is back to buffalo wings and professional couch sitting. As teachers in school we have an opportunity to look at our previous school year, or semester, and wipe the slate clean with a fresh start. Every year, and school year, we have the opportunity to hit the “reset” button. How exciting is that? It is a part of the profession that I just love, and by approaching each year as a new opportunity for personal and professional growth—and sticking to your resolutions—you can avoid the dreaded burnout.
That doesn’t mean that your prior year has to have been a disaster to take the New Year’s Resolution approach. By reflecting on even the most successful year you will find that there are areas that could have been better in some way. Maybe the collection of uniforms could have been more streamlined or maybe your attendance taking skills could use a little brush up. Or maybe there are specific concepts that you would like to focus on with your students. The exciting aspect I find is that there is never a lack of ideas on how we can improve the classroom experience for both our students and ourselves. I would like to share three of my own personal improvement goals, or School Year’s Resolutions with you. Perhaps you will be inspired to think of your own.
- Play more, talk less. This simple phrase is so important. Everything I have to say is so incredibly important! I am sure this is true for you as well. We have all the answers and want to share those answers with our students. Many times the best education happens when you say nothing at all. Students discover the answers as we guide them. The “play more, talk less” approach keeps that concept in mind. It is also a wonderful tool to help with classroom management. When students are actively engaged (or have an instrument on their face) they will be less likely to talk to their neighbor!
- Don’t Say It. Do you ever yell over the ensemble? “Bassoons— you are too loud!” OK, you’ve never said that one. How about this: “Trumpets—too loud, Trombones—articulate, Percussion—watch me!” Me too. It is so easy to just tell them with our voice, and it works in the short term. However, when we do this, we are taking away from our ultimate goal of communication from the podium. We want our students to watch us to understand our interpretation, but if we yell instruction at them, why would they watch? So, my goal here is to not talk (or sing) over the ensemble as they are rehearsing.
- K.I.S.S. We love analogies. I know I do. They are so effective when trying to get kids to understand concepts. When a student gets a concept through an analogy it is like a beautiful ray of sunshine beaming through the darkest of clouds. (See what I did there?) I would never say to not use a wonderful analogy or share a great pun—just be sure to not overuse them. Many times we just need to keep it simple. Give a short direction with simple and direct instruction. How about saying, “Alto saxes—there is a wrong note on beat 2 of measure 5,” instead of, “Alto saxes—there is a criminal lurking in the shadows of measure 5. You need to swoop upon it to eradicate the musical world of this eternal evil.” Use your analogies. I used one this morning and it really connected with my students!
I wish you all a Happy New Year, and hope it is your best yet! Don’t forget to be active, maintain a healthy weight and eat a balanced diet.
Chris Bernotas is co-author of the revolutionary Sound Innovations series. An active composer and arranger of concert band music, his music has been performed at the Midwest Clinic and appeared on J.W. Pepper’s Editor’s Choice list and numerous state lists. Chris has been an instrumental music teacher in the Mountain Lakes School District in New Jersey for over 20 years.