Recently, I combed through hundreds of resumes responding to a simple offer for a part-time job. It shocked me to see so many Masters and PhDs graduates responding to an offer for a $20/hour, part time position.
To me, learning to be an effective music teacher is like building the perfect home-based business. You can literally do it from your living room, a rented closet, or at the customer’s home. And yet, here were hundreds of resumes from obviously talented musicians, seeking a job for which, some might argue, they are overqualified. So what’s going on?
As I interviewed candidates, a pattern began to emerge. It wasn’t obvious. It wasn’t that these teachers were not able to play or teach well. It was far simpler than that.
What was it?
It relates to an experience I had recently.
My teenage son loves to explore the city. One day he returned home and told me about how he checked out this amazing new shopping mall at Ground Zero in Manhattan.
“It’s called the Oculus. The architecture is really cool and it looks like a gigantic eye on the ceiling. It’s filled with amazing stores like the Apple store and Gucci and other high end shops.” So on my “sharpen the saw” day (learn about this phrase in last week’s post), I decided to have a nice lunch, write in my journal and check out this interesting spot.
He was right. It was amazing. Here’s a photo.
What really struck me about The Oculus was the fact that everything I was seeing, enjoying, and experiencing had started as an idea. Somebody imagined this and organized people, resources, and money to create it. Everything in this building was impeccable. The shops were beautiful, and in their designs, it was obvious that someone developed a specific plan to sell men’s shirts or high end bags for wealthy women. Even the restaurants lining the marina were structured and organized. No detail was overlooked.
It must have been something in the air and the light that day. It was unseasonably warm. For whatever reason, I was bowled over by this epiphany.
I felt so small. Here I am, organizing content for my students, my teachers, and for you, the readers of this post. How amazing is it that someone organized an entire mall for so many people to enjoy? Where does one even begin?
The answer to that question, and to my question about what so many of the applicants I met with were missing is: structure. It’s all about structure.
As I sat in the late afternoon sun recording these feelings in my journal, I realized that from chaos, order emerges. We humans long for order and organization. We seek it here on earth, in the cosmos, and when we recognize it, we rejoice.
The fractals and the waves and the fibonacci patterns all give us a sense of order. We can believe that all is well in the universe. From science and biology to technology and economics, we crave structure. Even in the most trivial and mundane tasks, we search for patterns. As I completed the seemingly arbitrary task of interviewing candidates, I realized that these candidates all lacked structure. They lacked a coherent way of organizing their offerings to the world.
For some, it was a lack of training in the ways of marketing and business. For many others, it was a lack of understanding how to structure a lesson for a cohesive body of students. Many of these teachers had one or two students who were five year old beginners, a couple of teenagers, and a few seniors, but had no idea how to appropriately communicate these lessons to a large body of diverse students. Everything from their presentation of themselves to their proposed teachings methods lacked structure. Many admitted to making up lesson plans on the spot.
An educational plan is called a curriculum. It comes from Latin and literally translates as the “course of a race.” Over time it was used to describe the “course of study” and now is generally understood to describe the content, organization, and structure of a learning experience.
A curriculum can be rigid or loosely pulled together. Though most of these teachers said they followed a curriculum, theirs were haphazard at best. Most had no thoughtful process, and some just relied on what the next page of the current method book called for.
However, this isn’t necessarily always the fault of music teachers. Many of the teachers I interviewed were working as teaching artists in after-school programs, where they were given little or no guidance as to what to teach. And yet, parents were paying to send their children to music and arts programs which advertise a “robust and student-centered curriculum.”
It’s stressful. The anxiety of always trying to figure out what to do next — especially for younger, less experienced teachers — was palpable.