Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Lessons from a children's book-for music teachers, unschoolers, and everyone in between.

We found The last holiday concert  by Andrew Clements at a used bookstore recently. Alli loves Andrew Clements, and I wanted to pre-read it-and found myself just overwhelmed. It's a kid's book, but there's a lot there.

The main storyline is this- After a school choir teacher finds out that his job has been eliminated at the end of the semester5, he gets frustrated with his middle school choir and their lack of attentiveness (choir, as is so often the case, has been used as a dumping ground for the kids who needed an elective, so a lot of the kids have NO desire to be there), and tells them that he's through-that it's up to THEM to put on the Christmas concert, and if they want to stand there for 30 minutes and look like fools, that's fine with him-expecting that the kids will ASK him to come back.

Instead, a popular goof-off takes over, and working together, the kids go from total chaos to putting on a show, getting help and support from the teacher and parents as needed. And the results are truly magical.

This was a good time for me, because I'm in a transition in a lot of ways. Because of a combination of financial and personal reasons, I won't be teaching this Spring. The University music school has gone in a different direction, and I haven't always found homeschooling compatible with teaching, and especially not with managing, a Kindermusik program. So, like the teacher in this book, I'm facing leaving behind my kids, not knowing whether they'll even BE in a music class next semester, and hoping they'll find their wings. Seeing these 6th graders-even fictional ones-manage to do so is very validating for me as a teacher.

And having been around homeschooled kids, I realize that what Clements is describing isn't really that unusual. I see my daughter take that kind of initiative on a smaller scale almost daily, and I see it happen when the kids are in groups frequently. True, making elaborate stories about Movie monsters and vampires might not be on the same scale as putting on a show-but I suspect that if you threw that gauntlet in front of our homeschool group, you'd get some great results.

So, as a parent and teacher, the lesson for me is that,sometimes the best thing you can do is let go, step back, and not give help until they ASK for it. It's not easy-but it CAN work.

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