The Day the Music Died

This comes to us from Laura Kexel, an Orchestra teacher in Kent and was published originally in the League of Education Voters Blog, edCored, as “The day the music died.”  (http://www.educationvoters.org/2011/10/06/edcored-the-day-the-music-died/)  Laura has given her permission to reprint her thoughts here.

I am an itinerant orchestra teacher. I am currently assigned to eight elementary schools teaching sixth grade beginning orchestra. When I was hired in 2007, I was assigned to five elementary schools teaching fifth and sixth grade orchestra. Every year that I have taught in the Kent School District, not only have elementary band and orchestra been on the chopping block, but the district has threatened to cut all elementary music to save money. Last year, fifth graders lost the chance to start in band and orchestra. The district is desperate for money, and our children are suffering.

I have a Masters Degree in Teaching, yet I spend only three hours a day in contact with students. I make enough money on mileage checks to pay three car payments in a school year.

Besides having to fight every year just to keep music alive in elementary schools, we have suffered some pretty devastating cuts. The district owns hundreds of band and orchestra instruments but has cut the repair and maintenance budget to ZERO. Would you buy a house and then never mow the lawn, vacuum, paint, etc.? They have a set maintenance fee for students to rent those instruments – $80 – but if a student has free or reduced lunch, the fee is reduced down, often to a mere $20. This $20 buys two strings (almost) or 1/2 of a new bow or 1/3 of a new case or almost none of a repair when needed for normal wear and tear issues.

Itinerant band and orchestra teachers used to get an allotment to spend on new music. Unlike math or science, we don’t have a set of textbooks that the district purchases and adopts every five to 10 years. Our books are purchased by the students themselves, and music is our textbook. We have to share that music, and now that we only teach beginning orchestra and band, we can’t use a great deal of what we have because it is beyond the skill level of the students. Our allotment was reduced to ZERO last year and has stayed the same.  No new music, despite the changing needs of our students. Are we supposed to write the music ourselves?

Every school principal has warned against making too many copies. Again, I don’t have a textbook curriculum. Everything I do is from a photocopy. I don’t always have time at every school to make copies for just that school, so sometimes I have to make all the copies I need for the week in one place. I try to spread that around evenly, but I’m not always successful. My schedule doesn’t allow me to be. I sincerely hope that I make it to the end of the year without getting cut off.

There are many more ways that budget cuts affect us and our students, but I have to stop here before I let all this wash over me. I need to keep positive despite the tough road ahead, and I can’t do that when I dwell on all the bad news. The bottom line is that I teach whoever shows up in my class, whatever their needs. I spend my weekends calling parents to make sure every student has an instrument. I make extra trips on my own time to the district warehouse and music stores to get supplies. I do all of this because someone has to do it, and it is important. I want what is best for my students, and I will do what is necessary to make that happen.

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5 Responses to “The Day the Music Died”

  1. MusicDude Says:

    I’d like to remind Laura that the “Music and You” series that passes as the curriculum for General Music in Kent is 20 years old (1992), not 5 or 10, with no plan at this time for replacement.

  2. Thankful Parent Says:

    I could never imagine my life without music. I was blessed to be exposed to it at an early elementary school age. My band teachers were wonderful– from 4th grade all the way through high school. I want my kids to be taught how to play an instrument–something I cannot teach them to do! I support all music programs and the teachers.

    • kenteducationassociation Says:

      That might be something you want to share with the school board. They listen to parents much more than they listen to us “disgruntled employees.” Teachers always have an agenda that includes preservation of their jobs, but parents have that altruistic advocacy for their children that gives them added relevance. Apparently administrators weren’t listening last year when waves of parents showed up at board meetings to save elementary music. They have difficulty quantifying music in the same mold as math and reading and that is a problem when you are stuck inside that box. Music deserves to survive and flourish and a quality education won’t happen without it. Thank you for your support.

      • Thankful Parent Says:

        I have spoken up at school board meetings. Here’s the problem, I think the school board is bent on their own agenda, along w/ the school district. It would take a social movement to save music and the arts. I am thinking about our kids who cannot afford private lessons outside of school. We depend upon our school to provide music and to offer instrumental music as well. THAT’s part of where I want my tax paying dollars to go.

      • kenteducationassociation Says:

        Actually, there are sympathetic ears on the board, but there are still a couple of members who will rubber stamp anything that the “cabinet” (administrators, directors, et al) says. Those administrators, all pulling down gigantic salaries, are the real problem, from workload issues (they’re the ones that come up with all those new tasks that teachers are required to do) to curriculum choices, testing and scheduling and textbook adoptions and beyond. The board just takes them at their word that the things they request are necessary and they run with it. The movement to save music is already there; we saw it last year and hopefully we’ll see it again. The administrators won’t change. We just have to be vigilant and vocal and remind the board that they’re supposed to be in charge.

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