Thursday, January 31, 2013

Question About After School Groups

This question was posted today and I thought that others might be interested in the novel of an answer I wrote!  :)

I just found your blog and have been clicking through all your older posts. Thanks for your hard work to spread some great teaching ideas!

Just curious- do you get paid for teaching outside of the school day? I noticed in the post that the kids have to pay an activity fee- do you get some of that money? I also run an Orff Ensemble and have rehearsals before school. However, it takes a lot of my time and I am not paid to do it- just expected to. I don't think people realize how much extra work it is when my teaching schedule is totally loaded already. I kind of feel taken advantage of since when classroom teachers work outside of the school day (holding reading nights, curriculum meetings etc) they are frequently paid for their time. What are your thoughts on this?

Even before I started at my first position I felt that it was a bit unfair that there was a universal expectation for elementary music specialists to have before or after school performing groups.  While I do believe there is an enormous amount of value in performance, I never saw why it had to be a group that met outside a teacher’s regular workday.  Like you, the expectations at the schools I’ve worked at have always been that there would be groups like this. 

I do receive a small stipend for one of my after school groups.  There is not another available for my 2nd performing group or for events I host like a Winter Concert or Spring Musical.  Honestly, the amount is so small that it’s definitely not the reason I continue the groups.  I really have grown to love aspects of both groups and would genuinely miss them.  As far as the my activity fees go, they do not supplement my income.  I use that money to purchase a t-shirt for each student, instruments, costumes and anything else we may need for our performances.

Now, I would not recommend making a million drastic changes all in one year but gradually changing the program to fit you and your life style is definitely a must.  There are many ways to give your administration, staff, students and families great performances without it all being dependent upon an after school group.  Here are some of the things I have done to find balance with my after school groups:

We meet on my terms.  That means, days of the week where I feel comfortable sacrificing time at home.  I also decide the length of my rehearsals and the number per year.  I set the concert dates and I pick the time of year when I have them.  This is important because being the expert (by that I mean the only person who has been trained in techniques to teach children musical concepts) at my school, I really am the only person who can decide how much time is reasonable in order to prepare a group to perform.

Cut back!  I turned myself into a tightly wound spring when we first opened our school.  I tried to do it all and nothing was out of the question.  My art teacher friend, Mrs.M, and I have had many conversations about how crazy some of it was.  There are ways to cut back without sacrificing a great enrichment program.  I found that this meant not trying to do 2 musicals a year!  Hello?  What was I thinking?  Instead we do a winter concert with more traditional choral pieces and a musical in the spring. 

Something else I have done to cut back is change my spring concert date from May to March.  Instead of having after school groups from September through May, I will have a portion of the year without these extra groups.  Plus, our concert will be during MIOSM.

Say No.  I’m sure your classroom teachers often come to you asking for help with an after school event or other tasks.  I don’t want to come off the wrong way, I love being a part of the team and helping where I can but there are definitely some instances where the answer has to be no.  The last minute requests, the requests for your planning time.  These are the questions I have learned to say no to.  My planning time is just as limited as theirs and I have a list of to do’s of my own.  I will always help where I can but I’m definitely not going to take on something else that is detrimental to my program.

Come up with a plan.  Before I ever talk to my Principal about changes I want to make to my program, I always make a list of the changes, why they are necessary and how it benefits the kids.  I have found that administrators are much more willing to listen to these changes and react more positively if I have a plan and a way to make it happen. 

I don’t think there are many schools where you can get away with doing absolutely no performances but I’m sure you can reshape your program to fit you.  Think about what your ideal program would be and start thinking of how you could make these changes.  Is it possible to host grade level informances instead of a formal concert?  This really doesn’t require a lot of extra planning because you are sharing music the kids have learned in class.

I hope this helps!  Please let me know if there is anything else I can help with.  

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