Elementary Music Pedagogy 101. Junior year of college.
The professor waltzed in with a giant potted bush of daisies.
He explained that each flower represented a different aspect of music education and the professional performing arts field. Small clippers appeared and snipped one of the white blooms. He held it up, saying, “This is your high school band,” and handed it to a bewildered student. This continued, each bloom snipped and named for high school orchestra, or professional symphony, or jazz band, or music festival, or pop singer, or any feature of educational, amateur and professional music we could think of, until the flowers were gone.
My wise professor held up the pot of dirt and roots and said, “This is your elementary music program.”
I looked down at the single flower in my hand. I looked up at the pot full of dirt. Back at the bloom, the roots, bloom, roots. And something clicked.
I had walked into that classroom convinced I wanted to teach high school band, then go on to college band and orchestra, and then eventually start and lead my own community band or orchestra. I wanted to be a conductor and pianist, bringing music to the masses in my community, not teach basic beat to children.
I walked out of that classroom with the conviction that I wanted to be, was called to be, an elementary music teacher.
To toil in the soil, under the surface, behind the scenes, can be difficult. Often, teaching the “roots” brings little recognition, praise, or results. A kindergarten teacher may not see their former student grow up to read Harry Potter in fourth grade, Homer in ninth, and then become a successful author. But Roots teaching can also be extremely rewarding, as that kindergarten teacher cultivates the emerging growth of tiny humans.
There’s magic in Roots Teaching.
To work on the front lines, teaching the “blooms” at the end of the process, brings it’s own challenges and rewards. The stakes are higher, there’s more to loose but there’s more to gain. A high school English teacher may have the honor of guiding that student through Homer and spark the beginning of their writing career, while at the same time mourning over the poor life choices they are making.
Blooms Teaching holds its own kind of magic.
So, the question is, are you a Roots teacher or a Blooms teacher?
Where do your strengths, passions, and abilities lie? Do you get excited to till the soil and plant the seeds of learning in the lives of little people? Or does it fill you with pride to carefully prune the development toward adulthood?
Leadership, and great education, resides in both styles of teaching. It takes a combination of both Roots and Blooms teaching in children’s lives to make a difference. Some of us won’t see the final product of our labors. Some of us will witness the cumulative results of our own and others’ labors.
Sometimes we don’t get to decide if we are the Roots or the Blooms for a student. If I am not seeing results, that doesn’t mean I’m not doing anything good. Maybe that means I was the one to put the tulip bulb into the ground. I don’t get to be the one to witness that tulip bloom. Or perhaps I’m the one that watered the student’s growth. Or the one that gave them plant food, or pulled out their weeds. If I am seeing results, I thank the people who came before me who labored on the seeds and soil so that I could assist in the blooming process. If I am not assisting in the blooming process, I do what I can to prepare my students to be the best “flowers” they can be.
The important thing to remember is that we are all in this together to cultivate our students into beautiful gardens of creative, caring, confident global citizens.
After twenty years, I still remember my professor’s object lesson. I can see the small daisy in my hand, and the giant flower pot in his hand, as if it’s right before me. I close my eyes and can experience once again that wonderful light bulb moment when I saw who I was meant to be.
Today, I drive to my new job teaching music in a primary school. I have only kindergarten, first, and second grade music classes in my schedule. I have been called to Roots Teaching, and my heart fills with joy at the many seeds I get to plant on a daily basis.
What is your joy? Find that and you will find what are you called to be. And, by the way, Dr. Al Harding, if you’re out there, thank you for planting the seed of Roots teaching in my heart.