My Mentor Teacher:
My mentor teacher, Cathy Fletcher, is the general music teacher and choir director at the school. Before teaching at Frank, she taught piano (she still does), and has always been involved with teaching and sharing music and other arts with students in other jobs that she has had. She says that she loves teaching general music because “this job gives [her] the chance to personally see to it that the children in [her] school learn about the arts and can participate in music activities,” unlike previous administrative roles that she has had. Her main goals for all of her students are to: (a) to learn to sing correctly and to play an instrument; and (b) to read regular notation. She has a very large collection of Orff instruments in the classroom that she teaches with, and every class gets the chance to play them in practice to keep a steady beat and the older grades learn ensemble pieces. They also play recorders, in 3rd and 4th grade, where they get their “karate belts” for being able to read a piece of music. They have practice with reading notes almost every class (she has puzzles starting in 2nd grade to read rhythms and notes and also aural exercises). Everything she does in class is to achieve these goals.
She gets her teaching materials by borrowing from other music teachers, GamePlan K-5 teacher editions; visuals & SmartBoard visuals; songs from Music K8 (a subscription that she pays for) and current folk singers that focus on children’s music; classics that she wants to pass on to another generation (e.g., Puff the Magic Dragon; America the Beautiful). The school originally had two music classrooms, but she was able to get a bigger room and decreased class size so they didn’t need the extra music teacher. With the GamePlan books that she has, she got whole set and visuals when the fine arts coordinator sent out survey and got money from district to get a set for each teacher, though she doesn’t use the discs. In her “keep the beat” exercise that starts class, she plays a lot of popular music that the students know, and also introduces “oldies” like Elvis and the Beatles and gives them mini-lessons on them.
When asked about what she wished she had right now and what she would like to change, she said: “I have LOTS of resources (30 Orff instruments; 150 recorders; SmartBoard; 5 keyboards; thirty 3/4 guitars, etc.) so I don’t really wish for anything in the classroom. I wish that there were more parent support for extras like getting the children to before-school clubs and performances off-campus. That’s been a huge frustration.” Frank is a Title 1 school, so she gets a lot of funding and the opportunity to run a guitar club, which was replaced by piano club this semester when the school got her 4 new keyboards. She did provide seats for the students from her own money for the club, that meets for an hour before school on Wednesdays and Fridays, with 2 different groups of students that come in. On days that I have gone in, there are always students that show up late or not at all to keyboard club or 4th grade choir simply because their parents didn’t want to make the trouble. The school had the opportunity to send 10 choir students to a district choir festival, and the students that were chosen originally almost all dropped out because their parents didn’t want to pick them up from the one performance that it required. For me this is a bit frustrating because I can see that most of the students want to participate but are held back by their parents.
Even though she doesn’t get a lot of parent support, her “district is proactive about supplying each music teachers with current curriculum and hosting special events for [the] choir. The Frank principal is very supportive by using available tax credit money for things like keyboards. The PTO and the City of Tempe provide support for choir shirts. Most importantly, the administration gives lots of support with behavior issues so [she] feel[s] like it’s a team effort to improve the lives and behavior of all [the] kids.” I am always seeing her talking to the PTO, administration, and other teachers about what she needs and what they can do for each other. There are some parents that are very willing to help and take their students to things, and it is very nice to see that there is some support there.
4th Grade Choir (meets before school 8:30-8:50 ish)
To help get students more interested in music and in choir (officially a class only for 5th graders), she offers a 4th grade choir that meets before school on Wednesdays and Fridays. It is a club, where students join voluntarily and with their parents’ permission, and they get to perform with the 5th grade choir at their events. It is not for a grade, but if they have 5 absences (unexcused) they cannot be in it. She normally starts the year with around 50 students, but the number gets smaller as the year goes on. This is due to parents not getting the students there on time or making them quit because they don’t want to take them in, sometimes students quit, and others meet their 5 absences because they would rather play on the playground before school.
The choir represents the population of the school, almost all of them are hispanic or Native American, and there are very few African American and white students. There is only one boy, and he seems to feel like he stands out because he always sits in the back and doesn’t seem like he projects as much as he could. He shows up every time that I have, but each time that I have gone in there has been a student that I don’t recognize because they don’t show up regularly or they show up at the end before I get a chance to interact with them or see them interact with their friends. One of the last times that I went in I saw a student for what I believe was the first time, and she was not able to sing in tune (I am not sure if this is because of her abilities or because she didn’t know the songs due to poor attendance).
There are a lot of them that don’t show up on time, but usually show up to at least be able to sing one song. Most of the time they are late because they are getting breakfast in the cafeteria, maybe because it is the only chance that they have to eat in the morning, or they like the socializing before school. She starts with a few minutes of warm-ups at the beginning, and this gives students a chance to show up a few minutes late without being a big distraction. Not all of them participate in the warm-ups, but there are enough of them focused that by the end most of them are singing and not fooling around. Some of them don’t participate because they don’t know them that well (as a lot of the time they show up after everything is done) and some of them are afraid of them for various reasons.
There are a lot of students that love choir and plan on doing it when they get to the 5th grade. There are a handful of students that show up every meeting early because they get to take role, and they want to be able to mess around with the instrument that are around the room, mainly the keyboard and Orff instruments, and sometimes the drums that are in the front. When they mess with the instruments, they don’t really know what they are doing, but pretend that they do and just have a lot of fun together. There are a few that do have some piano experience and like to show of to their friends and teacher that they can play a simple song (this might be due to the fact that the Mrs. Fletcher is a piano player).
It is easy to see which songs they enjoy, because they pay more attention to directions and sing louder, even sit up straighter or look like they are having fun. They have been working on a song, “The Clouds,” that almost none of them like, it can be seen and heard each time they work on it because they act like they are distracted (more so than usual) and don’t watch the conductor. Most of the students don’t have the words memorized and always forget what part they are singing. When they get to “Best Day of My Life” they all get excited and sing everything to the best of their ability, and usually ask for it right when they walk in.
One of the songs that they are working on, “Tongo,” has percussion parts that they all get excited to do because they get to rotate who does what part, although they don’t seem to know the song all that well. It is a lot of call and response with words that are not in English and some of them struggle with memorization, and cannot keep the tempo consistent with the drum parts. They don’t really seem to care, because they are just having fun. Upon talking to Mrs. Fletcher about them, she told me that the 5th grade choir does well with the song and that they will handle most of the singing and playing.
When they are getting ready for performances, they go from sitting on the rug and having the words projected on the screen to standing and singing the words memorized, and being conducted rather than having Mrs. Fletcher at the piano. One of the last times that I have gone in was the first time that everyone (that was still a part of the club) had shown up, even if they were trickling in just a few minutes before being dismissed. When they get closer to performances the students show up more frequently, but they don’t ever comment on each others’ attendance. They are all friends and are comfortable around each other, and at the end they help everyone find their backpacks and leave talking to each other. Whenever the students show up right before the end Mrs. Fletcher is usually willing to have them sing a song one more time so that they can at least do something.