Build a Relationship
The most important thing you can focus on when you teach band at a low SES (low socioeconomic status) school, is developing a relationship with your students. I know, as teachers, we hear the “develop a rapport” speech too often. I, too, have rolled my eyes when the principal stepped up to the front and dropped this little nugget of “wisdom” on the crowd. However, I feel that this general speech doesn’t even scratch the surface.
One-on-One is Key
Students that come from low SES situations often don’t develop positive relationships with adults in the education setting. This could be due to their general behavior, issues with trust/emotional maturity or just not having much experience interacting with adults in a positive way. With this in mind, you cannot expect these students to be able to build a relationship with you, as the band teacher, during your large ensemble rehearsals. Some can be reached during section rehearsal times. For most, however, it takes one-on-one time or pairs of students working with you to really make this happen. Time-consuming? Sure. Fun? It can be. Rewarding? Absolutely. I guarantee that none of these students will have boring stories to share about their lives. They will have some of the most entertaining, and sometimes most heart wrenching stories you’ve heard. In those short opportunities where they get to share their stories, you will be developing a relationship that will be so solid that you can build a fantastic program on it.
The Benefits of Listening
When one student knows you care enough to listen to and become a part of their story, they will tell others. It will be a tiny spark that ignites a fire. That fire will spread outside your band room, outside your building and into the community. Before long, you will have that student’s cousin or the son of his mom’s best friend joining your program to be part of the family you created. When you look at the reach you create, the five or ten minutes you spent listening here and there will seem small.
An Important Take Away
Students who are in a low SES situation are not without a story and experiences. They may and probably will be very different than your own experiences. Often you won’t be able to personally relate. The best news is that these students don’t need you to “relate”, but just to be interested and care. You will find that, though there isn’t much money in their story, there are able to offer many other things that can be even more valuable to your program. You will also see how much value your program can add to their lives.
This is the first in a series of posts on Teaching in a low SES School by Annette Mitchell. The next installment on language and delivery is here.
Annette Mitchell is an active educator and clinician, who also likes to dabble in music education research. She is in her 16th year of teaching middle school band all 16 years of her career have been in Low SES schools. When she is not teaching fundamentals and encouraging students to reach beyond their own expectations, she is blessed work at her primary full-time job of being a wife and mommy to a toddler.
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