Living Contradictions: My Contract Versus My Conscience
Lisa Martin, Bowling Green State University
Title Slide: Living Contradictions: My Contract Versus My Conscience
BGSU MUED Photo
I was hired to be a music teacher educator, but more specifically I suppose one might say I was hired to train future band directors. Of course,
my position entails much more than that, but across the scope of our department members’ skills and specializations, my primary charge is to ensure our instrumental band students
are prepared to effectively contribute to – and, in many ways, fit inside the boxes of – area school band programs.
Doughboy, Imperial, Hot Dogs, Groundhog
Certainly, in the United States, we love our traditions – and we all know school band is no exception. In the world I’m in now, and perhaps in
your world, too, area cooperating teachers expect our student teachers to function in the traditional band world, and local principals largely seek job candidates that complement
“how it’s been done.” And while many music teachers have made significant strides to realize creativity and innovation in the large ensemble, One’s at contest still seem to reign
Let me add that these musings are not an indictment of the amazing area band programs that surround our little community up in northwest Ohio.
Good stuff is happening. But our traditions are our habits. And habits can be an awfully cozy little security blanket to step away from.
Teaching to the Test
So tradition is out there. The problem now is that I’m simply not sure if I’m on board with tacitly reinforcing those traditions by “teaching to
the test” of others’ expectations for what a band director, and band instruction in general, “should be,” just so that our grads fit into those boxes and get hired. And as an
outsider-transplant into my current community, and as a humble junior faculty fumbling my way toward aspirations of tenure, I’m also not sure how strong my voice
is allowed to be about all of this.
So in a lot of ways I guide our preservice teachers to rise to these “should-be” expectations. Naturally, I want them to be prepared, in the eyes
of their future cooperating teachers and employers. Lacking in that regard risks compromising so many things – the joy and security in their careers and the professional
reputation of my institution, to name a few.
But I also want my students to be savvy consumers that don’t just gulp down the traditional school band Kool-Aid. And I want them to feel
empowered and have the tools to successfully create meaningful, innovative, democratic experiences for their future students, building upon, extending, and disrupting extant
That all said, when push comes to shove, I have about 24 hours of instructional time with students that are enrolled in our Band Methods course –
and that, my friends, is not a lot of time to even fully explore the inside of that box, never mind the outside.
Voice and Values
So these limitations dictate that I spend a heck of a lot of time insidethat box. And I mean,
it’s quite a nice box, and it’s tidy to be contained, and it turns out you can exercise a fair bit of creativity and autonomy inside that box. But how we craft our coursework
should reflect students’ professional needs while also providing a space for us to share alternative values and ideas in a manner that helps our students find their own critical
voice in the classroom, as both teachers and students.
Do Not Enter/Enter Only
Reflectively examining one’s practice may reveal what scholar Jack Whitehead refers to as living contradictions; that is, “holding
educational values whilst at the same time negating them” in practice. At the collegiate level, such contradictions may surface when music teacher educators are expected to
prepare preservice teachers for a K12 music career, embedded in some traditions that may warrant reevaluation or reimagining – or as another example, if your university requires
you to support your students in completing a certain Pearson-tastic capstone experience even if you think it’s hot garbage.
Where I’ve Been
And so how I’ve been approaching our Band Methods class thus far makes me feel kind of like I’m ultimately teaching inside a box to meet
pre-established notions of what band directors do, and what has been done. Because demand. Because habits.
Don’t get me wrong – I’ma proud band kid. But it’s hard to be an unabashed cheerleader for a tradition that, in its
most typicalmanifestation, is just not what I feel is the be-all, end-all for music education.
And I don’t know if I’m as transparent about that sentiment with my students – or my community – as I could, or should, be. Perhaps in part
because I don’t want to douse my students in professional cynicism before they’ve even left the gate. But we can convey realism without cynicism, just as we can explore new ideas
So to tackle this -- Whitehead suggests prioritizing the question, “How do I live my values more fully in my practice?” And this past year, I have
been challenging myself to do that. Not just through modeling more democratic and creative teaching practices, and more innovative programming in the traditional band setting, but
also in supporting a broader range of musicking throughout the program, and by trying new things myself – and being transparent and vocal about all of these choices with my
students, and the why behind them. And I’m starting to feel at least a little more hopeful that they’re getting the ingredients that might inform a broader perspective of “band
But it takes a village, and context matters. I mean if you’ve ever seen a Pinterest Fail you know that just using the right ingredients doesn’t
mean it’s going to happen.
So if we want our students to value innovation, doesn’t their exposure need to live in the spectrum of their realities and coursework, in some
fashion or another? Not just in the hour and forty minutes we see each other each week. So there are more questions to ask.
Do As I Say, Not As I Do
To what extent are variable models of instruction supported and explored in the collegiate large ensembles our students musick in each day? If we
preach the importance of diverse, democratic practices in the ensemble, and our students only experience traditional, autocratic models in their collegiate musicking, what does
that communicate about values surrounding best practice?
Elephant on Tightrope
In what ways are diverse methodologies actively espoused by the cooperating teachers our students are learning alongside? Are area cooperating
teachers wholly supportive of our students trying new things? Really? And if the answer is no, how do we find a way to yes?
How does the full scope of music education courses cooperatively explore strategies motivated by comprehensive musicianship? Where is there
overlap, and where are there gaps in the curriculum with regard to building our students’ sense of agency outside-of-the-box, in the large ensemble setting or
Answering these questions and addressing these concerns can help us get to the tipping point where our students see these values alive and in
practice outside of our classroom discussions, regularly. And Malcolm Gladwell suggests that there are three agents of change necessary to get to that tipping point.
Stickiness/Law of Few/Context
We need just a few people to make an idea or movement memorable and sticky. But what these questions reinforce is that context reigns supreme. And
in particular, he mentions the bystander effect – this phenomenon where folks are less likely to engage when others are around. That the greater the number of people, the larger
the diffusion of responsibility to effect change. The same could certainly hold true for reimagining “band directing” in a way that actually becomes sticky, beyond the programs
within our immediate influence.
So – you know how when you clean out your closet, that nonsense gets to be way more of a disaster before it gets to be where you want it to
be? Maybe it all just needs to get a little messier first. Maybe we need to become more comfortable with risk taking. Planting the seeds of new ideas not just with our
students, but also in the gardens of those around us.
So here ends my professional identity crisis. Band is good. But maybe instead of struggling with fitting inside the box to meet others’ expectations, we might reconceptualize box
as just one type of foundation from which ideas and values can be built.