Blind spots

8 Oct

By Si Millican
Assistant Professor of Music Education
The University of Texas at San Antonio

Whenever I am working with a young music education student or a novice conductor, I am often quick to pick up on the very faults that I find in my own teaching or conducting. For instance, I tend to have a blind spot on the left side of the ensemble whenever I conduct, so I often will harp on students to be sure that they circulate in the classroom and make eye contact with the entire group. I tend to talk too much, so often I chastise my students for being unnecessarily verbose.

I see variations of my own faults in my own students’ work, yet I am often unable to more clearly see deficits in teaching or presentation skills that I struggle with myself. Public-school music teachers often become isolated and develop performance and pedagogical blind spots in their classroom teaching. As a university professor, I often fall back into my own pedagogical comfort zone based on my experiences and strengths. What are some ways we can be sure that we are not overlooking important teaching or conducting problems?

  • Open your doors. Invite other teachers and professors that you respect to come in and visit your classrooms. Ask expert visitors to be active participants in your classrooms rather than passive observers. Invite their comments and have them interact with your students. Their insights can be quite revealing and remind us of other important aspects of teaching that we may have overlooked. (Be sure that you warn them in advance that you will make them active participants!)
  • Get out. Get out of your usual surroundings and visit other classrooms. Visit other campuses and see great teachers. If you are a university teacher, get into public school classrooms as often as possible. I never leave a visit to observe a student teacher or a friend who teaches band classes without remembering something important that I must share with my students.
  • Stay current. Read research journals, trade magazines, and great websites to stay on top of the latest news and discoveries related to the field. Go to as many concerts and clinics as you can.
  • Orient yourself. Go to as many great concerts as you can. Taking in a great wind ensemble concert, a symphony performance, or even a great marching band contest can be a great way to recalibrate your ears and mind as to what is really important in music. You may even be reminded why you chose this profession in the first place.