Welcome to the start of a new school year! Beginnings always bring excitement and opportunity. If you are a new music educator or are about to embark on your student teaching assignment, you may be filled with anticipation and a few questions about what the experience will have in store.
In an effort to provide some additional tools to aid in your success, we have posed questions to educators from across the country; each with different experiences, focuses, and student demographics. We will post new questions and responses each week, so continue to check back.
We also hope that you will contribute ideas born of your own experience by commenting and continuing the conversation. If you have a question you would like to submit, please message us with “Music Ed. Question” as the first line in the question.
I received my student teaching assignment for this semester and will be in a great school with a successful band program, but I am concerned that the cooperating teacher may not share my educational philosophy. How should I best approach the situation?
Lance LaDuke: Student teaching is an amazing opportunity to witness everything you have been studying and preparing for. You have obviously spent a great deal of time thinking about what sort of impact you hope to have on your students. An important thing to remember is that there are multiple paths to success. Even if your philosophy differs from that of your supervising teacher, you note that it is a successful program. Keep your eyes and ears open to why you think that is. How does this person achieve success even though they approach things differently that you would? What are some things you can learn from them? How might your approach impact things in this environment? Consider sharing your philosophy with this teacher. Maybe they have tried things “your way” and experience indicated they needed to change their approach. Alternately, perhaps hearing your approach will spark a thought or idea this teacher hadn’t considered and in that way, you can bring your experiences in such a way to help them consider a different approach. Ultimately, you are there to learn alongside this accomplished teacher. There will be plenty of time in your career to exert your philosophies on a program of your own. For now, learn all you can and realize that there are many “alternate fingerings” which cause the same note to sound.
Dr. Jeff Phillips: Having a conflict of philosophy at the student teaching level is a little bit naïve. While I’ve seen many music education majors approach student teaching as their chance to change the world and prove themselves, this stage is a valuable part of your education. You may perceive yourself as prepared, but be ready for a reality check. You may have studied and discussed your “philosophy of music education” in your classes, but avoid coming into any practicum situation with a closed mind. The supervising teacher has been in the profession for a few years. If their program is well-established, it got that way because of that director over time. Learn all you can from this person and keep an open mind. You may not agree with everything, but you should try and ascertain why they do what they do. I’ve seen student teachers who “already have the answers” fail miserably when they meet real world situations. Your “philosophy” can and should change as you gain different perspectives, insights and experiences. If it’s the same in 5-10 years as it is right now then you probably haven’t grown as an educator. Be open and ask questions.
Monica Leversay: Congratulations! You’ve made it to the fun part! Student teaching will help open your eyes to the real classroom setting, but also apply certain teaching techniques you have been studying on the academic level. My advice on handling a cooperating teacher with a different teaching philosophy is to try and stay open minded, but stick to your own beliefs so you don’t lose them in the works. Even though you both are teaching in different ways, there almost always is a common ground that can be found somewhere in the debate. When in doubt, look to what is best for your students, and devise a plan from there. The definition of philosophy as it applies to teaching is this:
“The critical study of the basic principles and concepts of a particular branch of knowledge, especially with a view to improving or reconstituting them.”
Try and find a way you and your cooperating teacher can come together on common ground and meet the needs of the children you teach at the same time. When you are given the opportunity to be in a setting all your own, you can put in place, the belief system you see best fit for your students in that particular setting. Stick to the basic concepts and principles of music education and you’re on the right track for your students of any age or demographic.
John Bingaman: In a situation like this, you should stay as open as possible because you don’t know what you don’t know. Being open doesn’t mean that you automatically accept everything philosophically that your mentor is doing or saying but there could be some epiphanies along the way that you don’t expect. This person is successful for a reason, but they may not be reasons that fit you and they may have accomplished this success with methods you are not comfortable adopting. The more you have experience with the program and the more you see how everything works, the more you can intelligently make a decision about the validities of your philosophy. Keep in mind that we are shaped by our own experiences such as our high school, college, or drum corps experiences but your experience as a student teacher should also be a part of that shaping process. This crucial experience should provide you with a lot of examples of what’s actually happening when you do this job. From there, with an open mind, you can decide the amount of what to do and what not to do.
Dr. Russ Gavin: Remember that your student teaching semester is still a time to develop your philosophy. Challenge yourself to figure out WHY your cooperating teacher is doing what they are doing. How did they come to their philosophy and approach? Is it rooted in their own experiences? Spend the semester continuing to embrace the role of learner, while simultaneously flexing your teacher skills. I anticipate your teaching philosophy in 5 years will be an evolved version of the one you hold today, so don’t get too entrenched in any part of it.
Ryan Moseley: When going into your student teaching placement, it is important to keep an open-mind and not limit yourself to one philosophy. Remember that even though you are “teaching” the classes, it is ultimately the cooperative teacher’s classroom and his/her responsibility to make sure the students have what they need to finish the class. The student teacher/cooperating teacher relationship is one of give and take.
While serving as a cooperating teacher, my student teachers and I have learned something from each other. Both parties bring a different perspective to the classroom and both can learn something new. There are several theories in music education and you just may find some new ideas to add to your own philosophy. During your placement, you will have opportunities to add your own ideas to your lessons, while incorporating the strategies of the cooperating teacher.
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