During my first year of teaching, I found myself frustrated after a number of rehearsals with my Freshman Band. One day, my mentor at the school, Jan, looked at me and said:
"Remember: Change is Bad."
Right away, I knew what she meant.
Jan was pointing out that, often times, no matter how “good” or “bad” you are, the very fact that you represent “change” is seen as a bad thing. People often prefer the experiences they’ve had, flawed or not, than the ones that they haven’t - think about that old adage, “Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.”
Well, I was so appreciative of Jan’s comment that I wrote “Change is Bad” on a Post-It note and stuck it to my computer monitor. Every day after rehearsal, I would sit down at my desk and be reminded that things would get better. It was a great reminder to me that I should keep working as hard as I can to become a better teacher. As silly as it may sound, the mantra “Change is Bad” provided me with hope. I would often repeat it to myself throughout a particularly bad day.
About midway through the year, I came into my office and saw that someone had altered my Post-It note! As you can see in the picture above, this person had scratched out “BAD” and written “Good” with a little smiley face.
It was a simple act - perpetrated by an unknown person - but it meant the world to me. And, it’s a great visual reminder that change, while scary, can be a good thing… it’s often just a combination of time and perspective. What is written in permanent marker is easily scratched out, after all.
Today, my stick-figure cartoon titled, “What we get wrong: An illustrated guide to our music advocacy mistakes,” was quoted in a Letter to the Editor in USA Today. The article, written by David Sall from the Music Access Project of Portland, uses the principal’s quote (see below) to argue that we should be engaging with more students if we wish to make a coherent case for arts funding. Read the article HERE!
(Read below the break for the cartoon and my response to some of the USA Today readers.)
In response to some of the comments on USA Today, I have a couple of brief things to say:
Carefully read through the article. Nobody is saying that we should remove band, choir, or orchestra. But, the larger issue is twofold: (1) identifying the music and processes of learning music that constitute a “quality” musical education and (2) understanding that the best way to sell our cause to those who fund the arts is to sell our programs to the “customers” - our students. More students = more money.
Anytime that I bring up “change” in music education it seems that people respond defensively, as if I’m personally attacking them. Look. The reality is that music programs are getting slashed all around the country. Perhaps not YOUR program, but the world of music education is larger than one child, one teacher, one school, or even one community. There are real problems, as evidenced by declining enrollment and funding. The only way to stem the tide is to accept that, if you want music education to stay in schools, change is inevitable.
With that in mind, the next time the future of music education is discussed, take a moment, close your eyes, take a breath, and remind yourself that “Change is Bad”.
Then, open your eyes, and speak freely, knowing that thousands of future students will thank you for it.