A Friendly PSA Concerning Our Job Titles (or “It’s called being a music teacher… not a director of music.”)

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Alright, fellow music educators. It’s time for us to have a little talk.

You know how you like to reference yourself as a “Band Director”, “Orchestra Director”, or “Choir Director”?

Or, better yet, I know how much some of us love that title, “Director of Bands”? (Or even “Assistant Director of Bands”?)

Well, with all due respect to my peers who use these titles - and, most of us have at some point or another…

It’s time for a change. 

We are music teachers. By placing us in schools, working with children during the school day, our communities expect us to teach students about music… not simply direct them.

Think about it.

Do we have “Directors of Math Operations”, ”History Directors”, or “English Maestros”?

No, that would be silly. We have math teachers, English teachers, history teachers, science teachers, and industrial arts teachers. The focus of their jobs is on teaching students about their respective subject areas. Yes, there is a gym coach, but a “coach” is still somebody who assists others in the actual “doing” of a given activity - on the sidelines. You’ve never heard of a “gym director” in a public school.

Go ahead. Look up the definitions for teacher and director and then tell me which makes the most sense for our profession. (I’ll wait.)

Yeah, the teacher definition is where I want to align myself, too.

(Read below the break to let me finish my case.)

The reasons we have chosen these titles for ourselves are various and I don’t want to get into it. I’ll let each reader decide for themselves (and, possibly, leave a comment) on why we do this. Instead, I want you to focus on the positive attributes of the teacher. You cannot call someone a “teacher” without the presence of “students” who are being taught. 

Possibly the best critique that could be made of my argument would be this: “No other teacher actively leads their class in a concert” (or something like that). There are at least two problems with this assertion (and I invite people to leave their thoughts in the comments):

  1. Many band, orchestra, and choir directors think of the concert like a test - where learning is evaluated. If that is true, then how different is a high stakes test for the classroom teacher? (h/t to Matt Thibeault. He has a different take on his here.)
  2. Is it important that YOU conduct the ensemble? Could the case be made that the same amount/more learning would’ve occurred had a student conducted during the concert?

And please don’t accuse me of over-analyzing these distinctions. Words matter and I’m not alone in parsing them. I have had several band teachers tell me over the years that they don’t like to use the phrase “play music” with their parents or administrators because it makes it sound like what we do isn’t serious. They say this is necessary so that people who make decisions about music funding don’t think that our activities are frivolous. I disagree with that logic (for a variety of reasons), but I can only assume that those same people who are concerned with how the word “play” is understood will then acknowledge how important it is for our profession to be identified, first and foremost, as teachers. Because teachers, after all, are the ones who get to work in schools. 

I'm sorry if this guy ever sees this picture. Hopefully that doesn't happen.While we’re at it, let’s get rid of the “baton photo”. How many conferences have you been to where you open up the program and see page after page of people holding batons, pretending to conduct an ensemble? It makes us look silly. When you go to a science conference, do any of the pictures include people working with bunsen burners, wearing goggles, or coding computer software? (Hint: The answer is no.)

New rule: If you’re presenting at a conference, we’ll assume that the picture next to the session or concert description is of a fellow music educator. Okay?* 

All of this is to say, it’s not how “important” you are. It’s not about where you went to school. It’s not how many degrees you have. It’s not how many people know your name. It’s not how expensive your custom baton case is. It’s not about you at all!

All that matters is how much your students learn about/enjoy music. 

So, let’s all drop the self-important titles and pictures - leave them for the directors of finance, marketing, and leisure activities - and join the rest of the educational profession by taking pride in calling ourselves “teachers”.

If you decide to follow through on the title change, let me know! Take a picture of you shredding some business cards, throwing away stationary, or changing the label on your door. I’ll post it to the website with my heartfelt congratulations!

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Agree? Disagree? Leave a comment below and make sure to share this post with your colleagues. 

*True story. I had several people ask me about my photo at our last state conference - it’s the one in the top corner of this blog. It’s a photo that my friend took while sitting across from me at a Steak ‘n Shake. Those people who approached me about the picture thought it was crazy for me to include a photo like that in a conference program. It’s as if I wasn’t taking things seriously enough. They would have preferred that I dress up in a tuxedo, hold a baton up, look away from the camera, and pretend I’m cueing an ensemble. Clearly, our priorities are messed up if my picture is considered the inappropriate one.

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