Teaching more than course content

Teaching is a profession that has great rewards and challenges. I have enjoyed the former and endured the latter for over 30 years. Several years ago I became aware that my courses (band and chorus) must have more than just excellent delivery of content. If all I’m doing is training kids to play instruments and sing, then my success can only be measured by how many kids go into music or continue to perform. Those numbers aren’t high enough to make me feel successful.

I now continue to teach content, but I also have definite values as well. These values are: Discipline, Encouragement, Excellence and Leadership. The values are printed and displayed on the walls. But, more than that, I refer to them during class. We point out when we are in one of the four areas. Let’s delve into each value in no particular hierarchal order.


Our value of discipline states: “We are prepared and productive in rehearsals. We get a lot done while enjoying the process.” Time is a valuable asset and we need to use that asset well.

There are certain physical things needed to succeed in class time. For band that would include an instrument, music, pencil, reeds etc. Each class has their specific items needed. Students must exercise discipline in order to be consistently prepared for class.

Being prepared also means being mentally prepared. We need to take a moment to clear our heads of what has happened behind us and limit our attention to the present moments. Mental preparation includes having assignments complete before class time begins.

We also enjoy the process. We use time well, but we’re open to occasional distractions. Frequently these, “distractions” have teachable moments that will lead out of your content and into wonderful life lessons. If you have a room full of students that are highly proficient in their subject but hate being in the room, you have a problem. It may take a while, but eventually you will see the students begin to exit mentally and eventually physically.


Encouragement, “We value every member of the ensemble and applaud the effort of our peers. We realize that every member of the ensemble has equal value.” We need others.

The people around you are not your competition. They are your partners. The quality of our performance is not solely in your hands. Band and chorus class isn’t solo instruction time. We are striving for a group performance. What does that mean?

We will only sound as good as our weakest performer. If someone is playing wrong notes and rhythms, it will be heard. Making them feel poorly won’t make them play better. This is the job of every ensemble member, not just the director. What can you do? You can show them a fingering or maybe kindly point out a wrong note or rhythm.

There are a variety of instruments and parts. If your part says 1st, that doesn’t mean you are the most important person in the room. Conversely, if your part says 3rd, that doesn’t mean you are less valuable. Music is made up of many different notes and rhythms and tone colors. We are all part of that musical fabric.


Excellence, “We strive to work at 100%. We acknowledge that everyone has good and bad days, but that doesn’t stop us from giving our best.” Life has its ups and downs, we need to work well through them.

Students come to class carrying baggage. We don’t know what has happened at home and we don’t know what has happened in their previous class. Also, we’re unaware of what the next class or end of the day may hold for them. We need to care about these emotional issues.

Be aware of the people around you. Look into their faces and attempt to read them. The eyes are the window to the soul. If you see a troubled look, ask some gentle questions about their day. But, most importantly, cut them some slack! They may be down and not even know why.

On the other hand, having a bad day doesn’t mean you aren’t required to do your work. It will be difficult, but you are needed and you need to give your best. This is an enormous life lesson that will have lasting impact.


Leadership, “We know that no one can lead others well without first leading themselves. We practice self-control and respect those in leadership. We know that we can lead from any position in the ensemble.” Many want to be a leader, but are they willing to do the work that requires?

A leader who lacks the ability to lead themselves is a hypocrite. We can’t ask others to do something we are unwilling to do. Unfortunately, this is what many immature leaders believe. They believe that being a leader means not having to do dirty jobs. This is the opposite of the truth. Leaders get involved and get their hands dirty.

As a leader, you must exercise self-control. You won’t want to do the right thing, but your leadership is on the line with every action. People will do half as much of the good things you do and twice as much of the bad things.

You may not be in a position of leadership, but that doesn’t mean you can’t lead. You can “lead up”. If you believe that your leader is unaware of a situation, or simply doing a poor job then it is your responsibility to help. We’re not talking about undermining their authority. If you undermine your leader, others will notice and have less respect for you. There is an excellent quote by the great basketball coach and leadership guru, John Wooden, “It is amazing how much can be accomplished if no one cares who gets the credit.”

Giving teaching new meaning

After developing these values, I found that my teaching had new meaning. I continue to work the basic fundamentals, but I don’t measure myself solely by the educational product. The values that I believe are a larger part of why I continue to teach. I look at what I do in a larger context of “life preparation”.

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