I have enjoyed a wonderful career as a primary teacher with a forte in the creative arts especially classroom music education and creative writing..I have taught both subjects extensively to tens of thousands of children in dozens of schools acoss NSW both in public schools and private schools in the last decade .
I came from Qld where classroom music education was mandatory and extremely well provisioned and Departmentally supported and one of my career highlights was teaching contract and casual classroom music education to children throughout the Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast hinterlands for several years
I would ride through gorgeous hinterland countryside on my spanky new Virago 250 CC visiting country schools both big and small private and public and I am sure that some of the kids thought I was really cool turning up on my little mini chopper motorcycle .
Some days I would be called on in some schools to teach 9 classes of 30 kids …nine classes of kids blowing recorders at you..some using theirs as juggling sticks or thinking that these much maligned instruments were meant to be played through the nostril .Endless versions of Hot Cross Buns and Mary Had a Little Lamb (some extremely dubious) assailing my eardrums. How did I ever survive and then as if that wasn’t enough having to also supervise soccer on the oval at lunch time (oh the vagaries of the casual teacher )
In Qld at this time there was a Departmental love affar with music in schools The Department was doing something extremely right looking back . Schools were very big on the Kodaly and Orff methods and as a teacher it was extremely rewarding to see a consistency of Music Education programming and resources and similar standards of achievement being reached throughout the state.
I have loved my work especially in teaching music .I always have tried to make my music lessons inclusive holistic and funfilled and the appreciation kids have shown me through their participation performances and enthusiasm has been heartwarming inspiring and delightful It has been a privelege and a pleasure if hard work at times .
Working in music with children and feeling their joy and enthusiamn in their participation and the levels of competency and confidence and joy in their performances and levels of excellence they achieved filled me with great satisfaction .
Perhaps one of my most heartwarming moments was at Caboolture school where I was on a three month contract and decided to throw open the choir to anyone who wanted to join The word got around that we were doing cool songs like ‘rubber ducky’ and ‘feelin groovy’….(it was the 90s )Unbelievably the year six soccer boys decided to give their lunchtime, soccer a miss and come to my choir rehearsal instead ….I was inspired…maybe it was cold and rainy outside…maybe I even imagined the whole thing …
Also at Caboolture school I was at the time really into Irish folk music and had practised up some Riverdance style reels and jigs on the recorder and with practicing everyday my fingers fairly flew as I played them for the kids.The year six girls who up until then had not for the most part attempted anything as ambitious on the recorder decided they would not be outdone and they too would master’ ‘Drowsy Maggie’ and the ‘Irish Washer Woman ‘and play it as fast as I could ,It was very gratifying then to walk around the school grounds on playground duty listening to groups of girls practising these tunes on their recorders and yes they did master and play these tunes as competently and speedily as I could in a matter of a couple of weeks .
I recall fondly how year two kids would sit with tears in their eyes as I told them the story of the Irish Ballad ‘She Moved Through The Fair’ with lovers parted by death due to impossible circumstances presented to them in life who I assured them would meet again in spirit…in the afterlife. They would sing ‘My heart Will Go On’ with pathos And understanding as if their little hearts would break with emotion.
The glow of pride and satisfaction in watching Kindy kids after just one lesson be proudly able to identify the difference between beat and rhythm and the thrill of the utilizing the magical processes of Kodaly and solfege work so that after several lessons kids could actually bring rhythm and pitch notation together to actually write the notation for melodies of simple two and three note songs .
The kids loud and enthusiastic renditions of the pop hit ‘Fireflies’ that could be heard right down the far end of the corridors and endless replays by popular request that left me thinking ruefully to myself ‘I used to love that song’
Some of my most popularly received lessons were in Manly Sydney when I ran a mini music unit called Classroom Idol and we turned the kids music sessions into a classroom musical talent competition. (see my paper Simon Cowell eat your heart out)
The talent and innovation the kids brought to the competition with just a short time to practice their items in amazed me.Kids resourcefulness in music when given the scope licence and equipment and motivation dazzles and amazes me like the little boys who decided to put shakers in their pockets and do coffee grinder rap moves to the beat of a favorite hiphop number .
This item was followed by a beautiful rendition of a Beethoven sonata played on the flute for a classical touch to the proceedings .
The kids acted as judges as well as competitors and tended to be really generous in their scoring for one another until it came down to the semi finals and the finals and they realized it was down to the people they were judging or themselves to take out first place and then the knifes came out and I had to assume my Simon Cowell executive adjudicators hat to prevent bloodshed , save feelings and friendships and preserve order ..and hopefully slate it towards the best man/woman winning
So many funny precious lovely moments …….in a job that was never just a job for me but a vocational calling
I would sing acapella with the kids when teaching them new songs and the number of times the kids told me ‘You should go on Australia Idol miss’ ..makes me smile as I thought to myself ‘yeh yeh ! erhaps 20 years ago’.
Actually I did have my 15 minutes of fame on TV once .As a girl growing up we neighbourhood kids were always jiving around playing concerts singing into hairbrush microphones using dads half built box trailors as stages. The next door neighbour who was something of a show biz mom decided to put her girls Donna and Debbie into the local shopping centre talent competition and I went along as a ringin.Donna and Debbie wore bright orange velvet hotpants and sang ‘My boy lollipop’ and I wore cheesecloth and sang and played the guitar and sang an original composition a deep philosophical number called ‘Old Father Time’ .I won second place and a whole $20 in a bank account as well as a guest appearance on the TV show Jackie McDonalds Saturday show………but that adventure is another story
I have been blessed and privileged to enjoy the career I have had working musically with tens of thousands of kids across every demographic.
MY WISH FOR RADICAL IMPROVEMENTS IN PRIMARY CLASSROOM MUSIC EDUCATION IN NSW PUBLIC PRIMARY SCHOOLS
During 2010 I began to slow down with the teaching and was studying and needing to take things slower from a health consideration and so used the opportunity earlier in the year to reflect upon the decade I had spent working in both Qld and NSW as a music teacher in particular and was contemplating what my next career move would be .
I was still very passionate about teaching music and wondering how I might contribute what I had to offer on a wider scale across a broader arena .The document I ended up writing came to me as a vision statement distilled from a decade of working in as I have said dozens of primary schools in all sorts of demographics across the state .
I must admit after the lovely experiences of teaching primary music in Qld where there was so much music teaching work readily available it was a shock to me coming to work in NSW where there were no Dept mandatory policies in place supporting the weekly inclusion of primary classroom music education for all kids and therefore nowhere near as many opportunities available for teaching music in primary schools
It was a shock to me to discover that in NSW public primary schools it was left up to principals to decide whether or not their school would even have a music education program in their school Too many principals I observed didn’t seem to know there was a difference between an instrumental programme and a primary classroom music programme and too many of them seemed to think that as they had contractors in place coming in to teach instruments on a user pays basis they had their school classroom music program covered .I believe sadly this is still the case in too many NSW primary schools…. Although I have seen and experienced some wonderful work being done musically in schools where the principal values music and facilitates and supports a classroom music program as an integral part of the overall school curriculum ..sadly I have come across too many schools and kids who are missing out.Is it fair I ask in a public education system to have one school bountifully provisioned and firing on all fronts with the choir and the instrumental program and the classroom music program ..while just up the road in another public school the kids are lucky if they get to sing a few tunes as part of the weekly assembly …..Why is this fair and equitable ?
It was also a shock to me to discover when I tried to register with the Department as a music teacher …I was told that I couldn’t because the NSW Dept of Education has no policy for the hiring of Primary Specialist Classroom Music Education Teachers and that it only hired generalist teachers and if they I wanted to work with the Department they would be hired first and foremost as generalist teachers with their specialist skills utilized as an optional extra if the principal at the school they were place in saw a need .
I was also dismayed to discover that really highly trained Primary Classroom Music Teachers who wanted only to teach primary music and not have to take on generalist teacher duties were relegated to the fringes of schools as contract instrumental teachers instead of being snapped up by the NSW Department and installed as Classroom Music Education specialists in schools who sorely needed their expertise.
I also was really shocked that when I went to the NSW Department of Education to find someone to talk to about the problems I had observed I was directed to the Creative Arts unit and there was only one person to speak to who was responsible for coordinating music education for both NSW public primary and high schools and this person was away on leave at the time.I had thought I would find a whole team of skilled and qualified music education professionals and I was incredulous that such a huge job as coordinating and overseeing the implementation of music education in both primary and high NSW public schools was being left to so few people..
Maybe NSW can look to the Queensland model for some inspirational ideas because in Qld I believe the Education Department values Music Education enough to make it mandatory policy for all schools to have a classroom primary music teacher on staff providing all primary children with a weekly formal classroom music lesson ….I am sorry but the “We dont have the budget for it in NSW ” rhetoric that I have been regularly told really doesnt wash with me…If you care enough you find the money, that’s it pure and simple.I cant imagine that there is so great a distinction between educational budgets for Qld primary schools and NSW primary schools that sees Qld so much better positioned and endowed financially with their arts budget ….
I gave great thought and consideration to the problems I had observed with the equity of provisioning and the variance of quality of music programming as I moved from school to school and listed these in the document I wrote as well as formulating what I felt were practical and viable strategies for bringing about statewide improvements in primary music education.
The document that I ended up submitting to the Department of Education and the Minister of Education was called A Blue print of Positive Strategies for Positive Change ..In Bringing About Radical Improvements In Both The Equity of Provisioning and the Quality of Programming in NSW public schools.
In looking back at the document now close to two years down the track I apologize.It’s tone is confronting and hard hitting and bossy .Just put that down to the frustration I felt with the variables of lack and inadequacy in too many schools I had observed and my passion and love for a subject which I believe deserves an integral place in a holistic paradigm of meaningful learning for all primary children which I as a music teacher knew the value of to the children I had taught .
However strident I believe the document contains information which is really valuable and deserves proper consideration from anyone aligned to making a difference and calling for radical improvements in primary music education in NSW state public schools
I have posted a copy of this document as a paper on this site and invite anyone who is aligned to seeing Music Education in our public primary schools radically improved to have a look at this document
I am happy for people to refer to it or use it in full or in part to the purpose of further the goal of radically improving the equity of provisioning and consistency of quality of programming in NSW public schools
Wendy Buss image courtesy of http://www.helendoron.de/learning-studio-promo-blog/