Monday, January 16, 2017

Anatomy of a Kindergarten Music Class

My kindergarten music class the first week of school. 
What I said: "Listen close because the music is very soft!"
What they heard: "Please dog pile by the speaker."

I've taught music, mostly private lessons, off and on for my entire adult life.

This past year I decided to try something new. I took a job teaching music classes at a small elementary school here in Colorado Springs.

This job has pitched me one of the biggest learning curves I've experienced in a long time. This learning curve happens weekly on Tuesdays at 1:45pm, when sixteen kindergarteners walk, run, bound, roll, pout, hug, twirl, and ninja-chop their way into my classroom.

In all my years of teaching I've never had a kindergarten class. They're much, much different than older grades. They're fidgety, wiggly and squirrelly. They have the same filters as drunk people. I often feel less like a music teacher and more like a judge that specializes in cases on line cutting. Also, I get end-of-the-day kindergartners, so by the time they come to me they're in dire need of some protein and a nap.

Let me give you a sample of a typical kindergarten music class:

1:45--Kindergarteners arrive at the music room. I tell them to line up quietly so they can get the entrance code. (A short rhythm or melody they repeat back to me to gain entrance into the room).
Amy and Mindy completely ignore me and continue talking loudly, Adam does donkey-kick-spins on the hallway floor, and Veronica shouts that Collin cutted in line. Collin claims he didn't cutted in line, he just really wanted to be in that spot. I tell Collin it's not nice to line jump, and instruct him to apologize and go behind Veronica. I ask Adam, who is now punching the wall, to join the line. He complies with a ninja move into the line and accidentally hits Sarah in the arm, who begins to cry. I tell Adam to apologize and put his hands in his pockets, then comfort Sarah and examine her owe-y. It's determined she will live.

1:47--I try to get everyone's attention by spouting off a "1-2-3 eyes on me!" This has never worked in the history of me using it (which is approximately 100,000 times), but I try again anyway because so many teachers I know swear by it. It doesn't work. Then I sing "class class!" and about 90% of them respond with the appropriate "yes yes!" Close enough. They get their entrance code and are instructed to go into the room and sit in a circle.

1:48--They begin walking into the room. Sascha, who always comes to class pretending to be a cat, meows at me as she enters. Three of the kids stop to hug me on the way in. Collin offers me a booger, and I tell him to go get a tissue. He departs the line and heads next door to the bathroom.

1:50--Half of the children sit quietly in a circle as instructed. Adam is swinging across the coat hooks like monkey bars, Annie hides behind the desk, and Amy and Mindy sit off to the side talking. Sascha climbs on a chair and meows loudly. A couple of the boys roughhouse on the other side of the room.

1:52--I loudly praise the children who are sitting obediently. This gets the attention of the delinquents and they join the rest of the class. As soon as everyone is in the same area they begin rearranging their spots in the circle. Veronica wants to sit by Amy, but Amy wants to sit by Mindy, but Mindy wants to sit by Sascha, but Sascha is between Ben and Liam cleaning her paws. No one wants to sit by Adam because he keeps saying "pooooooop" under his breath. Tucker, Sarah, and Eli all want to sit in my lap and fight to push each other out of the way. (It's the most flattered I feel all week.) Wyatt sits in his spot and loudly says, "teacher look at me! I'm sitting the goodest! Teacher! Aren't I sitting the goodest?"

I acknowledge that Wyatt is sitting like a champ, as are Jake, Tanya, Liam, Ben and Annie. I tell the rest of the kids that they have until I count down from three to find a spot and be quiet. It's amazing how this works. They all feel the pressure of the countdown. By the time I reach "one," we're in a circle. The first big task of the day has been accomplished.

1:56--We sing our "rules song" and do a rhythm game. Everything is going smoothly until I realize Collin never came back to the room after going to get a tissue. I panic and tell the kids to sit quietly in their circle while I step outside. I check the hall and the bathroom. No Collin. Uh oh. I go across to the art room to see if he wandered into that class. Nope. On my way back to the music room I spot Collin in the lunchroom, sprawled out under a table eating crumbs off the floor. I instruct him to come along back to class. He puts one more crumb in his mouth and follows.

2:09--Collin and I go back to the music room. The orderly circle I left has turned into a tiny human dog pile. Collin doesn't miss a beat and hurls himself on the top of his classmates. I'm not sure if this is characteristic of all kindergarten classes, but we tend to have at least one dog-pile per class. I make a mental note to ask their classroom teacher if this is normal behavior for this age.

2:14--I break up the dog pile and we gather around the keyboard to do the Do-Re-Mi song. Adam and Walt detach from the group and try to scale the radiator. (Our building is more than 50 years old. If the kids don't kill me, the asbestos probably will.) They get a warning and return to the group. We continue learning movements to the Do-Re-Mi song, but  I look up to see Adam back on the radiator. I send him to the time-out corner and return to the song.

2:21--Adam comes out of time out. We're about to move on to a game of Freeze Dance when Eli screams, "Emergency! The shoes on my feet are not mine!" I ask him where his shoes are. Apparently he traded shoes with a first grader during recess. I tell him to stop by the 1st grade classroom after music and trade his shoes back.

We play Freeze Dance, and then a game I invented called Musical Meerkats. Amy, Veronica, and Mindy get separated for talking. Amy argues that she wasn't talking, only answering, and there's a difference. She throws her two "best friends" under the bus and suggests they get punished instead of her. Mindy and Veronica declare they're no longer her friends and Amy starts pouting.

I look over to see Adam sitting on the top shelf of the music cabinet. He goes back to the timeout corner.

2:34--I decide we've had enough games for the day and decide it's time to move on. This week is Beethoven week, and I have a book to read them about the composer. They sit on their lines as I get the book. Ben complains loudly that he can't see the pictures. I assure him it's because I haven't opened the book yet.

I start by telling them that we were going to learn about Beethoven, who was a famous song writer and musician. Collin immediately interrupts me and informs me that he knows I'm lying, because dogs can't write music. I tell him that the dog in the movie Beethoven is named after the Beethoven we're going to learn about. This answer satisfies him.

We get about halfway through the book with little drama. Adam gets released from his second timeout. When I get to the part that talks about Beethoven's performance in Germany, Sarah blurts out, "your mom goes to Germany!" I tell her to sit quietly and not to make jokes about other people's moms. Tanya says, "She was talking to me. My mom's in Germany!"

My bad.

2:45 We finish the Beethoven book and it's time to line up. I tell them Liam is the line leader. I catch Collin trying to cut in front of Liam to claim the spot as line leader, and I send him to the back of the line. We sing "following the leader" as I escort them to their next teacher. As they exit, they bombard me with hugs, and Veronica tells me she loves me, and they run off to PE.

As I walk in silence back to my classroom to await the arrival of my 2nd graders, I am exhausted and overstimulated, but for some reason I can't wait until next Tuesday at 1:45 when I get to do it all over again. They may be sticky and crazy and loud, but they have a way of worming their way into your heart.