An Open Letter to my Students: Past, Present, and Future

by Ruthanne Parker

June 2023

Ruthanne Parker recently completed her Level 3 SongWorks Certification Teaching Practicum to become a SongWorks Certified Educator. Here she shares her reflections on how the experience has enriched her teaching practice.

Dear Students,

Every morning when your teachers arrive at school, we do many things. We prepare the classroom for the day, get materials ready, and make photocopies. Sometimes we even sneak in a quick breakfast. But there is something we do that is bigger than all of those things. We hope. Hope for a successful day. Hope our students will be engaged and learn in ways that work for them. Hope our students will feel seen, heard, and valued. Hope for your participation. Hope that we can meet your needs while still meeting our goals for instruction. A bit of hope can go a long way, but to be honest, it’s not enough. Many teachers, including myself, have long preached that “actions speak louder than words,” so this year I decided to take action.

I have been taking a class, SongWorks Teaching Practicum (and actually multiple other SongWorks classes over the past few years), that will help me to be a better teacher for you. How does this work? These classes give me opportunities to reflect on my practice. That means, just like you sometimes do in class, I perform a self-evaluation. How did it go? I watch the lesson I taught and ask myself some essential questions. Were all students participating, and in what ways? Was there enough variety in the activities planned, and were you engaged? Am I sharing the responsibility for learning with you, or am I taking control when I don’t need to? I’ll admit, I noticed I was guilty of that last one quite a few times. Not only with my voice, but also with my ideas of how an activity or song “should” go. A student-centered class means your voices, ideas, and needs are heard more than mine. If you are showing me a responsiveness to the music that is different from what I expected, why not follow where that takes us? I have made a lot of progress, but this will be one of my continued goals as we move through this journey together. You are capable of so much, and your ideas and insights enrich our learning. Not to mention providing more opportunities for student voice keeps you focused and on track. Did you know, it turns out you are actually more engaged when you are learning from each other than from me? Now I do!

A bit of hope can go a long way, but to be honest, it’s not enough. Many teachers, including myself, have long preached that “actions speak louder than words,” so this year I decided to take action.

Another way the courses I have taken help me to be a better teacher is by broadening my toolbox of instructional strategies to use when we make music together. While I have long known that echo-singing is not the only way to learn a song, consistently talking through different pathways of song acquisition and study with my mentor teachers has made a huge difference in my ability to incorporate things like antiphonning, song dotting, chinning, and mapping. You know that thing you love to do, where I take a turn to start the song and then when I gesture to you, it’s your turn to keep the song going? That’s antiphonning. Your brain is lighting up in so many ways when we do this, and maybe you’ve noticed that nobody ever complains about singing the song so many times. That’s just one of the ways using SongWorks practices helps me infuse a little bit of magic into our lessons.

The final way (that I’ll talk about in this letter, at least) that the SongWorks Teaching Practicum course has impacted our time together is by helping me develop better classroom management skills so that you and I can have a respectful relationship. I hate to give away the secret but when I sit on the rug and whisper to you, it’s not just for fun. It actually helps bring your focus to me so I can give you important information while still keeping a playful spirit throughout the class. There are other tricks, too, and believe it or not, this style of classroom management does not come easily. It takes an active commitment to making choices that honor each learner while striving for a high-functioning classroom. Yes, that is as difficult as it sounds!

So, to all of the students I have taught before: I know I made mistakes and I want you to know that if I could bring back everything I have learned this year and have our time together again, it would be even better. To my current students, you have motivated and inspired me to keep bettering myself, for your benefit and mine. Things aren’t perfect but I hope you have as much fun as I do when we’re together! And to my future students, the best is yet to come. 

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