Re: Teaching strings in public schools

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Posted by Tracie Price on May 17, 1999 at 21:09:19:

In Reply to: Teaching strings in public schools posted by Ellen on May 17, 1999 at 11:05:49:

To address your hiring committee questions first: I have been the director of string programs in two school districts, and on both occasions, in my job interview, I had a committee of school district officials, local symphony (community) people, school board members, teachers and parents. My last interview I think there were 8 people attending! These were both in smaller towns, in Utah, the community was about 40,000 people, in Montana it was about 20,000. Hiring a string teacher in a town that size is a community effort because usually they are expected to become section leaders in the local orchestra, assist with or direct various youth symphonies and teach private lessons in addition to their official school duties. It is more like the entire town is hiring the person. It was a little nervewracking to have all those people in there, yet it was good to know the community cared that much about getting someone who they thought would fill their needs well. Each different person had a different perspective and different priorities concerning the new teacher.

A serious problem is that there is a severe shortage of good string teachers out there. A certified orchestra teacher can almost have his/her pick of jobs at this point in many states. When I left my last job, only two people applied for the vacancy, even though it was an excellent position. Also, it is difficult to keep good orchestra teachers around once you have one. As a person who has left the profession, I can tell you my reasons were severe overwork, stress, lack of parental support, and lack of musical fulfillment (not due to my students, due to the fact that I lived too far away from any "real" concerts!). Districts love to run string teachers into the ground. In my first situation, I taught 7 different schools EVERY DAY, with no prep time or travel time to get between schools. It was extremely difficult and made it impossible for me to give the students as much attention as they certainly deserved. In my other job, I had a mere 5 classes in 4 buildings each day, but they were closer together, with no travel problems (except snow!). However, no other teacher, except my colleague who taught the other half of the district, had to do a schedule like that. In both situations, the districts would just keep piling on more classes and more work, (without offering more pay) saying that they couldn't afford to hire anyone else to help out. Then they wonder why they can't seem to keep string teachers.

It's really a bad situation in many places. I hate to sound too negative, because I wouldn't want to scare anyone off who may be considering a career in public school string teaching-- it really is a wonderful vocation, extremely rewarding. However, you have to be really careful that your district doesn't abuse you.

Regarding other questions about programs-- in Utah, our elementary program was a good idea in that we had orchestra 5 days a week, and for the first year, three of those days would be spent in individual cello or violin or whatever classes, with 2 days in combined orchestra, and in the 2nd and 3rd year (starting in 4th grade), that would reverse so kids would get sectionals 2 days and orchestra 3 days. We had members of the local community orchestra there to teach the sectionals (no pro orchestras in the area). This would appear to be a good idea, however, it was taught at 7:00 in the morning, and students had to find their own transportation from all over the district, making it impossible for many kids to attend. Also, some of our community sectional teachers weren't the best players or teachers, so that was also a less than wonderful situation. But it was a good idea. Just not carried out very well. They also did a summer program 2 days a week for 2 hours a day- with a similar set up.

I don't know if I've answered any of your questions, but if you would like to ask me anything specific about my own public school experiences, feel free to email me.

I hope you are able to improve the situation in your town.

-Tracie Price

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