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No Room for the Extras - Cut Music?

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Guest Blog posting by Christine Holajter, Hope Street Group Kentucky Teacher Fellow and K-2 General Music Teacher at Straub Elementary in the Mason County School District where she has taught for the past seven years.

It should have been a sign.

One of the first things we learned in my music education program my freshman year of college was how to advocate for music education. I always thought it odd that I would learn how to keep my job before I ever got one. Now as the budget gets tight in districts around the state as well as my own, I am continually approached by my teaching peers wondering what programs will be cut next year. Will my program be cut? With the push for more focus on Common Core and reduced funding, is there room for extras? But then I have to ask, why cut something that only reinforces and supports the Common Core while fully implementing 21st Century Skills and the Kentucky Program Reviews?

One of the reasons why I became a music teacher was because I couldn't decide what kind of teacher I wanted to be. I knew I wanted to be a teacher but I wanted to teach it all. That's why I became a music teacher. Regardless of what you call us: activities, extra-curricular's, we teach all subject areas and provide enrichment opportunities that students wouldn't otherwise experience in the regular classroom.

At any given time I may be teaching social studies by studying other cultures, such as Native American by learning some of their language, playing their instruments and discussing how they would hunt and use materials from their environment. We may be learning science while discussing how vibrations make sound, doing experiments and utilizing the scientific method. We practice our reading fluency by reading words in rhythm with inflection and counting syllables. We work with fractions and numbers while writing measures of music. On a daily basis I am reinforcing the content that my classroom teachers are teaching and often provide extensions that classroom teachers wouldn't have time to teach, in ways that only a trained music educator could provide. Why cut programs that teach common core subjects in such in-depth ways with real-world applications and experiences that can't be obtained in the regular classroom?

What about the 21st century skills that teachers are being asked to embed into their already full curricula? Activity teachers such as music, art, Physical Education, and Media Specialists in the Library have been teaching these skills all along. Music and art promote the critical thinking, innovation, and problem solving that employers and colleges highly value. Physical Education provides the mental and physical healthy lifestyle important for a long and fulfilling life. Media specialists provide learning through technology as well as real-world skills of analyzing and sorting through the immense amount of data our students will be exposed to in their lifetimes.

I feel lucky that I work in a school district that supports the arts. My administrators value me as an expert educator in a highly specific field that cannot be taught by a classroom teacher with a music textbook. My school wide programs and rehearsals are not a nuisance but an opportunity for students who may not find success on a standardized test to shine with an audience for all to appreciate what they can do.

It makes me so sad to hear about highly qualified and amazing fellow teachers around the state who are losing their jobs to budget cuts not because they are poor teachers but because they teach undervalued content areas in their school district. What is even more discouraging is thinking about those freshman music education majors in college right now who are being taught how to advocate for their jobs knowing that there aren't many out there to even apply for.

When budgets get tight, I hope that schools consider the extra value that all extracurricular activities provide students: real-life learning experiences, enriching activities, the chance to be innovative, creative, and problem solve, working collaboratively and express themselves to name just a few. School districts can be creative and cut costs in many ways without trimming the extras.

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