Raymond Elementary School music educator
This is the sixth blog post for 2014 and the third phase of the Maine Arts Assessment Initiative of this series sharing arts teachers’ stories. This series contains a set of questions to provide the opportunity for you to learn from and about others. I had the pleasure of visiting Patti’s classroom last week; grade 5 and 6 strings and kindergarten general music class. It was a wonderful morning. I was reminded of the combination of skills it takes to be an elementary music teacher. The fast pace of the class, the attention to the needs of small children, and the energy level is truly amazing. All of this with music learning at the heart!
Patti Gordan has been teaching for 31 years, the past 30 of those years in Raymond. For the last four years Raymond has been part of RSU#14, Windham/Raymond, so she now also teaches in Windham. During her 31 years she has taught K-8, General Music, Chorus, Band and Orchestra. Her present assignment is K-4 General Music, 3rd/4th Grade Chorus and 5th & 6th Grade Orchestra. Patti is teaching approximately 350 students.
What do you like best about being a music educator?
I love watching my students’ faces light up when they are feeling the joy of expressing themselves through music. I love their enthusiasm and their eagerness. Music means everything to me and I love sharing that with my students.
What do you believe are three keys to ANY successful visual and performing arts education?
The most important key to success is be passionate about teaching and to continually improve my craft. I am always striving to learn. The second key to success is to have “decision makers” (administration, parents, school board) who are committed to providing best practice in arts education for our students. The third key to success is to have the time and resources necessary to provide best practice.
How have you found assessment to be helpful to you in your classroom?
Before I began authentic, individual assessment of my students’ singing skills in General Music class I assumed that most of my students could match pitch in their full singing range. After all, when I listened to the class as a group it sounded pretty good. When I started assessing them individually I was shocked to discover that approximately 25% of my students were carrying the rest of the class. I started using these individual assessments to inform my instruction and also started having the students do self-assessments of their singing skills so that they could make their own plan for improvement. The percentage of students who can match pitch in their full singing range has risen to 85% by the end of 3rd grade. I have expanded these methods to assessing their beat/rhythm skills and literacy skills as well.
What have been the benefits in becoming involved in the arts assessment initiative?
It has been very exciting to meet other arts educators with the same passion for improving their teaching and assessment methods. I have loved bouncing ideas off of the other teacher leaders and I come away with new energy and enthusiasm every time we meet.
What are you most proud of in your career?
I guess I’m most proud of always wanting to learn more about being a music teacher. I’ve never felt like I know all I need to know. If ever I’ve begun to feel that way I’ve always then gained a bit more wisdom to realize I still don’t know what I’m doing. I am also proud of helping 30+ years of students experience the joy of music. I now teach many children of former students and I am so happy when I hear those parents share fond memories of music class and when they express their happiness that I will be teaching their children.
What gets in the way of being a better teacher or doing a better job as a teacher?
I get frustrated when I hear lip service that the arts are just as important as math and ELA, that they’re “CORE,” but then are not treated as equal. The truth is that there is no way that any K-4 General Music teacher, no matter how expert, can give students a true, standards-based music education, using the Maine Learning Results or the new Common Core Standards, in 45 minutes per week.
What have you accomplished through hard work and determination that might otherwise appear at first glance to be due to “luck” or circumstances?
From 2000 to 2010 I worked with a group of teachers and administrators at my schools that were dedicated to providing quality arts education programs to students in Raymond, through sufficient class time, resources and optimal schedules. By 2010 students had music class twice a week for 45 minutes in grades K & 1, and 5 through 8, and once a week for 45 minutes plus a 30-minute chorus rehearsal, during the school day, for grades 3 and 4, and a remedial singing class in addition to their regular 45-minute General Music class for 2nd graders who were having trouble finding their head voice or matching pitch. Sadly, since consolidation, some of that has been chipped away.
Look into your crystal ball: what advice would you give to teachers?
Keep learning! It’s the best way to stay fresh, prevent teacher burnout and give your kids the best possible experience. Also, keep trying to make little improvements in your program. It can be overwhelming to look at your program as it is and think of what it should be. Plug away, bit by bit to improve the students’ experience and before you know it, 30 years later, your program will have grown by leaps and bounds!
If you were given a $500,000.00 to do with whatever you please, what would it be?
Too bad you can’t buy time. I’d get my masters degree, buy a bunch of small violins to give my 3rd or 4th graders a “pre-orchestra” experience, buy more puppets for General Music class (you can never have enough puppets.), buy some additional technology for the music room, pay some bills and take some trips (Scotland, Germany, camp across America).
Imagine you are 94 years old. You’re looking back. Do you have any regrets?
No. If you can’t fix it, regrets are a waste of time. Learn from the experience and don’t’ make the same mistakes again. Make new ones.
I’ll probably be one of those little old ladies who gives music lessons and home baked cookies.