What should a music teacher do when asked to teach performing arts?

What would YOU do in this situation:

You’ve taught music at the same school for several years. You enjoy the job, you have a good relationship with your students, and everything is going well.

Then one day at the end of the year the principal calls you into their office and says “I think we need to cut back on staff next year. I’m going to cut out the drama teacher and the occasional dance program, and I’m going to make you our performing arts teacher…. ok?”

What do you say? We know this happens, because we had this question submitted for our Music Teacher’s Q and A recently:

“If your title has changed from Music Teacher to Performing Arts Teacher how would you plan your year….”

Here is our thoughts on this topic on video:

Please add to this discussion! This is one where we certainly could do with as many suggestions as possible! We’d love to hear all your suggestions for any teachers in this situation.

We’ve also got something coming up which I know will also help teachers in this situation – our Virtual Music Education Conference.

This year we’re pleased to be having a session with John Jacobson- who is known as the choir choreography king! If anyone knows how to get a choir performance sounding and LOOKING great.. its John. You can get that ‘performing arts’ happening right there!

So after you’ve added your comments and suggestions below, click here to check out the Virtual Music Education Conference, and see how you can learn from the amazing educators like John.

10 Comments

  • By Maryann Reply

    Hi,
    this is likely to be a situation faced by many primary music teachers with the introduction of the Australian curriculum – the Arts. It’s exactly what has happened in my situation.
    The curriculum document is a good place to start. Become familiar with the content descriptions and achievement standards and look for links – I believe Music offers many opportunities to integrate dance and drama .

    As for planning, that might be a school based decision determined by timetabling, reporting etc. I think working closely with the general classroom teachers is REALLY important. You can plan to integrate the Arts with other subjects and support student learning in the classroom. Classroom teachers are then really likely to be supportive and also include some arts teaching in their classrooms. You can teach the arts’ skills and they apply them to explore other content/ subject matter.
    If you are going at this alone, then focus on one area at a time, especially if you are not confident with teaching the other areas. Give your self the time and space to learn and explore each area and attend any PD you can.
    Good luck and enjoy.

  • By Douglas Jones Reply

    As a teacher who will be retiring from the profession soon, I hope this is one hurdle I won’t have to jump over!

    However, I would make a couple of observations. Teaching music, drama and dance are definitely three distinctly different disciplines. Unless the music teacher had a particular interest in, or talent for, teaching drama or dance, I would say forget it! Any school that simply made such an arrangement, expecting the music teacher to agree, probably needs to replace its Senior Management Team at the earliest opportunity. In the event of such a staff cut, I would hope that Drama might fall naturally into the English Department and Dance into the P.E. Department. When collaboration is needed then there would still be a Musical Director, Director of Drama and Choreographer for the school production.

    The only way a music teacher might justifiably be asked to take on all the Performing Arts might be: (a)in a large school where a promotion was involved and the music staff increased to compensate, or (b)in a very small school IF the music teacher felt competent to take on all three roles.

    In my opinion, no-one should be asked (or forced) to take on such a transition unless they were fully competent in all three areas (indeed in Dance there would be Health and Safety issues – it would be like asking a non P.E. teacher to take on the P.E. teaching which could place both the teacher and the children in dangerous positions – probably negligence!)

  • By Nafalin Sarchet Reply

    I already fill the role as Fine Arts Music teacher.
    I incorporate the drama Teks into my classroom and programs by using programs / musical dramas. My kids love it.

  • By Orlando Wayne Gonzales Reply

    Hello Janice, I am a teacher that lives in Florida. I have been a Performing Arts teacher for our school system for the past 10 years. I started out as just a music teacher before that and my job has modified over the years. I started by contacting our local performing arts directors of theatre and I picked up a lot from them. They told me of resources such as Pioneer Drama and MTI Broadway Drama for Kids. Every year I put in “Many” hours preparing for our Spring shows. However, I am not alone. I form a committee each year of four volunteer parents and teachers that help us put on wonderful Musical productions that include dance, acting, sing in chorus and solo performances. Every year I am amazed at the level that children go grow to. This year we did MTI Broadway Jr. Disney’s Mulan. The school community loved it. Our student in the show ranged from Kindergarten up to High school volunteers that helped with running the show. We had over 60 performers K-8 grade and 15 7-11 grade stage crew members. Last year we did Pioneer Drama’s Enchanted Sleeping Beauty and it also was a super success. Is it a lot of work? Yes! Is it rewarding to see children grow and develop performance levels? Most definitely! I will continue to nurture the whole entertainer as long as I can.

  • By Anne Smith Reply

    I personally would be thrilled with the opportunity to integrate the arts. I do all of these things in my classromm on a regular basis. 21st century school music teachers must face the fact that education is changing and music education must change as well, if we are to remain a part of education. Music teachers are routinely being replaced by computer programs or elimintaed completely because students are unmotivated or uninterested in our diciplines.

    Verdi, Beethoven, Orff, Ellington ect. all understood the power of the arts as a whole. While they are primaroily known for music, these musicians engaged all of our senses. This is what made them great.

    Most music teachers were in musical theater, marching band or some other type of performing arts activity during our school years. This is what we do naturally. We must begin to champion our wonderful profession. Music teachers can do anything! We read,write, know foreign language, history, count, move, fix insturments, teach diction and elocutionand more. We already do it all!
    I believe in the power of education. I believe in the power of music. That is why,no matter what I might be asked to do, I am a Teacher of Music.

  • By MJ Schuler Reply

    Arts Education (Dance, Drama, Music, and Visual Arts) was part of the provincial curriculum in Saskatchewan when I returned here in 1996 from Alberta and and still is. Obviously most of us who would like to be seen as “music teachers” are most conversant in that discipline but must try to present all four. My suggestion to anyone who finds themselves in such a position K to 8 is that they should immediately seek out ORFF training. This methodology is largely based on music but incorporates the other disciplines. ORFF teachers seem to love to share so there are lots of good ideas to work from.

    Hope this helps someone.

  • By Bonnie Arpin Reply

    I have been the Performing Arts teacher at my school for 15 years and I love it. The draw back is being pulled in many directions at once. I do the big musical once a year, which incorporates actors, singers, and dancers. This gets me lots of visibility and consequently I get more grants and donations to improve my program. When we are not preparing for the big musical, I find that it helps me to use the same material in the various classes so that it cuts down on my prep time. For example, my singers prepared Katy Perry’s “Roar” with choreography for a graduation song, my dancers used the same song to create a dance for their recital that used a physical depiction of a roar in movement, my actors created a pantomime of lions and tigers and my younger general music students used the song with an “Octaband” routine. Dance has been a challenge, but I keep myself on top of it by taking adult lessons in modern/jazz and attending concerts and workshops to get new ideas. The national standards for the arts are very helpful in organizing lesson ideas.

  • By Sarah Brown Reply

    I am still a student, approaching my student teaching this fall. I do not think that I really understand what detriment there would be in being a “performing arts teacher.” The only problem I would have would be regarding my degree. I will have a music education degree when I graduate, so I would like to use it to teach and focus on music. Of course, being able to combine all the arts would be awesome, but it sounds like it would be a pretty daunting task. I like reading these comments from people who have been teaching or have faced this situation. It gives me some insight for my future in the classroom!

  • By Miss Jodie Reply

    Another great topic which is so relevant to many. I work in 3 very small schools in Northern NSW. Staff, funding, time and space are all limited commodities here. I have been labled “the music teacher” for many years and as far as I am aware the day to day classroom teachers are resoponsible for dance and drama. I know though, that this is not occuruing, and as I am also the one responsible for all performance events, I have been incoporating simple, quick, dance and drama activities into my music sessions. Time is always a problem, so occassionally there will be more drama than music in a session. Sometime I will do my terms planning in small thematic blocks to include the dance and drama. I now also use the language of ‘creative performance classes’ when doing my reporting comments. Schools who have specialist teachers are very lucky… as I cme from a system where the classroom teachers must teach all subjects, and therefor need to be engaging in professional development tasks regularly, to provide all round quality education. Keep sharing ideas and networking to build up your bag of teaching tricks. The kids will give plenty of ideas too. 🙂

  • By Ray B. Reply

    The first thing I would do if a principal told me that the arts positions were to be combined is to try to convince the principal that cutting the arts would be an extraordinary mistake. I would become proactive in trying to get support for the other arts programs by reaching out to our parents, our community and beyond. There are organizations that will help defend the arts. I teach in a school district in the USA, where the majority of our students are from extremely low income families. 89% are on some type of government assistance because they can not make it otherwise. 10+ years ago, our district made some major cuts to the arts. Coincidentally?…Over several years the students began a downward trend in academic grades. Our state tests beyond reason, (that is another issue), but each year the test scores went lower. Each year the dropout rate increased, and for the first time, violence in the schools became an issue. We had a band director as our only performing arts teacher, and he did not have enough room for all the students. And, he only taught band. After two years he gave up and was replaced. Six years ago the school added an art teacher…Five years ago, a choir director…Four years ago a drama teacher and an after-school program in dance. This year, the majority of our low income students did very well on state testing, violence is almost non-existent, and our drop-out rate is zero! If your principal limits the arts to one teacher – even if the students are from affluent families – he/she is asking for trouble. The students will experience something far less than the holistic teaching that is needed. Students must grow socially, spiritually, kinesthetically, and in self-discipline (to name a few) to develop the whole person. The arts touch all of those areas and more. To make one person the sole performing arts teacher is extremely unfair to that teacher, to the students and to the present and future state of your community. If I were forced into that situation and my only training were in music, I would inform my principal that I will only teach music. But, I will bring forth the best musical performances possible. If I could include some pieces with simple choreography I would, and I would have the students learn to speak well enough to introduce the concerts. I would use a computer lab using websites to teach the students beyond what I could do. [If elementary or primary level, I would have the students draw or paint about their performance experiences afterward.] I would concentrate on what I know best and only give them quality instruction. Quality builds on quality, and if something is missing in the educational process, at least there would be one thing in the child’s life that was quality! Then I would crusade to bring the rest of the arts back to my school. There are hundreds of ways to reduce school budgets. There is no reason for any subject area to suffer.

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