Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Education Major Classroom Observations: Countdown to Destruction...en espanol!

When you are a music education major, it can be difficult to fit in the required number of classroom observations along with your own daily schedule of classes and activities.  That is why despite my previously unpleasant experience observing an elementary classroom, myself and a group of friends ended up observing another K-5 school way too early in the morning.  I'm not sure that things here were worse, but they definitely were much stranger.

It made the occupation of cat herding seem even more simple and relaxing

For starters, this school had band in the 5th grade, which seemed like a good idea until I we walked into the cafeteria.  This room, which the students associate with the freedom to talk, scream, and eat delicious tater tots, was also where their band class took place.  Maybe it was due to this association that the class was out of control, but their poor 1st year teacher was having no luck holding things together.

He also had a very strange system of telling the students to quiet down.  Every time they began to get too loud, he would raise his hand in the air and count to three.  He had an incredibly deep voice, which somehow made his countdown sound even more bizarre.  It went something like:

ONE!!!!!...TWO.... Three.

Once he was done with the countdown (which he used every 3-5 minutes), the students were rarely quiet.  Now in case you think the out of control classroom was all his fault, there were some definite head cases in the there that to this day I'm not sure how he should have dealt with them.  

After one his booming countdowns, a boy that had been acting up the entire class period screamed in a very high pitched voice "I'm gonna kill myself!"  He then proceeded to grab a music stand and repeatedly bang his head against it.  Any concern that I, my friends, or the teacher had for the boy's emotional and physical well being, however, was quickly replaced by shock and terror as the boy maniacally cackled as his skull clanged loudly over and over again.

"We all go a little mad sometimes."
Norman Bates from 'Psycho': Mass murderer and amateur behavioral psychologist

Another time, the teacher had to make a percussionist put his drum sticks down due to him hitting every person and object within 10 feet of him.  When the student proceeded to simply use his hands to strike inanimate objects and his fellow classmates, the teacher made him sit down next to us.

Rather than hitting our group, however, the boy proceeded to lay on his back along the lunch room table and slide up and down it for the rest of the period.  Since no one was getting injured and no property was being damaged, the teacher ignored this and continued teaching.  As we watched in disbelief at this and other bizarre occurrences in the class, Seth (one of my best friends) and I did all we could to stifle the occasional urge to laugh. Unfortunately for Seth, he was caught one time and severely admonished...by a 10 year old girl.

  Pictured:  An unstoppable force

As we left one day, the little girl walked right up to him, pointed her finger, got in his face, and yelled "It is NOT polite to point! It is NOT polite to laugh!  YOU are VERY RUDE!"  The sight of a 300 lbs man getting verbally eviscerated by a girl the size of his left arm was surreal enough, but Seth's blank stare that had a hint of shame to it nearly made me laugh (and get admonished) as well.

The worst thing we saw, however, happened to one of the quieter and well behaved kids.  At the end of one of the class periods, we had stuck around to finish writing up our observation sheets.  Nearly all the students had left, but one lone clarinet player was still attempting to put away her instrument.  For those of you unfamiliar with the instrument, a clarinet is put away by being taken apart into multiple pieces.  It also has a daily cleaning ritual that must be done to ensure that it works properly.  Anyone that has been playing for a while can do this in 2 minutes or less.  To a little 5th grade girl that just began playing the instrument, however, it can be a bit like attempting brain surgery.

As the girl slowly and carefully took apart her instrument, one of the Spanish teachers walked in.  At this point I should mention that we were at a total Spanish language immersion school; students are required to speak Spanish for half of the day and a majority of them have never spoken the language before.  The teacher that had stormed into the cafeteria was a striking Latina woman dressed in a beautifully flowing flower print dress.  Any kindness in her soul that the teacher's fashion sense portrayed was quickly dashed when she sternly barked:  "If you are NOT done packing up your instrument in 10 seconds, you will have no recess!"

As the student frantically sped up the process of putting away her instrument, the teacher slowly and loudly began to count to ten in Spanish, which somehow made it seem infinitely more dramatic.

UNO!     DOS!     TRES!
The little girl quickly broke down the three main segments of her clarinet.

CUATRO!     CINCO!     SEIS!  
The little girl hurriedly took her reed off the mouthpiece and placed it in its case.  She was afforded a bit more time due to teaching rolling her 'r' on the number "cuatro" for about 8 seconds.

The little girl quickly put each part of the instrument in its proper place inside the case and slammed it shut.

Unfortunately, the girl forgot to latch the case closed as well.  As she yanked her instrument off of the lunch table and began her desperate sprint towards the door, her clarinet flew out of its case and shattered all over the lunch room floor.  The student, her band director, and our observation group stared in stunned silence at the devastation before us.  The Spanish teacher raised one eyebrow, stuck her nose in the air, and tersely whispered "No recess for you!" 

Clearly this woman was a fan of 
Seinfeld as well as making little girls cry.

As she dramatically turned around to leave the lunch room, her dress spun and billowed out like a bright orange flower.  Her heels clicked off into the distance as the girl, her band teacher, and our observation group continued to stare in stunned disbelief.  Counting to 10 in Spanish had always been something that I associated with Sesame Street and friendly puppets; now this girl (and myself) would forever associate it with a broken instrument and not getting to play outside.  It would also be yet another reason that as a music education major, teaching elementary school became a much scarier prospect.

And why I still break out in a cold sweat
if I hear puppets counting in Spanish.