Thursday, February 28, 2013

Tired of Triage


Here’s a phrase that I’ve never spoken: “I had too much time and ran out of things to teach.” My life as a teacher is a constant giving up of what I’d really like to teach, a constant disappointment that I can’t share everything I’d like my students to know and experience, a constant making do with a limited amount of time. It’s a kind of educational triage, making sure the most needed things get attended to first and the others left to fend on their own. My world record for working with one group happened in 2003, some 90 hours spread over six weeks with the students at the Orff Institute in Salzburg— and I got to about half of what I had planned. And had another 90 hours of things I wish I could have done had I fulfilled my initial plan.

All of this got kicked up at a meeting for a teacher-training institute seeking to include more training in the arts. This year, we managed to offer some 8 hours of classes spread out over two weeks, but everyone agreed it was a mere peek in the door of possibility. For it to really qualify as a genuine training, with sufficient time for the brain to absorb the concepts, the body to get the skills down in the muscle memory, the mind to reflect so that the large ideas take root, we would need at least 40 hours. Minimum. We floated briefly in that cloud and then dropped back to earth with the same old questions: “What can we do with the limited time we’ll actually have? “ Triage again.

On the positive side, it does make us clarify what is essential and learn how to get right to it. Such limits often can sharpen the focus and concentrate the imagination in astounding— or at least, interesting— ways. But on the negative side, it’s a relentless battle convincing the schedule-makers that what we know and have to offer is worthy of a great deal of time. Every class period wasted on some irrelevant state-mandated subject poorly taught is time taken away from the kids delving into Ella Fitagerald’s interpretation of the Great American Songbook and beginning to craft their own. For example.

I’ve accepted it all (do I have a choice?), but just once before I retire from teaching, I’d like to look at the clock and say; “Class is dismissed early. I have nothing more to say.”

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