The International Alliance for Women in Music (IAWM) Blog

Experiences in the Classroom: Equality

Posted in Jen_Baker by iawmblog on February 7, 2010

One student I taught from Kindergarten through 4th grade had always been tight-lipped and grimacing in just about every class I had with him. He never offered his opinion and only participated willingly if his friend was in his group. After four years of this I had grown accustomed to his behavior but always hopeful that one day he might come out of his darkness. One day he did. It seemed sudden on the surface–he looked me in the eyes and asked questions, offered suggestions and his opinion on activities, and engaged fully in class projects. Even though there were very likely other life issues at play of which I wasn’t aware, I had a sense of accomplishment from his achievement because I kept the door open for him to participate at all times. There were no guarantees that this would happen, but I didn’t ever want to take that opportunity away from him.

I firmly believe that giving kids ownership in the classroom leads to self-discovery, which in turn leads to greater respect for others and social awareness. As a couple of commenters alluded to in my previous post (Introduction), some kids are even thrown off at first by the possibility that they a have a say in what has happened in class (or private lessons). I may get paid to be a music teacher, but the potential for teaching human lessons is limitless. Since my approach is based in holistic teaching, I take full advantage of my role to offer as many opportunities for my students’ self-growth as possible. This is of course exhausting –and worthwhile.

As exhausting as it can be to create curriculum, plan a day’s lesson, or get my materials together, the really valuable work happens when I am face-to-face with the kids, helping them navigate through their own individual processes of self-awareness. It can be tricky to deal with an entire classroom and yet treat each kid as an individual who is equal. In order to do this fairly, I pay close attention to their mannerisms–both in my class and at play times–and keep in mind their character traits (i.e., oversensitive, bold, detailed, leader, hard-worker, etc). I wouldn’t treat a leader the same way I would treat a sensitive kid, or a detailed kid the same way as a bold kid. I find that bolder kids need firm structure and repetition, and sensitive kids would appreciate it very much if you would just talk to them individually about something they had done.

Treating kids as individuals reaps its benefits. They learn to trust their learning environment, and they learn to listen to others’ opinions, for they may be different from their own. They learn that when they offer suggestions, they will be heard. When kids are heard, they are at their happiest, and can grow much faster.


Jen Baker
Jen is a trombonist who specializes in new music and freelances in New York City.  She also teaches composition, improvisation, and homemade instrument making to children, and she’ll be blogging about experiences in the classroom.


2 Responses

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  1. Hsiao-Lan said, on February 16, 2010 at 12:09 pm

    I teach college students, and I find your strategy not only works on younger students, but also works on adults. It is important to instill the notion that the instructor sincerely wants to hear about students’ ideas and they have all the power to shape their learning experience. The word “education” comes from the latin word root “educat-“, meaning to lead out. Do we lead out the potential in a student? Giving students an opportunity to express their opinions at a young age also teaches them how to articulate their arguments in civilized ways, which can be an important skill to have throughout one’s life.

  2. Jen said, on March 4, 2010 at 6:02 pm


    I also teach college and high school students, and I am glad to hear your reply because it is my belief that the paradigms that are healthiest for the youngest students are also healthiest for the older students. I wish I had the financial backing to do a study on this phenomenon. As it is, I hope to learn some more from the youngsters so I can implement it with the older ones. At the root of it all, as you say, is the importance of cultivating a student’s ability to express their opinions. It is absolutely essential to a complete education.

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