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Laurie Niles

What I learned in school today....

December 3, 2006 at 7:09 AM

After eight weeks of practicing with egg-carton violins and pencils for bows, my 57 first graders got their "real violins" this week.

Preparing the violins took quite some time, and fortunately several aspiring Suzuki teachers volunteered their time to help. We put tapes on the fingerboards, tapes on the bows (yes, go ahead and be appalled, but until I'm an experienced expert, teaching huge groups of six-year-olds, I'll use the crutches, thanks!), and "donuts" (corn pads) for pinkie and thumb placement on the bows. We roughed up the rosins with sandpaper, we gave them foam sponges and rubber bands for shoulder pads, and we tuned the fiddles for the first time. I also stuck inside their cases a poem I wrote just for them:

My Violin
I'm in charge of this violin,
I'll keep it very safe when it's not under my chin.
I'll play it standing tall,
And I'll never let it fall.
We will make great music to play for one and all!

The children were extremely excited to receive their real violins. My fear was that each child would fling open the case, place the violin somewhere between his neck and belly, with the scroll drooping to the floor, and start sawing.

To prevent this nightmarish scenario, I had to be as rigid as a drill sergeant. They had to sit in their lines. I brought the violins to each child. We opened them at the same time. We took out the bows; we rosined the bows in unison counting together out loud with each swipe, "One! Two! Three!", etc.

Because they had practiced a system of bringing their violins from rest position to playing position, we tried this, in drill fashion, call and response:

Me: Get ready! Them: "Stand straight!"
One! "Violins out!
Two! "Upside down!"
Three! "Tilt in!"
Four! "UP on shoulder!"

I must say, they looked darned good.

In addition to getting real violins ready, I also was getting my real teaching credentials in place. Though I have a bachelor's degree, a master's degree, 10 books of Suzuki teacher certification and 15 years' experience teaching children, none of these qualifies me to teach in the California public schools. (Though I could teach in a private school....)

This morning I had to take the CBEST, a four-hour test of basic educational skills including reading, math and writing. It's been a few years since I took a standardized test, but I felt good about it, despite the revelation a half-hour after the test that I multiplied something I should have divided!

The written part was interesting, broad questions requiring me to do nothing less than solve the world's problems. (Robert said it would have been right at home in the Miss America pageant.)

I had to write two essays, and I somehow I found a way to write about what I learned from the teachings of Shinichi Suzuki! I didn't mean to write something so personal, but in typical fashion, I did. I ended it like this:

For my Suzuki training I had to observe some 80 hours of other teachers working with children. My written observations were then graded by my teacher trainer. For one observation, I wrote,

"This girl seems to have a deep musicality, it just needs bringing out."

My mentor wrote in the margin, in red pen,

"In every girl, and every boy, FIND IT!"

And that is what I learned.

From Jim W. Miller
Posted on December 4, 2006 at 12:00 AM
I'm in charge of this violin,
I'll keep it safe under my chin.
Hut two three four

I will play it standing tall,
And I'll never let it fall.
hut two three four

Used to drive a Chevrolet
Now I'm marching every day

From Sydney M.
Posted on December 4, 2006 at 12:33 AM
It's so awesome that you're teaching those kids! I like the poem, too :-) Funny about not being able to teach in public schools. Sometimes red tape is good, but sometimes it can be annoying!
From Laurie Niles
Posted on December 4, 2006 at 1:16 AM
It's so militaristic, and yet, it's the thing that works. Somehow, call-and-response exercises keep their attention in a way that my wonderful philosophical explanations do not! ;)
From Richard Hellinger
Posted on December 4, 2006 at 1:50 AM
Good Luck! It sounds like so much fun, yet I hope you get to keep your sanity. I have heard teaching one first grader is hard, let alone 52!
From Richard Hellinger
Posted on December 4, 2006 at 1:52 AM
sorry, 57*
From Paul Grant
Posted on December 4, 2006 at 6:06 AM
Sounds like I'm pretty much in the same boat as you Laura.

I've been teaching a violin program for 3 years incorporating suzuki and traditional methods together.

I have taken 2 Book trainings.

I am about to get a bachelors in music.

I have tons of orchestral experience.

But none of that will matters yet. I won't be able to become a "real" music teacher until i take and pass both the CBEST and CSET exam for music.

Best of luck to you. Sounds like you've been very successful so i'm sure you'll do fine.

If you don't mind i'd love to e-mail you if i need advice regarding problems that may come up in teaching. It's always nice to learn from other teacher who already have a lot of experience.

From Laurie Niles
Posted on December 5, 2006 at 6:37 AM
I never mind that Paul, it's the whole idea of Suzuki, and it's also the whole idea of Share what works!
From Pauline Lerner
Posted on December 6, 2006 at 7:30 AM
You're doing great work, Laurie. Please keep us updated.

I have all kinds of degrees and years of experience teaching and tutoring, but I'm not deemed qualified to teach in a public school. I'm not even deemed qualified to teach on a volunteer basis in an after school program for impoverished kids. This is supposed to ensure that kids get only the very best teachers, as measured by standardized tests. How in the world can anyone consider teaching to be a standardized activity?

From Pauline Lerner
Posted on December 6, 2006 at 7:35 AM
I look forward to hearing that they've learned Twinkle.

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