While it may seem that I am only traveling and not, in fact, doing any bit of the “work” I was commissioned to do here….I promise, I am. I’ve actually been back in the grind with my two jobs for two whole weeks now! While it definitely was a letdown to get back to the real world of work after such a ridiculously cool holiday break (can we say universal truth?) I’ve been thoroughly enjoying my lesson topic this week (self-chosen, kind of out of default…just kept hearing nothing and nothing and nothing from my teachers in terms of what we’d be doing, so I just pro-actively decided on something) which was music. A bit broad of a topic for a one-hour lesson, but meh, I thought it would be an interesting, interactive, entertaining and hopefully educational lesson plan for the two weeks (one week in each of my two schools).
To clarify, let me explain a bit of what my role is as an Auxiliar de Conversacíon, or Language and Culture Assistant in my two colegios (elementary schools). I’m not THE teacher. Thank the Lord. I often feel unqualified for the work I do here, but I would most DEFINITELY be unqualified to be the main teacher for any group of students (as in responsible-for-their-daily-learning-and-future-life-success-etc). Luckily, my role is truly as “assistant” though sometimes I think I do more than I’m technically supposed to. Pretty much, I give presentations on aspects of American culture like holidays, schools, music, etc or whatever it is that the teacher would like me to present on (so far, this has run the gamut of random—from parts of the house to numbers to Universal Children’s Rights Day to an American illustrator for Disney named Mary Blair) and of course engage the students in discussion during the thing and practice speaking about what we’ve learned during each class. So I get almost every age group (from age 3-4 to 11) for either a half hour (for the tiny ones…and for them it’s more just a story, some songs and activities) or an hour for all other ages, and they just basically let me loose to do my own thing. It was a bit intimidating at first, to be sure, but I came to think of it more like just giving a presentation (something I enjoy doing and am confident in) but with a much more interested and engaged audience. Strangely enough, these kids, whether they understand a word of what I say or not, always seem happy and enthusiastic to hear about whatever American babble I’m rambling about that day. Much more than I can say for any of the slowly-slipping-into-a-comalike-trance college classes I’ve ever presented to.
So, to continue, I presented about music this week. It was definitely a glaze-over-the-details general look at different musical genres, but it was a great chance to learn new music vocabulary about styles/instruments as well as dive into a big part of American culture and even a bit of American history. Thank heavens the internet at both schools was working, as YouTube became my classroom assistant in exposing the students to these new tunes. We started out easy, talking about types of music like rock, pop, country, classical, hip hop, rap, reggae, opera, folk and the like, with examples of each type to help the students understand. My favorite part was talking about some of the music styles that got their start in the USA, from jazz to bluegrass to gospel to Native American traditional music. It was SO fun. It’s just incredible to see how music affects children and what a universal connector it really is.
Some of the many highlights of the weeks teaching this lesson:
-Almost none of my students had heard of Big Band/swing music before. I RELISHED in the opportunity to introduce them to one of my favorite genres and beamed as they snapped, toe-tapped and danced around to the Benny Goodman Orchestra and were delighted by a video of a couple swing dancing to Glen Miller’s “In the Mood.” Never heard so many “oye’s” and “Que chulo’s” from one group of people at once! 🙂
-Watching my little first graders jam to the different styles….acting like gangsters listening to Jay-Z (read: 1st graders acting like they are rappers is the MOST INSANELY FUNNY & ADORABLE thing I’ve ever seen); watching them jam on their imaginary banjos listening to bluegrass; and pretending to be the world’s foremost conductors while listening to Beethoven.
-Flipping to my slide about pop music and having EVERYONE from EVERY CLASS go wild at the sight of Lady Gaga. I had no idea kids in Spain loved her quite this much, but wow. And I’m proud to say most of them despise Justin Bieber. Good kids…they know what’s up. 🙂
-Talking about classical music and having my 5th graders rattle off more composers than I could imagine (way more than I knew at that age…probably more than I knew in high school!)
-Seeing the absolute, utter looks of awestruck wonder on their faces while they watched a video of a break dance battle (part of what I talked about for hip hop)….and their disappointed cries when we had to go on without finishing it (“We’ve got lots more to see today, kids, no worries!”).
-Just the general delight I took in watching them hear new music and just kind of get lost in it for a while. Whether foot-stomping to American folk music (an old-timey, harmony-strewn “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad”), clapping and singing to gospel (the Harlem Gospel Choir singing “Oh When the Saints Go Marching In”) or throwing the peace sign in the air listening to 60’s folk or “hippie” music (“Get Together” by the Youngbloods), it was simply a sight to see.
In an age when so many schools are cutting music programs, I hope people remember how important it is…how intrinsically we all relate to music of one kind or another, what an key part of our culture it is and what a beautiful unifying force it can be in the world.
Coming soon: a video of my fifth grade class singing “Whatever” by Oasis (Coke commercial, anyone?), brilliantly and entirely in English, I might add, for their Christmas concert this last month.
Love to you all—hope you can give your soul some music therapy this weekend.