Empathy for Itinerants

In Kent School District, our increasing population has led to complications in elementary music programs. Our buildings all have one full-time music teacher and a few other music teachers who rotate in throughout the week. These teachers are full-time by working at 2-7 buildings a week with few provided supplies. I’m hoping to find a way to support the music educators in these scenarios through learning more about the issues they face. As one of them I can be blind to some of our issues, so I started by creating character profiles.

I put together these profiles after combing through the seniority list cross-referenced with our itinerant e-mail distribution list. What I discovered is that we have two different “users” in this scenario: the experienced band/orchestra educators, and the inexperienced general music educators. I did not realize that the group was so especially divided in terms of experience. On average our ensemble teachers have 18 years of experience, while our general music teachers only four. This wide berth between the two populations shows not only a generation gap, but also that among peers, the general music itinerants do not have experienced role models to observe and imitate.

This experience gap may also demonstrate that this is an unwanted position – low experience may indicate high turnover, and that itinerants leave the role quickly to become full-time in one building or to leave the profession.

Something I also noted was that the ensemble teachers have a biweekly PLC meeting that they are immediately invited to upon starting the school year. If a new general music teacher with no experience is hired, they are part of a first-year teacher mentor program but are not invited to a music-specific PLC unless directly invited by a one-building (primary) music educator.

Another lens I wanted to look at the situation through was the eyes of the one-building (primary) music educators and building administration. One school provided me with a copy of their itinerants’ schedule for the week:

This school has six music teachers, the five listed and one primary. After reading the schedule, it seems that only five teachers would be necessary. How did the schedule end up this way? Did the numbers change that wildly to create the need for another teacher? How do we create a consistent learning environment for students when an educator is only in the building for 50 minutes twice a week?

In a meeting with staff to discuss issues around itinerants, here were a few of the issues brought up by primary music educators:

  • Different curriculum taught, so students are unequally prepared when taught the next year
    • Some curriculum materials provided, but not mandatory
  • Issues with space/co-teaching
    • Where do we put them?
      • Portables
      • Gym
      • Cafeteria
      • Vestibules
      • Informal teaching spaces
  • Inability to do grade level performances since there is no common planning with their colleagues
  • Discipline issues
    • general ed teachers complain to them that their students are having a harder time in music with the itinerants than they had in previous years with the primary music teacher
  • Materials
    • Insufficient supplies
    • I can’t move my xylophones over there twice a week
    • Who has the money for two sets of instruments?
  • Lack of consistency
    • Can’t get subs for itinerants
      • Lack of subs in district pool
    • Not always notified in changes in the itinerant schedule for their school (the impetus is on the itinerant, not the district/administration)
    • Itinerants at each building change from year to year, you’re lucky to have the same one twice in a row
    • Based on enrollment
    • Music leadership has changed 3 times in 3 years

I cannot solve all of these issues but there are a few places that are open for change. Combing through this information has led me to believe that I should focus on finding ways to provide resources and materials to general music itinerants. They seem to be less supported and experienced than the ensemble educators and cause the primary music educators the most concern.

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