Archive for May, 2012

“That’s an A”

At this past week’s Backpack High School Spring Band Concert, Mr. Fletcher (known as Top) surprised his students and the audience with a little demonstration he borrowed from another school to highlight the benefits of being a band member.

The band had just finished performing “March of the Patriots.”  After taking a bow, Top had the students go back to measure 22 and play a section of the piece again.  Then, turning to the audience, he said,

“That section of music has approximately 100 notes between the various sections of the band, which means you are actually hearing closer to 500 notes when you figure in all the students in the band.  And I think you would agree that they just played it reasonably well.  In fact, I don’t recall hearing any wrong notes.  So, if we were to give the band a grade for its performance just now, we would probably agree that they deserve an ‘A,’ right?”  Several people nodded their heads.

“Now, what if this had been a math test with 100 problems?  Or a spelling test with 100 words?  A student could miss five or six words or problems and still get an ‘A,’ right?  So, let’s see what this section of music would sound like if one person on each part were to play a few wrong notes.”

With that, he gave the downbeat and the band began.  And what a noticeable difference there was.  While the music was still recognizable, it was far from polished.

Addressing the audience once more, Top said, “By the standards of other courses, that’s an ‘A.’  I wonder what an ‘A-’ would sound like.”  This time he told several students to miss 10 notes, and the effect on the music was almost comical.

“You see,” he concluded, “if band students were to perform at the level they are expected to perform in other classes, no one would come to our concerts because they would stink.  The fact is that band students can’t settle for ‘good enough;’ we have to push ourselves to be nearly perfect on every piece we play, which is why Band is so important.  It is one of the few activities in which students succeed only by excelling far above and beyond what is expected.”


Pencils and Education Reform

The following “Letter to the Editor” was published by the Indy Star in December, 2010:

The results of a 2010 Associated Press-Stanford University survey show that 68% of adults blame parents more than schools for the ills of our education system.  This and other recent writings may indicate a shift in the education reform debate toward a desire to hold parents more accountable for the success of their students in school.

But how?  As a middle school teacher, I would like to suggest a starting point:  Let’s stop providing pencils to students who don’t care enough to bring their own pencils to class.  Let me explain.

For years I have loaned pencils to students who are too lazy or apathetic to bring this most basic supply to my General Music class.  But the more I have done for them, the less they have done for themselves:  first pencils, then paper; then I tell them every word to write down in notes they will never study.  Meanwhile, other students who could be moving ahead are instead getting bored and aren’t learning anything.

Well, no more.  For any student who wants to learn, I provide the best lesson I possibly can.  Those students who come unprepared will not be required to do anything more than sit quietly, refrain from disrupting class, take tests, and fail.

This is where our communities come in.  If teachers everywhere follow this approach, inevitably some parents will complain to their schools’ principals when their students are failing.  Principals need to know that their communities support them.  If we want our sons and daughters to be taught challenging, worthwhile lessons, we need to get involved.  We should tell our principals to hold the line and insist that students take responsibility for their education.  Otherwise, for the sake of lazy or apathetic students, teachers will continue enabling irresponsible behavior and dumbing down lessons in a vain effort to ensure that all students pass, whether they want to pass or not.

Rob Shaver



It has been two school years since I enacted the policy described above.  In that time, the number of students who show up to my class unprepared has dropped significantly.

I have also tightened up my policy on work that is turned in late, with a resulting increase in the number of assignments being turned in on time.

While I still have too many apathetic students, it seems reasonable to conclude that low expectations benefit no one.