Music ála Cart: When There’s No Room at the Inn

“Sorry, we need your room for the newly expanded third grade this year. You’ll have to use the cart”.
“We need you to take up the slack at the Joe Cool Elementary this year. There are too many classes for the other music teacher to handle. Oh, by the way, he’ll be having class the same time you are, so you’ll have to cart to your class.”
Now that you’re done screaming, you’ll have to make the best of it WHILE you’re trying to talk the principal and the superintendent into giving you a REAL room next year. How do you make the best of hauling all the neccessities for a proper music education that will fit on a surface that’s maybe 4’x2′, if you’re lucky? (If you’re really lucky, maybe it will have two additional shelves instead of one, and the wheels won’t lock.)First of all, you MUST insist on a home base for your supplies. There has got to be a closet, corner of a room, or some place where you can sit, gather your thoughts and your supplies, and have it all there. It must be understood, too, that this stuff is off-limits to others. Nothing is worse than running in, trying to get ready for class and having to go to someone else’s classroom, then finding out someone borrowed the boombox and conveniently forgot to return it. (It’s bad enough when they do that and you have your own room!)Essentials for the cart:
CD’s in a case that go with your series. (If this school insists that you share the CD’s with the other teacher, I guess you can tolerate that if you don’t duplicate grade levels. If you do, however, you NEED your own set, as well as your own teacher’s book!)
Electric keyboard (a decent one, although not full-sized, can be purchased for around $350).
Miscellaneous CD’s in a case, for those little time-fillers. (Plank Road Publishing sells great CD cases).
A few pencils so you’re not tempted to steal from the classroom teacher:-)
Your gradebook with the TEACHER’S seating chart. (It seems to take longer to learn student names when you’re in “someone else’s” environment rather than your own, so this is a great help.)
A few rhythm instruments and a glock. (So, you can’t handle the bass on the cart. At least this way, the kids can have exposure to mallet instruments).
A pocket holder to take care of the little things so someone’s not tempted to just pick them up. Simply hang it from the side of your cart
Got the basics stacked? Good! Now’s the time to talk to all your classroom teachers ASAP. There’s a few things that you need to work out with them. Remember first of all: you are on their turf, so to speak, and they’re probably not very thrilled with losing their room during their plan time. Approaching them, not as the enemy in your way, but as someone who understands and wants to work with them will go a long way. By the same token, though, the classroom teacher must understand that this is YOUR time with the kids, and you are conducting a real class, not a babysitting service. The best thing to do is explain to the teacher what your NEEDS (may have to put the wishes on hold) are, and ask his or her advice on the best way to handle this in the classroom setting. You NEED movement space. You might need a place for music books. You need easy access to an outlet so the cart is close to the wall. (I worried about that last year with a kindergarten class, when I had to plug in the cart, but the cord had to stretch across the floor. I solved that by sticking it under her rug!). And, you must relay to the teacher the need for this to be your music class time. The students will need to understand that when the music teacher is in the room, the classroom teacher is not in charge. The teacher needs to realize that she cannot carry on a conversation with someone else while you are trying to hold class. Also, ask the teacher to direct a student back to you if they impulsively pop up to ask a question. (There is more of a tendency for younger students to do this). Understand, there are going to be times when the teacher will need to be in the room, but ask if there’s a way that they could do their grading or other paperwork in the lounge as much as possible. (For the most part, they should have plan times during art, gym, some recess, counseling……they don’t really lack a time when there’s no one in the room!). You might need to put out a “Music Class in Session. Please do not Disturb” sign. (More on this in a second).

After your talk with the teacher, you might still feel a little lost. As much as we grumble out them, we like our own bulletin boards and getting our own rooms ready. Let’s face it. It “legitimizes” us a little more as teachers and shows what we’re doing and what we’re about! Kari decided to secure a hallway bulletin board as “hers” and put up a “Welcome Bach” bulletin board display. For open house, she set up a small desk with brouchures to explain what each grade would be doing in music for this year, as well as introducing herself to the parents and students.

Class has started! Begin with a roll call or vocal warm-up. If a student talks to the teacher, who might still be in the room, ask the student to sit down and tell them the teacher will be available later. Make sure the students understand that, even though this is their classroom technically, during music time it’s YOUR room. If at all possible, make sure they can’t sit at their chairs or desks. It’ll be too tempting to play with stuff they have.

A common problem mentioned on the Music K-8 e-mail list on this topic was trying to keep the teachers quiet! As I mentioned, a talk right away with the classroom teacher could help. In an ideal situation, the teacher will understand and work quietly, or volunteer to be away as much as possible. If you have to, though, request that the teacher stay out of the room. Some of them might absolutely hate it, (especially if the lounge is in the boiler room like it was when I was in high school!), but unless the principal makes an issue of it, request it. If the principal makes an issue out of it, this is a terrific time to get together with the classroom teacher and the principal and have the administration see what an awkward situation this is. (If it gets to classroom versus music, and you have to drag your teacher organization rep into it………well, so be it). Most of the time, it shouldn’t be that bad. Just make sure if you have to do any rearranging, have the kids help you put things back before the teacher returns. This should smooth the waters a little bit. Another point mentioned was the intercom calls for the classroom teacher during music. Hopefully, some little post-it note reminders from you and the classroom teacher to the secretaries can cure that. And, make that “Music Class in Session” sign so that other teachers won’t barge in, thinking the classroom teacher is free in her room.

What if you forgot something you decided you might need? If you can survive without it, try to save it for the next session, and get it on the cart immediately when you put it back. If you really need it, most kids would be tickled to run to the storage area to get it for you, IF that area is supervised or, if it’s the music room, it won’t be a big deal to interrupt the teacher. Don’t run the risk of having a kid cause a commotion or going off somewhere alone.

One final suggestion: is it at all possible to use the cafeteria or the stage? Maybe your principal didn’t think about that! If lunch or gym isn’t going on, it’s not ideal, but it could be better than nothing. PLUS, you could have a cabinet or two and have your stuff ready.

Here are some more ideas from Connie Herbon:
I’m “ala cart” each morning this year for either 3 third grade classes or 3 fourth grade classes. I have been using a cart for years, but not going to the classrooms, just out into the band or vocal room from my office area. Some modifications I’ve used:

  1. Have a small, magnetic white board available to take along and set on the classroom chalk tray. A staff drawn with Vis-a-Vis wet erase overhead markers stuck into a staff liner stays on the white board a long time. Dry mark and erase right over it.
  2. I bought a laminated a set of Denise Gagne’s rhythm flash cards. They’re well sequenced and easy to keep on the cart for use at any time.
  3. I gave each student a pocket folder with their name on a computer label stuck in the upper right-hand corner. They’re keeping a sheet of staff paper in there for use as needed, plus Music K-8 song copies and any other material I don’t want to continually pass in and out. These stay in the classrooms.
  4. I have enough texts to leave 15 in each classroom. That leaves me only 7 to carry with me on the cart!
  5. My principal bought me wheeled stands for all my large Orff instruments. Now my BX, AX, SX, and AM can all be safely wheeled around by students between classes when needed. (The stands are $110 apiece from West Music.)
  6. I have an extra utility cart (from the days of film projectors) to use when the need arises to have multiple bell sets or other extra materials.
  7. I keep 4 see-through plastic bins of standard unpitched percussion on the lower shelves of my cart.
  8. I asked each classroom teacher to assign 2 music helpers for the week when they assign their other helpers. Each has their own system, and I don’t have to deal with it or keep track. These “music helpers” pass out and collect materials and “drive” my cart between classrooms. They also move any extra instruments and supplies. This is really working well!
  9. I’m trying to modify movement activities so the need to move desks is kept to a minimum. Partner things can usually be done in any bit of open floor space. We’ve made standing circles around the desks. We did have to clear the desks out of the way for the Yankee Doodle Stick Passing Game, but it was worth the time and noise.
  10. I had the teachers set aside one class period every 2nd cycle (that would be the 6th class meeting) for “chorus”. All 3 teachers at that grade level can count on being able to meet together then, and I have all the kids in a large choral room with piano. (I can’t have regular music classes in there.)

Not ideal, but it can be done. Don’t be too efficient at it, though, or the principal may think you’ll NEVER need a room!:-)