I am the music teacher where my daughter, Chloe, goes to school, and most days I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love my school. I think we do things right most of the time. I completely trust that my daughter is in the hands of people who will do whatever it takes to help her succeed. But there are times when being teacher/mom makes things more complex.

Last spring, my then eight-year-old daughter was home sick for one of the state mandated testing days. I debated for a long time about whether or not to opt out of the testing all together, as I have quite strong opinions about how much time and energy they require, so when she missed part of the test I emailed her teacher and the principal and requested that she not be pulled from any academic learning time to finish it.

The next week an email was sent to the entire staff outlining the make-up testing time. I scanned the schedule and was surprised to see that my daughter’s name was on the schedule. I thought I had been pretty clear that she was not to be pulled. I looked more closely and saw that, not only was she scheduled to be pulled to finish up a test that has absolutely no bearing on her educational experience, she was scheduled to make up the test during her once a week music class time…MY music class time. Game on. Enter Momma Bear/Music Education Advocate. I was pissed.

The first opportunity I had I marched right down to the principal’s office, closed the door and the conversation went something like this:

Erica – I’m confused about why Chloe is on the schedule for make up testing.  I specifically requested that she not be pulled from any academic learning time.

Principal – That’s why she is scheduled right after Morning Meeting.

Erica – Do you know what Chloe is supposed to be doing during that time?

Principal – Not specifically, no, but I know it’s during the 3rd grade specials block.

Erica – She’s in MY class. I requested that she not be pulled from any academic learning time and you scheduled her to be pulled during MY class. So what you are saying is you believe my class is not academic learning time. What exactly do you think we are doing during the 55 minutes I have them each week? Twiddling our thumbs? Am I just a glorified babysitter? I am working WAY too hard if that is your expectation.

Principal – (totally backpedaling…) You know how much I value the work you do here. I tell everyone that comes to visit our school just how phenomenal our music program is, all the way from kindergarten through high school.

Erica – But you don’t see that when students are in my room what they are learning is just as valuable and important as what happens in any other classroom.

Principal – Your email specifically said academic learning time. We have always used the word academic for the classroom teachers, not the specialists.

Erica – Maybe it’s time to change that. I have learning targets and standards and assessments, just like literacy and math. What I do in my classroom is every bit as rigorous and structured and academic as any other subject area. The only difference is the amount of time I am given to get the work done.

Principal – Yes, you are right. I apologize if I offended you. It was not my intent.

My daughter didn’t end up making up that part of the test. But that’s not the real story here. The real story is that I hadn’t done my job. My principal could talk all day about how wonderful my concerts are and how children look forward to coming to music class and how much my energy adds to the school culture, but she didn’t get it. And that was my fault.

In some ways, I think I make my job look too easy. I love it. I don’t complain about how much work I have to do or how many students walk through my door each week. I know why I do what I do, and because I do my job well I have always had the full support of my administration. I have never had to defend my program from the chopping block or advocate for the value of music education in our schools. I have support from the parents and the community. While that seems like a win, it also made me assume that everyone else saw my program from the same viewpoint as me. That assumption was blown out of the water in that single conversation with my principal.

How do we, as arts educators, make sure that we are showing the real value of our programs? How do we make our programs less about the showstopper choral performance or the gorgeous clay animals in the display case and more about the way that the arts make humans human? How do we showcase that what we do in our classroom creates successful adults? How can we advocate without looking like we have something to lose?

I am still working on the answers to those questions. I don’t have it all figured out. As I look back on that difficult conversation with my principal, I realize that it may have been the single most important conversation I have ever had with any administrator, not because the outcome greatly changed anything, but because I gave my principal an opportunity to see things from my viewpoint and I was able to see things from hers. It opened the door for us to connect, have continued conversations and reminded me that I need to be really clear about what is happening in the magic that is often my classroom. Sometimes, in the name of transparency, the magician does need to reveal a few secrets.

How have you advocated for arts education? Join the conversation below!