In 2003, the NCTAF (National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future) reported that the nation’s widely publicized and often-lamented teacher shortages are, in fact, symptoms resulting from a teacher retention crisis in the United States. Beginning teachers had an attrition rate of over 46 percent for their first five years. And American schools lose about the same number of teachers as they hire each year. Music educators can be particularly vulnerable to burnout because of the many different “hats” we must wear in a given day. These proverbial hats can tax the energy of even the most enthusiastic teachers. It isn’t because we are teaching too much, of course, but because there are just too many things to do. The solution is to find ways to reduce the outside factors, allowing us teachers to simply teach music. Technology can be a critical aid, as music office software applications can relieve pressure with quick and efficient administrative applications.
In his book My Many Hats: Juggling the diverse demands of a music teacher published by Heritage Music Press, 2005, Richard Weymuth summarizes the many roles of a music educator:
- The Hat of a Ringmaster: managing your classroom and your time.
- The Hat of a Leader: setting the direction and tone of your classroom.
- The Hat of a Scholar: learning when “just the facts” are just fine, and when they aren’t.
- The Hat of a Disciplinarian: the Three Cs: Caring, Consistency and Control.
- The Hat of an Eagle: mastering your eagle eye by establishing standards of excellence that will build your program successful over time and effort.
- The Hat of a Crab: attitude is everything; without it, failure, fatigue and burn-out can result sooner than later.
- The Hat of a Juggler: balancing a complicated and demanding class schedule
- The Hat of a Banker: fund raising and budgeting.
- The Hat of an Artistic Director: uniforms and musicals and bulletin boards, oh my! \
- The Hat of a Lobster: establishing the proper decorum with your students with expectations that can be managed by technology enhancements.
- The Hat of a Pirate: finding a job you will treasure.
- The Hat of a Bear: learning to “grin and bear it” in difficulty situations
- The Hat of a Peacock: having and creating pride in your program.
- The Hat of Applause: rewarding and recognizing yourself and your students.
- The Hat of a Flamingo: sticking out your neck and flapping your wings by providing assessment data that your students are mastering the instruction.
Music Admin Applications
There are two different types of music office applications: desktop-based and Web-based applications. The advantage of desktop software is all that data can be stored on your computer without accessing the Internet. Some products can be networked for school district use so that data can be shared, such as libraries and inventories. However, with these products, you must back up your data on a regular basis fortunately, good backup applications are abundantly available in today’s market at a minimal cost. For Mac backup reviews, do a Web search for “Mac OS X Online Backup Service Reviews.” Flash drives are ultra-convenient for storing program data and sharing it with other computers.
Web-based applications do not require any software installation or technical support, since the programs are run and upgraded from a server. In the past 10 years, there has been a major shift from “hard disk” software, which runs on your computer, to “online” software, which runs on a server and is accessed on the Web. For music teachers with large performing groups and multiple productions, this can allow students and parents to access important information, such as schedules and calendars, from home.
Desktop-Based Music Office Applications
RCI Software publishes nine products, each optimized for a particular kind of musical sphere: band, choir, orchestra, performer, percussionist, church, singer, organist, and recording. They now have a tenth program, Small Schools Music Library, designed for managing band, choral, and orchestra programs. It tracks performances, creates program notes, catalogues composers and keeps track of equipment and music loans. The program’s screens keep things very user-friendly.
Theo Johnson, the director of bands at North Monterey Union High School in Salinas, California, believes today’s music educator must be computer-literate. “If you don’t have a computer now, get one and use it,” he says. “Without it, you will be left behind. The better the computer, the better you can manage your music program.”
He continues, “The need for technology in the music classroom is greater now for music notation, sound reinforcement, Internet questions, music, and equipment ordering, and classroom management data programs. I cannot think how I could have survived the last 35 or so years of my career as a high school band director without the use of a computer and the technology that goes with it.”
Johnson gives credit to the music classroom management program designed by Chuck Riden (RCI Software Riden Consulting, Inc.). He says, “This is a wonderful data program designed for all our music classes. It has general information like an address book, calendar data, music library data, finances, uniforms, seating, compatible gradebook programs, and a great new bar scanning attendance program, plus much more. You probably will need to use that data in ways you may never have thought possible.”
In 2005, Johnson confronted a real-life nightmare. “I went through one of the greatest horrors a high school band director could face,” he says. “The travel agents for our tour to China were arrested for misuse of collected tour funds. We stood to possibly lose over $100,000. I was sure it is the end of my career. The California State Attorney Generals Office spent hours going through my records, and I finally asked them if I was in trouble. Their response was, #149;Heavens, no! You just happen to have some of the best kept records we have on this case.’ They used my RCI Finance program to build their case and to help us resolve our problem. Fortunately, that same travel agent had been contributing to a state fund that protected us from these kinds of problems and we got all our money back. We had a great trip to China.”
Master Music Manager by MusicManager is another comprehensive, customizable music administration database software program. Modules include: music library, membership, personal directory (contacts and calendar), audio and video recordings, music inventory, equipment, instruments, robes, uniforms and other wardrobe items, personal address book, accounts general ledger, fund raising, word processor, planning calendar and more. This product lets you plan and organize your daily classroom activities, including concerts, performances, and various events.
Web-Based Music Office Applications
I last wrote about Charms Office Assistant, a Web-based music office management product, in 2001 and since then, the number of schools using it world-wide has quintupled, including 45 percent of all secondary music teachers in Texas. Charms has added at least 100 new features to the program and it now has a complete financial management center, parent communication portal with telephone messaging, text messaging, inventory control center, uniform management center, and much more. Charms helps manage the classroom through an easy-to-use interface that includes drag and drop seating charts and event-based attendance functions. It can be used to manage time by providing “helper” logins, so that parents, student aides, librarians, and booster treasurers can have limited access to specific parts of the program all at the same time. The more teachers can delegate administrative busywork, the more time they have to work with students. Charms’ motto is “Harmony from Chaos.”
Charms also provides a built-in recording studio free to every student. The student can record their chair tests, sight-reading assignments, scales, and more, and instantly upload them for the teacher to evaluate. Where some recorded assessment systems provide a stark “right note, wrong note” method, Charms gives the teacher the opportunity to grade the recorded assignment with a little more flexibility.
John Washburn of St. James High School in Murrles Inlet, South Carolina has been very pleased with Charms software’s abilities for tracking individual student accounts and large group trip to Washington, D.C. Mr. Washburn says, “We were concerned as to how we would track student funds, but the system has helped so much. I am also very grateful for the student database. It makes communications a breeze.”
Charms makes it easy to access parent communication logs, so teachers can record phone conversations with parents and keep them on record for several years. Should a meeting with administration become necessary, the teacher can filter the conversations on topic, keyword, or by student. Charms also provides a “Progress Log” so educators can record significant milestones for the student, such as all-region, all-state, good auditions.
A second Web-based application is now available, uTutti’s Music Teacher’s Office (www.ututti.com). This program allows users to manage student information, parent communication, grades, inventory, fees, budgets, fundraisers, calendars, email, and more. It offers a simple, easy-to-use interface that was created specifically for music teachers. Each account is given its own public Web site within the uTutti domain that allows parents and students to keep up-to-date on the latest calendar events and other information. I like that the program provides a central, online portal for those who don’t want to bother with creating their own sites. Another attribute is that each account is given 50MB of free storage space to upload documents and audio files. Both students and parents can view these files online when they log in to their personal account. And best of all, students can listen to audio files, including SmartMusic files, of exercises and pieces currently being played in class to help them rehearse more effectively.
If you already have your own Web site, you don’t need to link back to uTutti to allow your students and parents to view your public information. Create “widgets,” which display certain elements of your uTutti information on your own site. This can be done by configuring your widget, then copying the code onto your Web site. The current widgets available include a calendar and event list.
Still Not Sure of Which Product Is Best For You?
Product demos can be downloaded from each manufacturer’s Web site, giving you the ability to sit in the driver’s seat before ever making a purchase. With Charms, you can have a fully functional trial account for 60 days to test. While prices and product features will vary, you do have choices between desktop and Web-based applications. Regardless of your preferences, these programs should be able to noticeably improve how productive you are in your daily responsibilities and successfully juggle the many different” hats” you wear as the music educator.