Wolf whistles, musical genres, mosquitos and an MBE…. First few days at Montserrat Secondary School

Monday:

I made an estimated guess and turned up at Montserrat Secondary School (MSS) just before 8am this morning. As I got out the car I bumped into a girl I had met at the beach yesterday who pointed me in the direction of the main office.

I was greeted by cheers and wolf whistles as the Head Teacher introduced me at the Monday morning assembly. Cringe. I realised then just how firm I was going to have to be in the classroom. Some of the other teachers were really friendly, one of them advising that I spend at least the first couple of weeks purely making sure I have control of the class and explaining what I expect from them. Only after that should I actually start teaching them music!

Unfortunately the timetabling hasn’t gone as I hoped. I had to be quite firm explaining that I am not in Montserrat solely to work in MSS and despite an email I sent  a few weeks ago, this seemed to be news to the school. It looks like I’ll be teaching music in the classroom to Forms 1 and 2 (Years 7 and 8 UK), 3 classes per Form. Ideally I would have liked to have taught fewer classes per form, but covered more year groups, but I am assured this isn’t possible. To give anyone interested from other year groups the opportunity to do music I’ve decided to start a weekly after school “Creative Music Making” session. We’ll see how many takers that gets. I’ll also be continuing the choir Jon started, and hopefully doing some keyboard lessons. Along with playing in the Volpanics Steel Band, the Emerald Community Singers and assisting Cupid with the Small Beginnings Ensemble, I don’t think I’m going to be bored.

I start teaching tomorrow morning with my first Form 2 class. All my classes are 3 periods long (2 hours!!) but as the music classroom is a 10 minute walk off campus, it will work out slightly shorter by the time the students get over there. Still, that a long time for attention…..

Next step is arranging a meeting with the Minster of Education. I want to clarify that the project was not solely intended as a formal classroom teaching position, rather as a facilitator for music projects to reach as large a number of people as possible. Although teaching in the secondary school is a part of this goal, I really aim to branch out to the primary schools. I have found the contact details of the Head Teachers of the primary schools, but think it would be polite to speak to the Minister before approaching them.

Tuesday: First actual teaching!

In a most organized fashion, the school still didn’t have the keys to the music rooms which meant starting class a good half hour late. Even with the keys we couldn’t get in to the room that I had planned on using. I enjoyed it though, and I think the kids did too. There are obviously a few troublemakers but I think on the whole it’s going to be a good class.  It seems the majority chose music because they genuinely want to learn, whilst a few chose it because it was either music or a cooking class. (At least they’re honest!). When asked what they wanted to get out of music lessons this year, the most common answers were: to learn to play the piano/guitar, to learn to read music, to know how to “make my own music” and to perform. As I don’t have a curriculum to follow I have quite a lot of autonomy as far as what I choose to teach is concerned.

Another question: “List as many musical styles as you can”. One girl: “Miss, what do you mean musical styles?” A boy pipes up rolling his eyes, “Duh, she means musical genres”. Well done, Jon Ang! (my predecessor). I also have a boy in one of my classes who chose music because he has an uncle who has an MBE for playing 50 instruments, and he wants to get one too. I asked if he intends to learn 51 instruments. He answered, “No. 100!!” Needless to say he was quite disappointed to find out that I only play two. I asked the class what they wanted to know about me (within reason!) I have to say I lied when they asked how many years I’ve been a teacher for. They’d eat me for breakfast if I told them they were my first class!

I was excited to find that there’s a small nursery school just by the music block (anyone who knows me well will know that I love baby/toddler music!) So I couldn’t resist going in and introducing myself. The teachers were lovely and showed me around the place..such gorgeous kids! They are excited about the prospect of me doing some music with the children, and so am I!!

On the way home a lady stopped me and asked for a lift to St Augustine Primary School, the closest to where I live. She turned out to be a teacher there and introduced me to the Head Mistress. She already knew who I was and was delighted to see me. We talked for a good half hour and doing some work there is looking quite promising. (I just need to make sure I speak to the Minister of Education first). Interestingly she told me that the group of 25 children from the school that have just moved up to secondary had a fantastic Glee Club last year. I’ll have to find those kids at school this week! Hopefully more recruits for the choir..

All in all a pretty productive day, and all before lunchtime!

Wednesday

I had a visit after school today from Dr Clarice Barnes from the Ministry of Education. This Dec/Jan there is a massive festival to celebrate 50 years of festival in Montserrat (www.montserratfestival.com). Dr Barnes asked rather tentatively whether or not I am going to be here and was clearly extremely relieved when I answered yes. There is going to be a fundraising concert by visiting opera singer Abigail Kelly, and they were hoping I would accompany her. I am of course more than happy to do that and am looking forward to it.

There is also hopefully going to be a concert part of which will see each primary school singing a few songs each. I used this opportunity talk about my plans to work with the primary schools and suggested that I could also facilitate a performance where all four primary schools sing together. This seemed to go down very well – I just need to get that meeting with the Director of Education!

In other, less positive news, I can’t wear my hair down because it’s too hot. I am also covered in mosquito bites. Ah well. You can’t have everything.

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13 thoughts on “Wolf whistles, musical genres, mosquitos and an MBE…. First few days at Montserrat Secondary School

  1. Well now you better pray that none of your students read this blog! They can be quite resourceful. So massively jealous you’re getting involved with Festival Fifty and doing all these festival-related gigs. There was so much I wanted to set-up and organize when I was there, but only had time for so many. Reading your blog makes me wonder how I would do things differently if I could start over again. You certainly do seem to be on a very, very good track! x

  2. You are already a star in my books and I love you dearly. Mum and I can’t wait to see you in March. Montserrat seems an amazing island and we can’t wait to try out ‘hill starts’ – Mum should be used to them having worked in Dundee 🙂 Til then, enjoy your music making and I am confident that you will bowl them over and share your extraordinary talent in a fun and energising way. Saz did an extraorindary performance of ‘Blue Velvet’ last night and is through to the next round, you would have been very proud. See you 9th March, hope I get the jump seat on the plane as you did. Olveston house is booked, the jeep too. Lots of love, Dad. xx

  3. Great reading the blog of Jon’s predecessor! Will be on island from next week working with MVO, perhaps see you for a beer. Mosquito bites= get a mosquito net and spray yourself with off in the morning and evening. I found they got my ankles when I first got out of bed- they are very cunning! Mel

  4. Hi Rebecca

    Your mum passed me your blog as she couldn’t get Fiona and as I’m not on Facebook I’ve got lost on what your all up to!!
    Wow sounds like your 10 months will be very exciting and fun filled, what a great opportunity..well done you!
    I’m sure the children will keep you very busy and will be a big plus for your cv.

    Love to all
    Jennifer, Gordon, Eilidh and Niamh

  5. Hi Becky
    Mum sent us your blog and it makes for interesting reading-challenge will b to find the time to keep it going. The wee baby gal we once met has certainly blossomed. I think we may become a bit envious about monserrat Is. and the lifestyle so looking forward to your updates.Would love to see you over here in Aust one day – Need to get your Mum to bring Bill out and show him her old stomping ground.
    We are cruising to NZ early Nov for our eldest son Jarrod’s wedding in Dec so life is pretty hectic.

    Cheers
    Greg & Dale

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