Herding Cats

By Colleen McGrath


Trying to teach music to a room full of children under five years of age with no other adult in the room is a bit like herding cats. Most of the time it’s just not possible. I would guess in the forty-five minute period, the time we spend on actual music is less than fifteen minutes. “But how can that be?”, you cry. Let me clear it up for you.

Me: Okay, welcome back to music everyone. Find a place around the edge of the carpet. Let’s make a circle, can everyone find the edge of the carpet? Justin is that the edge of the carpet? Right, Tim come away from the windows, it’s time for music. See what Sarah’s doing? She’s in the right place. Thank you Sarah. Good. Make a circle please.

Okay everyone, let’s remember the rules for music class. Who can tell me one of the rules we follow here? Eric…


Me: Well, that’s a good rule in general, Anne but I called on Eric who was doing what?


Me: What was Eric doing everyone?


Me: He was doing something with his hand, which is one of our rules. What was he doing?

Class: Raising his hand!

Me: That’s right! Good job! When you want to ask or answer a questions you raise your hand, you do not call out. If you call out to me will I call on you?

Class: Noooo!

Phillip:  Raises his hand.

Me: Yes, Phillip, can you remember another rule?

Phillip: I’m going on a train tomorrow!

Me: Okay, very interesting. Now how about…

Phillip: And we’re staying in a hotel!

Me: Uh huh. Okay, now class…

Anne: I stayed in a hotel before!

Justin: I too stayed in a hotel before!

Sarah: I too! But, but, but we didn’t go on a train. We went in our car. And my mommy threw up.

Me: Okay, okay, thanks for sharing everyone. Let’s get back to music class. We were talking about rules. And what is the most important rule?

Sam: Raises his hand.

Me: Sam, good for you, raising your hand. What’s the most important rule?

Sam: …

Me: Sam, do you have an idea?

Sam: …

Me: Okay, that’s okay but try to have an idea of what you want to say BEFORE you put your hand in the air. Tim, sit down. I don’t want to have to tell you again. Where is your seat? Tim? Tim! Where is your seat. Good boy, now sit down. That was NOT an invitation to talk class! Emily, where are you going? Sit back down!

Emily: I have to pee.

Me: Oh, okay then. Go pee. Sigh. Where were we? Oh yes, rules. What is the most important rule for music? Alan, what’s the rule?

Alan: …

Me: Alan, you raised your hand, do you know or did you just want me to call on you?

Alan: …

Me: Sigh. Okay, class it has something to do with your ears. What do you do with your ears?

Class: LISTEN!

Me: VERY GOOD! Listen. That means when I am talking, nobody…

Emily: I can’t close my pants by myself.

Me: Okay come here. That means when I am talking, nobody else is talking. And if I call on Tim, what happens then?

Class: Listen to Tim.

Me: Very good! Okay, so that leaves only one more question. Are you ready to ROCK?

Class: YEAH!!!

Me: Okay, let’s rock! “We’re rocking and rocking and rocking and…” TIM!!! GET DOWN FROM THE DESK NOW! I will NOT tell you again. Final warning. Thank you. Okay and we’re “Rocking and rocking and rocking and rocking. Left and right, left and…”

Emily: Waaahhh!

Me: Emily, what’s wrong? What happened?

Emily: Aapahhle saaht mmmpf meee!

Me: I didn’t understand you, Emily. Can you try to calm down and use your words?

Emily: Aapahhle saaht mmmpf meee!!!!!

Me: Sigh. I still didn’t get that. Can you try one more time.

Sarah: She SAAAAIIIID, Alan hit her.

Me: Alan did you hit Emily?


Me: Alan! Did you hit Emily?

Alan: …

Me: Alan, please apologize to Emily right now.

Alan: Sorry Emily

Me: Class, do we hit other people? Ever???

Class: Noooooo!

Me: That’s right. Okay. Back to it. TIM! SIT DOWN! Okay, know what? I think we all need to move a little bit. How about a game of Freeze Dance!

Class: YEAH!!!

Robert: I don’t want tooo.

Me: Okay Robert, you don’t have to. Come sit over here with me.

Robert: Wahhh!

Me: Robert, why are you crying? I just said you don’t have to dance. Come here. What’s wrong?

Robert: Waaaaaaaahhhhhh!

Me: Sigh. Robert. Robert? Honey, I can’t help you if you don’t tell me what’s wrong.

Robert: I don’t WANT tooooooo!!!

Me: Sigh. Mmm, hmm. Okay. SO, class. Here you go, let me see what you can do! TIM!!!!!! GET DOWN NOW!!!! Okay, that is it. You have had many chances today. You are done. Go sit on the wall.

Tim: …

Me: NOW, Tim!

Tim: …waaahhhhhhhhhhHHHHHHHHH!!!!

Me: Oh for goodness sake. Why are you crying? Go sit on the wall right now. I SAID NOW MISTER!


Another teacher walks into the room.

Teacher: “Everything okay?”

Get the picture?

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Colleen McGrath is a twice transplanted former New Yorker who, like all New Yorkers who don't know where to go next, ended up in Florida. Opera singer and teacher of small, drooling children, Ms. McGrath has written professionally about such interesting topics as PORON for a communications company and while she found it both interesting and fulfilling, (bald-faced lie), the call to a more creative style was stronger. She is happy to be flexing those muscles on The Nervous Breakdown.

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