I’m Just A Turkey and a Little Music-Teaching Philosophy from an inexperienced person.

I’d like to be to the point where things are “beginning to look a lot like Christmas”—and at school, they are, but at home I’m afraid I’ll never have any presents wrapped, let alone a tree in the living room.

Yesterday as we were wrapping up car duty and headed back inside the school, a fellow teacher went to pull the plug on the hallway Christmas lights and it went BANG! And a flame shot out. Only one of the the strings went dark, but there are thousands of lights in the hallways. (Teachers are, as you probably know, the most festive of holiday celebrators.)
It’s a good reminder to unplug my own classroom lights when I leave so as to not start a fire.

We are rehearsing Christmas songs, of course. This will be the first time singing in two years for most of my students. This makes me feel: a. Helpless, and b. Unqualified. I wish I could play piano and sing at the same time. I wish I knew anything about conducting. I wish I were coordinated.
My hack is to add as many hand motions as possible to detract from the very obvious notion that I cannot conduct.

My guitar is a good red herring, too. (I first wrote red heron. Now that would’ve really thrown you off, no?!) Turns out everyone who cannot play guitar is very impressed with a three-chord playing guitarist. This will buoy anyone’s self-esteem.
Before we started in on the Christmas tunes I felt obliged to do a short unit on Thanksgiving. So we rolled out some blue paper and made a brown boat and talked about pilgrims and Indians in 1621. We discussed why it is so important to always have an attitude of gratitude (my Sunday school years kick in hard)—why, you ask? Because thankful people are happy people. Unthankful people are constantly tossing out blame for their unhappiness. Anyone who has read Ann Voskamp knows that.
We sang I am Thankful to the tune of One Little, Two Little, Three Little Indians—I asked kiddos what they were thankful for and we sang:
I’ve got a house and I am thankful
I’ve got a house and I am thankful
I’ve got a house and I am thankful

I’m so very thankful!

Then we moved on to an original, yes, by moi. To be perfectly honest, I stumbled upon a record in my classroom closet called Dances Without Partners with a copyright date of 1973. It’s got the cutest songs—more on those in a minute—but I nabbed the tune from Follow the Leader and turned it into a song about a sad turkey (to contrast with our Thankful song.

I’m just a turkey
I’m just a turkey
A turkey, and I don’t know what to do

I’m just a turkey
I’m just a turkey
And it’s almost Thanksgiving Day
Boo hoo!

They’ll catch me….
They’ll eat me….
They’ll stuff me up with bread….

They’ll dress me…
With gravy…
Now you see what I begin to dread!

I’m just a turkey
I’m just a turkey
A turkey, and I don’t know what to do

I’m just a turkey
I’m just a turkey
And it’s almost thanksgiving Day
Boo hoo!

The neat thing about writing your own music and making students perform it is that I am getting all my creative needs met—the thing I love to do is being acknowledged and (generally) enjoyed by my favorite kind of people—kids! And I get to add in all sorts of standard-approved material, the stuff that makes your administrators proud. I busted out the “turkey legs” (brown maracas, but the kids love it when I pretend to take a bite out) to shake on the word “turkey”.

So that’s what I’ve been up to with the younger crowd.

As much as I use Youtube to look up songs, I have yet to dig in and find all my resources there. I told the art teacher I need to just do my own recording of stuff I come up with so I can go back and remember all the silly songs I make up. Even the Veterans Day assembly included an original song (written by our own third grade teacher) which would be cute to re-use. You can watch it here, beginning at minute eighteen. We used boomwhackers for the bum, bum, bum, bum!

But back to the Dances Without Partners record: most of my energy is spent trying to convince the average student that listening and participating is worth their time. They are, as most bred-and-born screen-time aficionados are, super unimpressed with old records because it doesn’t have the excitement of a flashing Youtube video with animations. After realizing what I was dealing with, I decided we needed more exposure, not less, to these things that require intense attention.
So I play the record while students are walking in the classroom. They must be silent and follow me until we are seated. If they cannot do it, we go back out in the hallway, turn around and try again until they master it. This gives them exposure to the listening part, and by then they are ready to do something other than walk in a line. So we sit down, tap our fingers on our knees, and call out their names, one at a time: Now let’s name the fingers…there’s the…THUMB! And the…POINTER! And the….MIDDLE FINGER….and the RING finger! And the PINKY, the PINKY!

This fifty-year-old record is a series of games for children, called out in a man’s voice. It begins with The Finger Game and moves on to The Clapping Game, The Stepping Game, and so forth.

Are you beginning to see what a mean old music teacher I am?! We have to make the unexciting (the full-on, whole body participation) exciting again. We have to re-introduce the dull (walking in a straight, quiet line) in order for anything but the flashy and passive to be attractive. I am convinced of this if we want our children to be anything other than couch potatoes.

A new visitor showed up and Minnie was a reluctant host.

*after posting, I went back a made a video for I’m Just A Turkey. Go watch it here!


  1. Helen says:

    I love your Veterans Day song! I’ve been following your blog for quite some time. Be not discouraged! Teaching is such a difficult task. I’m your Grandma Marion’s retired teacher friend in St. James, and I’m delighted she pointed me toward your writings!


    1. EPStegner says:

      I’m so happy you left me a note! I will take any and all encouragement from former teachers, especially friends of Gma Mare. ❤️❤️


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