I'm Sarah, a tenth year public school PK-4 music teacher in northwestern Connecticut. I live with my husband, daughter, and our two cats. My passions besides music? Traveling, baking, exercising, and reading (especially audiobooks!).
I came to teaching in a sort of roundabout way, although I should have known I'd end up a teacher. I come from a whole family of them!
After earning a B.A. in music and and M.M. in composition, I took a year to substitute teach and look for jobs in arts administration or programming. When nothing came through, I decided to add another feather to my cap and get my teacher certification in music. That summer, I got my first job offer!
Because of my nontraditional background, I felt I had to prove myself as a serious teacher to my students and colleagues. It took a few years of reinventing the wheel and trial and error with methodologies for me to realize that I just had to do what I did best: use my own creativity to make lessons and activities that met kids where they were. (Oh- that and embrace my true teaching style, which is a combination of Robin Williams and Mary Poppins.)
What do you know? Once I started doing these things, my program grew. I developed great relationships with students, started ensembles that kids became devoted to, and felt like I was doing something meaningful.
As I continued developing my craft and curriculum, I began to examine my core beliefs around music education, particularly what its purpose was. Was I trying to develop future all-state musicians? Earn highest marks at adjudications? Put my school on the map when it came to the arts?
I wanted to put my students' curiosity and natural inclinations first. I wanted to help them gain confidence and feel successful.
All of this I wanted to do through music.
That's where I feel traditional music methodologies' goals diverge. Putting musical outcomes (namely, performances) first works for some school districts, many of whom have the means to nurture students and teachers each step of the way.
But for many more districts, that nurturing is not coming from all directions. Sometimes it just can't. So many factors contribute to the success of programs, both arts and non-arts. A single person will burn out trying to make up for all the nurturing that is needed to build the music program they think they need to have.
So rather than try to be that serious teacher who kept pouring from her own cup- and pushing standard methods that were not working for my students- I decided to change things up.
Focus more on joy.
On organic music-making.
On finding time for silliness and unique kid-friendly approaches while we sang and played together.
Though I’ve moved on from my first job, I’ve been taking this philosophy with me for nearly ten years now.
All kids deserve to feel and be successful in music class.
Now that’s probably a no brainer.
But that can only happen when you start by meeting kids where they are now.
We should want to help them succeed musically, yes, but also personally.
You can always dive deeper later.
And you'll never regret taking the time to make sure all kids have opportunities for rich, diverse musical opportunities that still celebrate little wins.
So my advice right now if you're just starting out, or if this resonates with you and now you're looking to switch things up?
Don't feel that you have to do things by the book.
Be a different musician.
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