Posted in Miscellaneous


why question in metal type

Lately I’ve been thinking about WHY I teach music.  I suppose all educators have pondered why they teach what they teach, but it seems to me that teachers of the arts have to defend their subjects more frequently to tougher crowds, so perhaps we dwell on this more than others.  

images-2A friend of mine shared her philosophy on music education with me and the big takeaway from her position is this: music helps people be more successful in every aspect of life because it teaches them teamwork, attention to detail, and accountability.  Learning makes us better people. Learning music makes us better people in some specific ways; learning math makes us better people in other ways; learning history makes us better people in other ways, etc.

The following anecdotes illustrate things I’ve learned from various teachers over the years that I think have made me a better person and improved the quality of my life.


My elementary school music teacher held auditions for a girls’ choir in fifth grade.  I had a doctor’s appointment during the audition so I missed it.  The next day, she asked me why I hadn’t joined.  I glumly explained.  She chided me for thinking all was lost and had me sing for her right then and welcomed me into the choir.  She taught me that you can make up for certain missed opportunities with a little initiative.  (Super important life skill—can you imagine if I’d let a single doctor’s appointment keep me from choir? I’m glad she intervened early on.)

My first piano teacher was a sweet elderly woman who lived about a 20 minute bike ride from my house.  Biking to and from my lessons taught me commitment and tenacity.  If I was going to ride all that way, I might as well learn.

My first grade teacher said hello to me every time she saw me out and about in town until I graduated high school and moved away.  I don’t remember much of first grade, but I remember Mrs. Graham and how she cared about her students.

My first voice teacher made me a deal—voice lessons for babysitting.  I watched her cute little boys and she taught me how to sing.  She also taught me that even as a penniless 6th grader, I had something to offer.  I learned not to discredit my resources no matter what form they took.

My high school band teacher demanded exactness in everything.  Sometimes we’d spend a whole rehearsal on one line a piece until we couldn’t get it wrong.  He also had us rearrange the risers and re-organize the instrument racks at least once a month.  Apparently, it builds character.  From him I learned the value of precision, the mantra “excellence is a habit,” and how unifying manual labor can be.

My piano teacher in high school gave me tools to teach myself.  She taught me systems of thinking that would help me absorb knowledge and techniques.  I learned to learn by trusting myself.  And because I could feel myself improving, for the first time in my life, I practiced a lot!  All the time!  

My voice teacher in high school took me on scholarship with the condition that I would pay it forward when my circumstances allowed.  She taught me how to see potential in people and encourage them to reach it by seeing something in me and helping me find it.

My first voice teacher in college had just finished her undergrad when she offered to coach me for round two of my auditions into the School of Music. (Round one had ended with one of those letters that starts with, “Unfortunately…” and ends with me in tears.)  We must have had psychic twin powers or something because I grew so much as a singer that summer.  I found my “big voice” as my dad called it.  I learned the secret recipe for success: 1) don’t give up no matter what, and 2) have an excellent teacher who believes in you. I also learned that you don’t have to be a veteran to be an effective teacher; she was right out of the graduation gate and I don’t think I’ve ever clicked with a voice teacher quite as well since.

What life lessons have you learned from past teachers that have remained with you and improved your life?  What lessons do you hope to instill in your students?  How will you do it?


Posted in Miscellaneous

“Can I Bring a Gazelle?”

4245731-gazelleFifth graders are pretty funny.  In discussing noise makers to bring for an activity next week one of the girls asked about bringing a gazelle.  Her classmates looked at her quizzically.  Brow furrowed, she continued, “Wait, no, that’s an animal.  Is it called a kazoo?” which was met with a universal chuckle and nod.

I had my first solo teaching experience last week teaching a fifth grade class start to finish.  Given that more than half of these kids have either a cell phone, a social media account, or both, I figured I could treat them more like youth than young children.

So as I was giving them directions, I said something like,  “I think by fifth grade, you don’t need me to dismiss you row by row to get your supplies in an orderly fashion.  I think you can handle it.”  images

Imagine my surprise when my mentor teacher looks up abruptly from her desk and interjects, “Oh no, they can’t handle that.  We have these procedures for the fifth graders.  The little kids don’t break nearly as many supplies as the fifth graders.”

I was flabbergasted and suddenly it was the funniest thing in the world.  My expectations for them were apparently so radically inaccurate.  I couldn’t help but be amused.  Trying, unsuccessfully, to conceal my snickering, I asked, “Really?” with authentic surprise.

Mrs. Dorian answered, “Yes really, look at the looks on their faces right now—they know it’s true.”

So I look at the kids and I’m still trying (and failing) to stop laughing—it’s that self-conscious laugh that says, “This shouldn’t be funny, but it seems so absurd.”  And then I felt bad because I couldn’t tell if the kids were flattered that I thought they were all grown-up and didn’t need the structure and step-by-step directions I gave the younger kids, or if they were embarrassed that Mrs. Dorian called them out.  

I spent the balance of the class period trying to readjust my paradigm for how to manage and interact with 10-year-olds.  Our lesson involved moving with the music to show various musical elements via movement—high vs. low, fast vs. slow, repeated patterns, etc.—so it was pretty active.  During the dancing, one little boy kicked his friend right in front of me.  This time I was shocked but not amused.  I stopped the music and we had a chat about what reasonable fifth grade (or even pre-school behavior) looks like.  After our chat, we resumed and to their credit, they pulled it together and we finished strong.

Wonder by RJ PalacioI recently read the book
Wonder by R.J. Palacio (I highly recommend it!) and it has fueled my ponderings about kids and growing up. The book portrayed a group of fifth graders with all their human interactions—they dealt with bullying issues, they had playdates after school, they did science fair projects—they were normal, multi-dimensional people, just young ones.  The writing was beautiful, the characters were authentic and sincere.  After reading Wonder, I feel like I have a better perspective on kids as people.

The dichotomy of these young people who live in a grown-up world, but act like little kids can be startling.  These kids talk about texting, Facebook, Instagram, and having imgres“boyfriends” while still mixing up their gazelles and kazoos. They live on the line
between childhood and youth.  How can we better understand this line and then help them navigate this transition?

Posted in Miscellaneous

On Your Mark, Get Set, Go!

student teachingWell, folks, this is it.  I am officially student teaching.  As an elementary school music teacher, I’m working with kindergarteners through sixth graders, which provides quite the range of experiences.  After years of training, I get to run the long-anticipated final leg of the teacher-education relay.  I promise to not only post excerpts from my student teaching journal, but it seemed like an appropriate way to introduce the experience.  I’ll certainly be drawing from the classroom when I write and I hope that some of it will be helpful.  (For the sake of privacy and anonymity, names have been changed.

Without further ado, welcome to a few of the thoughts of a first-week student teacher.

Day 1:

We had a sub today because my mentor teacher, Mrs. Dorian, had to attend a funeral.  The sub kept introducing me to the kids as “Hannah” and that irked me a little.  He can be “Gary” because he’s just here today.  I think I need a little more of an impression since I’ll be working with these kids for the next seven weeks.

* * * * * * * *  

The older kids started pulling the whole “give the new teacher a fake name” trick.  Oh well.  Overall, I think it went well and I’m looking forward to everything.  It was actually kind of nice getting to establish my own presence without Mrs. Dorian there on day one.  I tried to show the kids that I can hold my own, and I mean business, but also that I’m fun and happy.  I think it worked.  And I’m certainly glad she’ll be back tomorrow.

tight rope

Day 2:

The kids are REALLY good for Mrs. Dorian.  She told me she’s gotten a little flack over the years for being too strict, but she runs a tight ship and can afford to be nice and fun and relaxed later because they know she’s serious.  She made me more consciously aware of how consistent and vigilant you have to be with the kids—you have to always be giving little reminders about proper procedures: how to line up and sit quietly, how to walk in the hallway appropriately, to keep their hands to themselves, etc.  All those tedious little things that the idealist in me wishes I didn’t have to do, I actually DO have to do.  And they will probably be the key to success with classroom management.  

herding cats

Day 3:

The last period was the most fun for me because she let me run the “playing tests” for the 4th graders on the recorder.  I got a couple minutes (or just seconds if they were really good and played it well quickly) with each student in the hallway to listen to them play.  I got to coach them and help diagnose potential trouble spots.  It’s weird suddenly feeling like a total expert on an instrument I don’t really play.  But I can play it.  And as a musician, I can figure out what they’re doing or not doing that makes their sound quality suffer.  I just wish they didn’t get so nervous!  I felt bad standing there with a clipboard and a pencil—Mrs. Dorian wanted me to mark if they couldn’t get it in 3 tries.  I’m actually much taller than these kids and I felt intimidating.  That’s a first.

scary teacher

Day 6:

I taught parts of 2nd and 1st grade and a whole kindergarten lesson—with some help and reminders from Mrs. Dorian.  I also did warm-ups for the 6th grade choir.  I enjoy teaching, but I get nervous.  I talked to several music teacher colleagues about this, but I kind of feel like when I write out all the details of the lesson plan, I feel like I have to memorize it because I can’t consult it while I’m teaching or I’ll lose the kids’ attention.  So then while I’m teaching, I’m preoccupied trying to remember all the details of my perfectly planned sequence and don’t actually teach well or connect with the kids. One of my professors pointed out the benefit of writing out the detailed plan even if I don’t use it—it helps me think through the process so I can better anticipate and respond to needs.  So my plan is to write out the detailed lesson plan anyway, and then just teach.  

Day 7:

I feel more comfortable in front of the class and I’m having more fun teaching.  It’s amazing to me the difference between teaching something for the first time and teaching it the second and third times. After I’ve been doing this for a year or two, I’ll be having so much fun!  I mean, it already is fun, but once I have a really good handle on all the lessons, I can focus entirely on the kids instead of worrying about what and how I’m teaching so much.

hey girl

That’s all for now.  It’s been a great first two weeks and I’m eager to keep learning and practicing!  What are some of the most helpful things you learned while student teaching? Or if you haven’t been there yet, what do you hope to learn?

Posted in Miscellaneous

Of Pipes and Primary

It’s tradition at the BYU Jerusalem Center to sign one’s name on the pipes in the crawlspace under the lower auditorium. My signature has been there for three years now, but the mark I left on the Holy Land was more than my initials on a piece of subterranean plumbing.


Early in its history, before it had a single building, let alone the beautiful center in Jerusalem, the Brigham Young Academy was in dire financial straits. The structure intended for its use was in disrepair and would require several hundred dollars to renovate. “President [Abraham O.] Smoot quietly donated the necessary funds.”

Everyone at BYU has heard of Karl G. Maeser, the pioneering German educator with a strict moral compass, famous for his chalk circle of honor quote prominently featured at the testing center. Less well known is the fact that President Smoot recommended Maeser as the new principal for Brigham Young Academy. Smoot first saved the academy fiscally, before rescuing it academically through his wise leadership.

Boosting the academy over its initial hurdles galvanized President Smoot’s commitment to it. His interest in the school was later sanctioned, or rather mandated, by the prophet. In a final admonition to President Smoot, Brigham Young said, “I desire you, Brother Smoot to turn your influence and your energies to the building up of that academy.” A.O. wholeheartedly gave everything to fulfill this charge.

In the decades since, many others have given much to sustain the university and its students. 

imgresAs I ponder the impact BYU has on the world, the iconic image of the Y lit up on the mountain is literally a light on a hill. The light of learning at BYU has influenced millions with the education and experiences to make their own marks on the world. Because Abraham Smoot, Brigham Young, Karl Maeser, and others like them caught the vision of building up an academy for the Saints, I’ve been able to study my craft in the light of the gospel. I’ve been able to learn holistically, meaning “by study and also by faith.” As I’ve entered and learned, I’ve been well prepared to go forth to serve. Such is BYU’s motto and a foundational premise deeply cherished by its earliest founders.

Of the marks we leave in others’ lives, President Harold B. Lee said, “The only true record that will ever be made of our service…will be the records that we have written in the hearts and lives of those with whom we have served and labored…”

I served as a Primary teacher in the Jerusalem branch that summer I spent in the Holy Land. Those valiant seven-year-olds definitely taught me more than I taught them, and I trust that my love for the Savior and His Church made an impression in their young hearts. While my initials on the pipe will fade, the mark of a committed Primary teacher will guide them to walk in the light and seek the blessings of eternity.

Beyond the funds consecrated 165 years ago, far beyond the administration building that bears his name; the mark President Smoot made extends into the lives of all who have crossed paths with BYU. In my studies and experiences at BYU, both before and after my mission, I’ve discovered a passion for teaching and learning that will provide direction for the rest of my life—I’ve decided to make my mark as a teacher. I will influence the lives of hundreds of students who will in turn impact thousands of other lives.800px-Abraham_Owen_Smoot

Toward the end of his life, President Smoot explained to his wife, “I haven’t a piece of property that is not mortgaged. I have had to do it to raise money to keep the Brigham Young Academy going. That was given to me as a mission and I would sooner lose all than fail in fulfilling this responsibility. I love that school and I can see what it means to our youth to have spiritual as well as book learning. It must live.”

I too love that school. And it does live.