What Teachers Really Teach

I’ve wanted to be a teacher for as long as I can remember. When my kindergarten teacher asked us, “what do you want to be when you grow up?”, my answer was “a teacher”. That answer never changed over the years. Third grade—teacher. Seventh grade—teacher. Sophomore—teacher. What I wanted to teach changed several times over the years, usually coinciding with whatever grade level I happened to be in at the time. By my junior year in high school, I had settled on teaching high school English Literature, until an epiphany experience in the All-State Chorus confirmed for me that I was called to teach music.

I hold bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music education. My certification reads “music vocal/general PK-12”. I’m in my eighth year as a secondary vocal music teacher.

But music is not really what I teach.

I teach critical thinking. I teach problem solving. I teach students how to take it one step at a time while keeping the big picture in mind. I show them how to practice smart, not just hard, and to see the “why” not just the “what” in every concept. I challenge them to be musicians, not just singers.

I teach multi-tasking. I show them how to read notes, rhythms, text, dynamics, and articulation while simultaneously utilizing good technique. I help them learn to juggle multiple projects at the same time, while giving each the attention and practice they need to come to fruition.

I teach work ethic. I teach kids that talent + work ethic = skill. I tell them that practice makes permanent and that taking the time to learn good habits—no matter how tedious—saves them the time of breaking bad ones in the long-run.

I teach teamwork. I teach collaboration. I show students that there are tasks in life we can’t accomplish on our own, and I show them how to ask for and accept help. I teach them the value of contributing their own unique gifts to the common good, and to appreciate how the unique gifts of other benefit them.

I teach vision. I teach the value of setting a goal, then working hard over the course of days, weeks, months, and sometimes years to achieve it. I show them—in a world where waiting for anything is a foreign concept—that some things are worth the wait. I teach delayed gratification in an instant gratification world.

I teach students to look for the science and math in art, and to look for the art in science and math. I show them that poetry and music are sometimes synonymous. I show them that music has been, is, and will continue to be an integral part of the human experience in every culture across the planet. I remind them that people 50, 100, 200, 400 years ago performed the same piece of music they are learning today, and I watch them marvel at that connection.

Music is the vessel for learning in my classroom. My colleagues are teaching the same lessons using a different medium—Math, Science, Language Arts, Social Studies, Art, Athletics…

I teach my kids skills that cannot be measured, but matter more than any name, date, or fact they can memorize. I teach many things. Music is just the tool I use to teach them.

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