Musings of a Music Educator
By Christy Papandrea
As educators we regularly reflect on how we can be better teachers. We constantly ask ourselves, “what can I do to better engage my students?” or “how can I teach this concept so my students have a more thorough understanding?” These questions are usually buzzing through my mind as I sit down and begin my lesson planning for the year. But not as much this year. I almost feel shell-shocked in some ways as I look around and see how my music program has changed in a matter of minutes and the programs of my colleagues have morphed to meet the ever-changing health requirements. The news and social media are a buzz with the drastic changes being made to education across the United States to accommodate the pandemic. In so many ways, education, specifically music education, looks unrecognizable.
For months, music (and other fine arts) were what gave people hope during their quarantine and fear. People sang on their balconies, played ukulele in their homes, and recorded themselves for virtual choirs. They shared their progress online and looked forward to the next virtual meeting. Now that the school year is beginning, some of us are seeing adaptations made for other programs- but not for ours. It is disheartening. I find myself questioning my value as a music educator.
What is it that I actually do? What is my purpose as an educator in the lives of my students? What is it about teaching and specifically teaching music that I love so much?
As I ponder these philosophical questions, I realize that what I teach really has less to do with classes or ensembles, but so much more. Music is more than an ensemble and the community that is created within.
Music is academic and interdisciplinary. It is interesting how I have always used this to advocate for my program but when pushed in a direction that requires me to make my teaching more “bookish” rather than the hands-on of ensembles, I hesitate. Why? Why not show that music is every bit as academic a subject as the “core” subjects? Any unit or elective I create can incorporate any of the other disciplines. What’s holding me back? Absolutely nothing.
Music is based in life skills. I’m always telling my students how we are constantly working on communication and public speaking in my classroom and those skills follow them for the rest of their lives. This year, we analyze what it’s like to be a performer rather than actually being on stage. Maybe stepping back and looking at what we’ve been discussing from afar will help reinforce the purpose of those skills and how they relate to everyday life.
Music is a reflection of society and who we are as human beings. Haven’t I always wanted my students to truly understand that music reflects who we are? Maybe I’ll create a unit and look at how music reflected the events of history for my middle school general music class. How neat would it be for us to look at music from different eras (yes, even the present) to see how it reflects who people were and what they stood for?
Music teaches people of all ages, what emotions look like, and how to process them. Isn’t this one of the reasons I wanted to become a music teacher? I wanted students to truly feel like I did. That doesn’t mean they need to play or sing. Maybe we’ll write song lyrics this year so they can express themselves. As a class, maybe we’ll see if we can figure out what the musician really meant by she wrote with that one lyric. Or, maybe we’ll try to find the one thing about our favorite song that truly touches us. The options are endless!
Music teaches us to think creatively and to problem solve. We take the circuitous route, not the direct path. We think outside the box to solve problems. This is my chance to practice what I preach. I have an opportunity to learn new things about my field and discover unique ways to present them. Of course, this year will have curve balls. Doesn’t every school year?
But you know what the best part is?
I’m still teaching music.
"Remember, your strength is measured by your ability to adapt in times of change."
Music Educator, MMed.
DMA Candidate for Music Education at Boston University
Proctor Jr./Sr. High School