Solid Advice from my Mentors
As I write this article, I am proud to say that I have completed my first decade in the field of music education. Two degrees, three teaching positions, four states, and eight years in public high school classrooms have brought me great joy, hard-earned wisdom, and a genuine excitement for what lies ahead. It has not been an easy journey, but I can say with great certainty that I would have never made it this far if it was not for some great advice along the way. May this repackaging of sage advice serve you as it has served me over the years.
There are no great gigs out there – YOU have to make it a great gig. – Frank Battisti
I think we can all recall why we decided to go to school for music as well as the type of job we imagined we would have upon graduation. Very few people will end up doing exactly what they imagined they would for the entirety of their career. In fact, most people will never have the type of job that inspired them to be music teachers to begin with. It is so important, for the sake of your students and for your own sanity, that you accept this and set new goals that are based on your current situation. My most inspiring colleagues adapt to their current circumstances and find ways to fuel their passion for teaching music in their positions.
The workforce itself can also bring many challenges. Issues with scheduling, a feeder program, or a disagreement with a colleague, for example, can make a work environment miserable. There are so many factors that can add complications, frustration, or even disinterest to a job that it is easy to perceive greener pastures elsewhere. There are no perfect jobs out there. My most effective colleagues often appear to be the happiest. They embrace that which they can control and make their gigs a great environment for their students to learn and for them to teach.
We like to say that your degree is only a license to practice music education, or better yet, a license to learn. – Mark Fonder
If we could learn everything there was to know about teaching music in a four year college experience, we would not have much of a profession to be a part of. I didn’t realize how difficult it was to prioritize the skills necessary to be a music educator and fit them into a four year undergraduate curriculum until I was asked to do so as a graduate course assignment. In addition to standard courses in music theory, aural skills, music history, private study, ensemble, conducting, instructional methods, secondary instrument methods, and a host of other electives that are so very important in preparing us for a career as an ensemble director, what about guitar, ukulele, electronic music, jazz improvisation, steel drums, half-time show drill writing, instrument repair, and countless other skills necessary for today’s workforce?
The fact remains that the greatest joy in music education is also our greatest challenge: there are so many avenues through which it can be taught. In addition to the current course offerings in public school music programs, we must also accept that things will likely look different in a few years. Outside factors such as evolving technology and student interests have a great impact on the content we teach and how we can teach it most effectively. It is literally impossible to be fully prepared for a realistic job setting in the 21st century. We must embrace that there is a lot to learn and commit to a lifetime of learning.
Success leaves clues. – Marvin VanDyke
As a music teacher, we are often one of a kind in our building or even in our district. While we can learn a great deal from our colleagues in other departments, it can never compare to the depth and breadth of learning possible when we seek others in our own area of interest. Music journals, periodicals such as this one, and organizational music conferences provide small doses of valuable professional development, but nothing rivals human observation and interaction. It is difficult to find time in our teaching schedules or personal lives for formal graduate classes, so we must find our own mentors from which to learn.
More business decisions occur over lunch and dinner than at any other time, yet no MBA courses are given on the subject. – Peter Drucker
I once read that John Maxwell, one of my favorite leadership authors, traveled across the country to meet with the highest achieving leaders of his day. He would contact them and offer them $100 for an hour of their time so that he could hear their story and ask them to reveal the secrets behind their success. Dozens of coaches, business executives, pastors, and organizational leaders obliged his request, even though they had never met him or heard of him before. As an enthusiastic young teacher, this anecdote gave me the courage to make my first important contacts in the realm beyond college and still serves me to this day.
Luckily, most of the music educators whom I have wanted to meet have gladly found some time to talk with me over lunch or dinner for less than $100. In fact, many of them have made time to talk over the phone, respond to my emails, or grab a bench at a conference to share their knowledge without any compensation – they just wanted to share their wisdom with an enthusiastic listener who would put it to good use.
Over the last ten years, I have been truly fortunate to have met and cultivated life-long relationships with many wonderful people who have been great influences on me. I actively sought connections with many authors, composers, half-time show writers, collegiate conductors, professors, recording engineers, producers, professional musicians, stage managers, instrument repair technicians, coaches, athletes, and fellow educators. I attribute my success in building such a great network of colleagues to my passion for learning and a genuine respect for and curiosity toward those who have succeeded before me.
Follow your bliss. – Joseph Campbell
It is impossible to find true enjoyment or success at anything without a passion for it. While I took great joy in participating in collegiate athletics, I have never been excited about retaining and regurgitating sports statistics as so many enthusiasts do. What I can rattle off, however, is who the band directors or music education professors are at major universities and high schools, the title and composer of a piece of wind band literature in a “drop the needle” challenge, or the names and years of service of each of my predecessors in both school systems in which I have served. I take these as indicators that I picked the right field.
If you truly want to continue to inspire others, you must maintain the presence to be inspired yourself. This philosophy has been instilled in me by my mentors and professional role models. Determine your own mentors, cherish those relationships, and heed their advice: stay active in your area music organizations, remain current with the latest research and teaching best practices, and you will never lose sight of your passion.
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