Refreshing…

I am currently sitting in my hotel room in the world renowned A Hotel in Colorado Springs, CO. The Broadmoor is a 5-star hotel in the gorgeous foothills of the Colorado Rockies and is the annual host of the Colorado Music Educators Association Clinic Conference. Between the pine trees and beneath the “purple mountains majesty,” educators gather to learn strategies, share ideas, and determine the future of a grand profession.

It has been almost three years since my last professional conference. When I attended the Nebraska Music Educators Association Conference in Spring of 2013, I was a super-senior who had just finished my student teaching assignments in Lincoln and York Nebraska, respectively. At the time, my mother was undergoing treatment for an aggressive form of breast cancer back home in Denver, CO. On the last day of the conference, my mother was scheduled to undergo a mastectomy to remove the quickly growing tumor.

Around the time of her surgery, I wandered into the convention hall, where vendors, universities, repair shops, and lots of other groups were set-up. While there, I purchased a Mollard conducting baton that I used throughout the first year and half of my teaching career.

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My CMEA 2016 Baton!

Today, in a similar conference hall, I purchased another Mollard baton. This time a 14″ baton with an oak handle in a tear-drop shape. Between the last baton and the first, so much of my life has changd: professionally and personally.

Three years ago, I was a student at a conservative Christian university finishing a degree in Music Education and Vocal Performance. Today, I am a third year teacher at an urban school teaching Instrumental Music to students from 100 different countries. Three years ago, I had hopes for my professional career as a choral director or vocal performer. Today, I am uncertain of the path that lies ahead. Three years ago, the educator that stood on the street in Lincoln, NE, worried about his mother’s surgery 800 miles away, could not have predicted the subsequent events that would bring me here, to this gorgeous place at another conference.

In my teaching assignment, I am responsible for all instrumental music activities including wind, brass, percussion, and string instruments at a large comprehensive high school serving 2300 students. Our student body is diverse in culture, language, and economic status. While not officially a Title I school, we meet the requirements and are held to similar standards of accountability. Working at a school like this is no easy task. To say I was unprepared for the job does not begin to cover it, but I do not fault my university education or my student teaching mentor teachers.

Nothing can truly prepare you for the first time a student confides in you about being homeless or LGBTQ. I was not prepared to bear the emotional burden of teaching students who rarely have enough to eat, climate-appropriate clothing, or adequate housing. I was not prepared to teach students who knew only a refugee camp in Southeast Asia before moving to the United States in hope of a better life. A better life that may never be accessible to them.

No. I was not prepared. I still don’t feel prepared. But I have everything I need. I have the courage to be vulnerable with my students. To connect with them on a human level through the music we perform and through the bonds we create. I have the compassion to sit with them while they struggle through a break-up. I have the creativity, ingenuity, and drive to create experiences for them that will build their character, excite their hearts, and enrich their minds. edication. They deserve compassionate and dedicated teachers who care about them and their lives. This work matters: for my students, but also for me

Three years ago, I didn’t believe this. In fact, I’m not sure I believed it three months ago. And that’s the main thing I will take down the mountain with me tomorrow afternoon: though the job is certainly difficult and time is fleeting, you can achieve it. I can do it. My student musicians deserve my talent, my work, and my dedication.

On Monday, I will return to my classroom and step on my podium in front of ensembles ranging from beginners to advanced players. I will be a better teacher than the one that left them on Wedesday afternoon. I am refreshed and ready to take on the challenge! I hope you’ll follow along!

NMEA 2012 Day 2: I Miss My Students?!

Only a struggling young teacher would be this excited about a book with a title like, “Classroom Management in the Music Room: Pin-drop quiet rehearsals and classes.”

Of all the really great sessions and performances I saw today (including a stunning performance by the University of Nebraska – Omaha’s Symphonic Wind Ensemble), my favorite was by far David Newell’s extremely practical, common sense approach to classroom management.

After the last few weeks of middle school choir and band, I was on the prowl for the best resources, strategies, and techniques for managing large numbers of middle school students. As soon as I saw the title of the session (the pin-drop quiet part seemed excessive), I knew I had to be there! Thankfully, we sat down just before they started turning away people due to capacity concerns.

I took pages of notes in Evernote, recorded audio of the whole session, and had to track down someone else’s copy of the handout to take a picture of it! I intend to purchase the book as soon as it is released. I don’t want to say too much, because I think Mr. Newell deserves every penny and ounce of credit for creating such a fantastic resource, but he managed to take the classroom management techniques I had heard described for years in college education courses and apply them to the specific challenges of music classrooms.

I can’t recommend his management sessions strongly enough, and I’m sure his work on teaching rhythm is just as fantastic. In fact, that will be some great reading while I await the publication of his new book.

One more day of professional development tomorrow including performances by my own Concordia University Nebraska Wind Ensemble, the Doane College Choir, and a Nebraska Choral Directors reading session and conducting/Alexander Technique Workshop with Dr. Courtney Snyder of the University of Nebraska Omaha (whose conducting took my breath away at the UNO performance mentioned above).

One more day of meeting professional educators as a young teacher, not just a student. My cooperating teacher was awarded the chair for Middle Level education, and it was great to meet some of his colleagues throughout the state, as well as various clinicians and professionals from the state and the nation (including current national NAfME president, Nancy Ditmer and the president-elect).

One more day of affirming experiences that remind me that I have chosen/been chosen for a profession that I believe in so strongly and love so much. In fact, all of this talking about teaching music has made me almost miss seeing my students (which is almost masochism at this point).

I know I’m not a master teacher yet by any means. But I know that the Mr. Jensen that will stand before his students on Monday is not the same Mr. Jensen they have known for the last 4 weeks. It’s a new day, and I’m ready to make music.

NMEA 2012 Day 1: “Real Teacher”

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MENC logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Not Christmas (which I do love), but conference week! Today was the first day of the Nebraska Music Educators Association (NMEA) conference in Lincoln, NE. This is my 3rd or 4th year attending, and I have looked forward to it every year.

 

Today, collegiate sessions included a keynote address by National Association for Music Education (NAfME) national president Nancy Ditmer about the transition from student to teacher. It was amazing how many of her comments I found supported my experiences as a student teacher!

 

My favorite session of the day, however, was a panel with eight or nine young teachers about what teaching is like. I love talking with young teachers, and really enjoyed hearing the perspective of these teachers who have been teaching for a few years! I got some fantastic advice about middle school classroom management with large numbers of music students!

 

Mostly, I enjoyed a day of talking about music education with my peers and hearing about best practice for music education from working teachers in a variety of settings. Conferences always provide solid strategies for behavior management and interventions, conducting technique, and teaching in the challenging field of music education.

 

I’m looking forward to full days of performances and sessions over the next few days of conference! The closer I get to being a “real teacher,” the more serious I take these conferences. When asking about the middle school management issues, I had real live human beings in mind, not just the concept of a difficult classroom.

 

That’s the thing that student teaching offers that no practicum experience, class simulation, or case study could ever prepare you for: you are responsible for the musical success and education of young people.

 

It’s terrifying.

 

It is the best job in the world.

 

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