What Makes Teaching Music Worthwhile

Thomas J. West
I’ve been a public school teacher for 13 years, and 3 years before that, I served as an instructor on the staff of a community youth band. In that time, I have taught full-time in 4 school districts, taught in 2 different states, and taught part-time in an additional district. I also worked with that youth band for 10 years. I’ve taught in rural schools, high-achieving suburban schools, struggling metro schools, and with the youth band taught kids from all of these demographics. In all of those varied experiences, there is one great constant between all of them.

Fantastic human beings.

Music teachers get a special privilege that other subject area teachers often do not receive. We get to work with students over the long haul. I get to watch students come into my program in middle school and work with them directly as they grow up before my eyes. I get to have a small part in their long-term growth. And now, thanks to social media, I even get to see their milestones as young adults.

When I think of Muncy Junior/Senior High School, my first teaching job, I don’t think about what happened there, I think about Mary, Mark, Clayton, Alyson, Brianne, Becky, Kristi, and other students with whom I shared some great days in the band room and on a school bus.

When I think of Lindenwold High School in New Jersey, I think of Tyler, Mark, Matt, Andy, and others who played in Jazz Improvisation class and for a short time became LHS’s musical ambassadors.

And at my current school, I think of Paula, Sarah, Chloe, Julianna, Joy, Liz, Katia, Ben, and quite a few more memorable characters who help make the Center for Performing and Fine Arts the unique and special place that it is.

I pray that political bureaucracy doesn’t take away the opportunity for more young people to make a long-term relationship with their music teachers in the days to come. Public school music education is in danger in many states of being outsourced to private institutions or discontinued completely. It’s time for adults who value the experiences they had as a child in scholastic performing ensembles to speak to their elected representatives and insist on funding for public education.

It’s time for music educators to continue to uphold the traditions of our scholastic performing ensembles while taking a step into the future by giving students opportunities to become independent musicians capable of creating their own music rather than just play an ensemble part. Music education is marginalized in part because only our “best and brightest” (less than 1% of the total student population) go on to a lifelong active music performance or teaching adulthood.

Music-making has always been a social endeavor. People bond, grow, and build together by performing and creating music. I hope that all stakeholders in music education will not go quietly and allow music making to be cut from their communities.

Thanks goes to Thomas J. West Music for letting us use his blog!

Thomas J. West is an active music educator, composer, adjudicator, clinician, and award-winning blogger.
thomasjwestmusic.com

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