Company: NYC Department of Education, P.S. 50 Frank Hankinson School
Title: Chorus Teacher
Function: Teaching music to the students of PS 50
B.M.-Jazz Performance and Music Management, William Paterson University, 2007
M.A.-Music Education, Brooklyn College, 2017
What is your daily schedule like?
It varies, but I am typically at work from about 8:25-2:35 and usually teach 4-5 classes each day. There isn’t very much downtime during the day, which means that if you want to meet individually with students or rehearse ensembles you have to either come in early or stay late.
What is your favorite part of your job?
I love when my 5th-grade students pass by my room when I’m meeting with the younger kids, and they start singing along with us. They remember the repertoire they sang when they were younger and make a connection to the younger kids.
What were the steps you took to get your job?
Staten Island has a close-knit music teaching community. I was recommended for the job and contacted to apply. I did an interview and a demo lesson before I was offered the job.
What is your best piece of advice for girls interested in this field?
Be patient when you’re finding your identity as a teacher. How you are in front of a group of kids may be wildly different from your normal personality. What you want to get out of the kids determines your style–setting the expectations in your personality.
What inspired you to pursue this career?
I knew I wanted to work in music, but I didn’t think I wanted to be a teacher. While working in other areas of the music industry, the desire to work and produce something special through music never left, and I realized that I wanted to mentor others to step out of their shell and not be worried about judgment.
Julie is the chorus teacher at P.S. 50 Frank Hankinson School on Staten Island, New York. She spends time with all the students, writing and planning lessons for the kindergarten through 5th-grade classes. As part of the planning she chooses every piece of music the kids will learn that year–sometimes choosing classic hits from bands like The Beatles or popular tunes from the radio or TV. It can be hard to find songs that balance the need to be developmentally appropriate for the age range as well as being something interesting that the kids relate to. Overall, it really helps them engage with the subject. Also, Julie plans two recitals each year and several other student and community events. These performances give all the students a chance to be on stage and show their friends and family the songs they have been learning in class that semester. For most kids, the recitals are a chance to let go of their worries and concerns and just have fun on stage.
In NYC, the Department of Education requires that every student have some sort of performing or visual art. It is up to each school to offer programs such as drama, chorus, band, media, art, or several other options to cater to their needs. Since it may vary from school to school, it’s a good idea to do some research and get a sense for how music is treated in your area if you want to pursue music education. Luckily for Julie, the administration at her school understands the importance of music education, and she has found a lot of support from the other teachers and staff.
The intangible benefits of music class
Children love music (and they love to move), so music class is a really an excellent tool for teaching structure while feeding their wonderment. Elementary school is a time when kids start to build their outlook on life, and the experiences they have can really impact that development.
As a teacher, Julie tries to set up a nurturing foundation through art, promoting positive emotional and mental development. She has seen significant changes in some of her students. In one instance, a student with special education needs spoke up in class for the first time while participating in a rhythm exercise. Julie has seen kids find the courage to sing in front of their friends and start forming “lightbulb” moments when they start seeing connections between various concepts that they’ve been working on all year.
Julie’s advice to girls looking at any career (not just teaching) is to spend time teaching kids. Interacting with kids forces you to be clear with your instructions, adaptable, and patient above all else. This applies if you’re helping a younger cousin learn how to make cookies, chaperoning a school field trip, or anything in between. All career paths are benefitted by developing these skills, helping with essential things like time management and planning.
Teaching is about instilling “practice makes permanent” rather than “practice makes perfect.” It’s essential to give students the strategies and tools for preparing not just for musical goals, but whatever life has to offer. This form of self-discipline can translate to anything in life.