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Essential Characteristics For a Music Teacher

Nancy Shankman is former Director of Music for the New York City Public Schools, and currently serves as Professor of Music Education at The Steinhardt School of Education at New York University.

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Nancy Shankman from NYU talks about what traits music teachers must have in order to be successful in their careers. She emphasizes that music teachers must be passionate, love children, be well organized and well-prepared, and take the good days with the bad. She stresses that preparation is very important and a music teacher must know the music they are teaching and be sensitive to the needs and learning styles of the class. She also discusses that it is important for music teachers to practice music outside of the school day.

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Nancy Shankman: Essential Characteristics for Music Teachers (5min)
You have to be passionate about what you’re doing. You have to love children. You have to love music. You have to love bringing music to children. You have to be organized. You have to be well prepared. And you have to be able to take the good days with the bad days. Not every day is great, but sometimes when you have a really great day, it makes up for all the other days that weren’t so great. And you know, it’s interesting, music teachers always have a chance to perform and they always have a chance to get the applause. Other teachers of other disciplines are sometimes resentful of that because all they have to worry about is whether their kids are going to test well on the math test. And they don’t get the kind of kudos that a music teacher does. So [for] the music teacher, it’s implicit in their operations in a school to include, to be as inclusive as they can of other teachers in working with their programs so that everyone gets the applause.
Preparation is a very important thing. Anybody that goes in there and wings it is not going to be very successful because students pick it up right away. So, a teacher has to be well prepared and a teacher has to know the music that they’re teaching. [It’s] very important. A teacher has to be sensitive to the needs and learning styles of the students in her class. And not everybody learns the same way. The actual classroom management piece is probably the most difficult thing for students to learn. Because while you can teach certain techniques, other things are just experience. The more you do it, the better you get at it. And we try to send them to schools where the teachers they work with are masters of what they do, so that they have good role models. Then I also look for: Do they love it? Do the kids love them? Because if they’re going to do this for the rest of their lives, they better love it. I would hope that they come out of that student teaching experience, as most of them do, and say “oh I love it there. I love it there.” And if I hear that, then I know they’re going to be successful.
To be very honest I think you can teach it up to a point. But it’s something…you can learn classroom management, you can learn how to choose repertoire, you can learn how to write a lesson plan. But to teach someone to be passionate about something… you either got it or you don’t. And if a person doesn’t, and they really are having a hard time and they really don’t seem to be enjoying what they’re doing, I encourage them to look at another area, look somewhere else. Because they’re not going to be happy or successful. So why start out with something that you’re not going to want to do for the rest of your life? I really think it’s a calling, because your day doesn’t end at three o’clock. And I’m not saying that other teachers’ days end at 3 o’clock. They have to take papers home, they have to grade them and so forth. But you have rehearsals after school, you work with individual students, and the older they get, you prepare them for auditions. It’s just not a nine to three job. And then if you’re a musician and you do your own music outside of school, it’s a full time profession. For the music teacher, students need individualized ensemble rehearsals after school, and need to go to performances and need to be exposed to the world of Arts outside of school. In addition, music teachers themselves need to do music outside of school. It’s like a doctor who continually takes courses to be up to date on the latest techniques. A person who doesn’t practice his or her own music, loses something and loses something in their teaching. The more you are a musician, the better teacher you are.

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