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Our 24th Annual 50+ Directors Who Make a Difference

SBO Staff • December 2023Directors Who Make a Difference • December 11, 2023

SBO+: This is our 24th year of recognizing outstanding directors of music from each state. This year SBO+ expands this feature to “50+” with an educator from the District of Columbia and many choral directors. If you want to feel better about the state of music education, or are looking for inspiration for your own teaching, read on.


Alabama
Robert Glasscock
Tallassee High School
Tallassee, Alabama
Total Years Teaching: 23

What is your proudest moment as an educator?

My proudest moments happen every time I see the look of amazement on my students’ faces when we get to go and perform in new cities. In 2010 we were marching in the Magnificent Mile Lights Festival Parade in Chicago, and when we turned onto E. Oak St. to start the parade down Michigan Avenue, my students were in awe! I don’t think any of us had ever seen that many people in one place and that wasn’t even the start of the actual parade. We stopped and had a pep rally for the people on that block, and the crowd there was cheering for my students, and it was the best time of our lives! Many of them still talk about that moment to this day. We have had several moments like that since, and I get a bit emotional each time. Hearing the students’ comments when we drive through big cities and watching their reactions is my favorite part of being a band director. Knowing I am giving some of these students the only opportunity they will ever get to go to these places, see the things we are seeing, or do the activities we are doing makes all the hard work to get there worth every minute.

How do you hope to make a difference in your students’ lives? 

By being consistent. If there is one thing I learned in life from my mother, it was to be consistent in everything I do. I am consistent in showing up for work. I have worked in the same school system for 23 years,19 of those at my current position. I am consistent in how I treat the students. They know what to expect from me every day. I am consistent in the discipline I administer to the band. My own children are going through the program right now and they receive the same discipline as everyone else. What would the other students think if I cut my children some slack? I respect the other students too much to do that to them. I am consistent in the way I handle tryouts for our auxiliaries and drum major selection. I’m even consistent in our warmup routine. I believe the students respond well when they know what to expect, and building consistency into the program gives them a sense of security and a safe environment they can thrive in and find success.

What is the most important lesson you try to teach your students?

That participating in the band is more about life than just learning to play an instrument. I want them to care. Care about themselves, care about others, or just care about something! The type of band student they are today is more than likely the type of adult they will be later in life. Things I expect from them: Are you showing up on time, are you prepared for today’s task, are you helping those around you to get better, are you willing to clean up after yourself and take care of our facilities? If they are simply going through the motions now, and don’t care enough to take care of the little things, how will they respond to big things later when they become adults? They cannot be apathetic about life. Even if I lose a student to another school activity, I let them know it’s OK, I’m not mad at them, I just want them to find something they enjoy and care about it. Give it everything they’ve got.


Alaska
Tasha Morse
Wrangell Public Schools
Wrangell, Alaska
Total Years Teaching: 16

What is your proudest moment as an educator?

One of my proudest moments as an educator is when I see my students succeeding. Our school is very small, and when I see my kids rank superior at our region music festival, get command performances, and make it to all state, I know we are doing things right here in our tiny town of 2000 residents. Last year, I got to witness ALL the above from my tiny band and choir. It’s a great feeling knowing you are helping kids be successful in music, and the size of your ensemble doesn’t matter when your kids have heart!

How do you hope to make a difference in your students’ lives?

I hope to make a difference in my student’s lives through making relationships and supporting them. I try to go to my students’ activities outside of music class. I am actively involved with our town’s art scene, and I try to encourage the kids to join in as well and step outside of their comfort zone. I hope each of my students become an awesome human being because they were able to stretch themselves a little bit and feel supported in the process. I just want them to grow, and I hope they can see that. 

What’s the most important lesson you try to teach your students?

The most important lessons I hope to impart to my students are all the skills necessary to be a productive member of society. They will have to know how to be on time for their jobs, how to work as a team and be a team player even when they don’t necessarily see eye to eye with everyone they work with. They need to learn to work hard and keep with something. The job isn’t done just because you did it right once; do it again so you can’t get it wrong. Be responsible for your part. Act with integrity. Do the right thing, even when no one is looking. Reach out and be helpful to those who need help. Music teaches us all these lessons, and I hope my students understand that by the time they graduate.


Arizona
Matt Kozacek
Campo Verde HS
Gilbert, Arizona
Total Years Teaching: 22 years

 What is your proudest moment as an educator?

I would have to say my proudest moments are getting to experience the successes and failures of my students and being able to guide them through those experiences. It makes me happy to see them learning how to be successful as well as having to navigate through difficult situations with my guidance.

How do you hope to make a difference in your students’ lives?

I hope they leave my program with a strong appreciation for music and what it has done in their lives. I hope they continue playing, but if they don’t, they at least have a strong appreciation for the friendships, lessons, and life skills they have learned along the way.

What’s the most important lesson you try to teach your students?

It is okay to want to be the best at something and to try and win competitions. But…it is NOT okay to base the value of what you do and who you are on your performance.


Arkansas
Nikki Cook
Conway High School & Carl Stuart Middle School
Conway, Arkansas
Total Years Teaching:14 years

What is your proudest moment as an educator?

In addition to being a high school director, one of the most rewarding aspects of my job is teaching beginner band students. It is a joy to watch the progression of student musicians from beginners to high school students who perform at an elite level of musicianship. Their region and state success brings me great pride because I am fortunate enough to be a part of their journey. 

How do you hope to make a difference in your students’ lives?

I see myself as their biggest fan, but also a mentor who continues to push and raise the bar. I want our students to be proud of their accomplishments but continue to strive for excellence in all areas. These students are beautiful musicians, but more importantly, wonderful humans, and we strive to surround them with adults who care for them.

What’s the most important lesson you try to teach your students?

Try to improve every day, in every way, in all aspects of your life. Large ensemble music making is a wonderful group project we are all grateful to participate in together. By striving to continually improve and reach the next level, it not only benefits us as individuals, but the group as a whole. When our goal is not competition with others, but raising our own standard and competing against ourselves, we find the most success.


California
Elizabeth Solares
Carr Intermediate
Santa Ana, California
Total Years Teaching: 15 years

What is your proudest moment as an educator?

My proudest moment was when I was honored as teacher of the month, by my mariachi student, Katie Valderrama, on November 8th, 202  My 8th-grade student, Katie, started mariachi this year during the 3rd week of school. She was shy and I asked her to sing Amor Eterno and saw a different person when she sang. When I realized she always sang at home with her family, I mentioned she must share her talent in mariachi, and now she has a great future with it. Since then, Katie has flourished by memorizing and performing many mariachi songs. She told the staff and administration I am like a second mom to her, and I have helped her believe in herself. She mentioned mariachi is her motivation to come to school. Our mariachi club performed for a Mexican Independence Day celebration at the Orange County Courthouse where hundreds of people were present and many people in office were present. This past weekend we performed for Downtown Santa Ana’s Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony. All my mariachi students did a wonderful job!  We even took a picture with Santa!  I was surprised Katie had a high regard for me and was brought to tears by her speech. I felt like I made an impact on my student’s life. 

  How do you hope to make a difference in your students’ lives? 

I have been teaching band, orchestra, drumline, and mariachi for 15 years in Santa Ana Unified School District. I hope to help students realize they have a teacher who cares about them and wants them to have music to express their innermost emotions. I want the students to feel proud of themselves by gaining confidence in performing their musical instrument/voice and speaking in front of a crowd. Many of my students leave middle school ready to be in high school and ready for college. Many of my students have felt comforted knowing I care about them. Many students have talked to me about their lives, and I help them by directing them in the right direction. I have sent many students to the counselor’s office to get extra advice. I stay after school every day to help students who need extra help with their musical instruments.

  What is the most important lesson you teach your students?

The most important lesson I teach students is to believe in themselves. We are all capable of reaching our goals in life. In music classes, I tell my students my life story about how I became a music major. I had to take the public bus to California State University, Fullerton for one hour and a half every morning at 5:45 am. I practiced my flute for four hours a day and worked hard to double major in flute performance and music education. The only way to reach my goal was by believing in myself and keeping that self-motivation. I have always tried to be a good role model for my students. I am a working mom of two teenage boys, and I have also been married for 15 years. I tell all my students they can reach their dreams!  They can learn their musical instrument/singing by believing in themselves and putting in the hard work. We all can achieve our goals; we just need to believe in ourselves!


Colorado
Dylan Ford
Dakota Ridge High School
Littleton, Colorado
Total Years Teaching: 11 years

  What is your proudest moment as an educator?

It is impossible to choose a singular proudest moment as an educator after working with so many wonderful students. Through our musical times together, I know I have learned so much more from my students than anything they’ve learned from me. The moments that make me the proudest are when students display immense teamwork together through music. These moments allow me to witness our future leaders at work, and it makes me very proud of them. Music students truly are incredible.

How do you hope to make a difference in your students’ lives?

I always hope to create spaces where every student feels they belong and work hard to share their passions and talents— it is incredible to see a student blossom through hard work and dedication on an instrument in a supportive environment. Through music, students endure the pressure of persistence, are humbled by failures, and feel the absolute joy of success. I continually hope my students recognize the value of these experiences and apply the dedication and tenacity they’ve developed through music to other parts of their lives.

What is the most important lesson you try to teach your students?

The most important element of music isn’t tone, texture, rhythm, dynamics, melody, harmony, or even artistry— the most important element of music is community. No musical goals are ever possible without a shared vision and unified effort from within the ensemble. Working together allows us to continually grow by sharing new perspectives and learning more about those around us as well as ourselves. I hope my students apply this lesson not only to music ensembles, but any group effort throughout their lives— the world needs people who work together.


Connecticut
Connor Sullivan
Torrington High School
Torrington, Connecticut
Total Years Teaching: 5

What is your proudest moment as an educator?

When my chamber choir won platinum in my first adjudication. I had a very talented treble group who worked hard all year and they sounded amazing. I was only in my second year of teaching, and it was very validating to know I was on the right track, plus the look of elation they had on their faces when they saw our ranking meant everything.

How do you hope to make a difference in your students’ lives? 

What I try to do every day is make the music room a place where students feel safe and welcome. Students in high school deal with a lot day in and day out, and they need a place and a person to feel safe with. I’m glad I’ve been able to be someone who students have come to in their times of need. All I can do is be there to listen and give advice where I can, but most of the time that’s more than enough to make a difference.

What is the most important lesson you try to teach your students?

I try to teach my students every day to just love music. I find music so fascinating; I often go on tangents in my classes where I just geek out about music. Getting to share my love of music with my students while fostering their own unique passion is an awesome feeling. No matter if you’re performing a song you’ve been working on for months with your fellow choir members or just sharing a song you love with your friend, the best part about music is sharing it with others.


Delaware
Kelly Hanson
Mount Pleasant High School
Wilmington, Delaware
Total Years Teaching: 19

  What is your proudest moment as an educator? 

Reflecting on the moments that fill me with the most pride, there are a few that stand out the most. Many often involve instances where students express doubt in their musical abilities, only to witness them conquer those challenges. But I consider my greatest accomplishments to be when I have students who are not interested in my courses, even trying to change out of them at the start of the year, only to eventually become some of the most dedicated students in my classes or ensembles. There is nothing quite like seeing kids transition from disinterested students to leaders within my ensembles. 

How do you hope to make a difference in your students’ lives? 

One of the most consistent comments I hear from my students, both current and past, is they look forward to being in my class, and that sometimes, my class is the only reason they came to school that day. If being the one of the only bright spots in their lives is how I make a difference, that will serve as one of my greatest accomplishments.

What’s the most important lesson you try to teach your students? 

While thinking about these questions, I took the opportunity to speak with my students about what they perceive as one of the most crucial lessons I impart to them. Without fail, their response was “perseverance.” I make a conscious effort to instill in my students the notion that conquering obstacles, whether in the realm of music or beyond, is a vital skill to acquire. As articulated by one student, “You convey the idea that even if you aren’t exceptionally skilled at something, you should still give it a try—after all, what’s the worst that can happen?”


District of Columbia
Joshua Krohn
Brent Elementary School
Washington, D.C.|
Total Years Teaching: 21

What is your proudest moment as an educator?

Picking just one moment to be my proudest is incredibly challenging. After 21 years of teaching thousands of students at the elementary level, my proudest moments are having former students come back to visit me just because they miss my teaching. I’m incredibly proud to hear about how many of them are still making music. For the ones who don’t have access to music education at the secondary level, I still love hearing they miss my teaching. The feeling of creating a future generation of lifelong appreciators of the performing arts makes me both proud and privileged to do the work I do daily.

 How do you hope to make a difference in your students’ lives?

I am fortunate in being able to see my students grow musically from the time they are three years old through when they leave me as fifth graders. My hope is my students leave me with a strong appreciation for the performing arts and a possible thirst to learn more at the middle and high school levels. I hope when my students eventually become parents, aunts, or uncles, they are musical and tuneful to their own children or their nieces and nephews.

 What’s the most important lesson you try to teach your students?

I want my students to understand that the act of creating music can be filled with so many different emotions and feelings. I want my students to know creating and learning about music can be fun, challenging, rewarding, and even silly. Most importantly, I want my students to be open to all forms of music. Just as we make music as a community of musicians from all walks of life and all varieties of skill levels, we embrace one another as a valued member of our ensemble, and we learn from one another’s creations. There is value in all forms of music if we are open to listening to what the music has to say.


Florida
Michael Fraley
Don Estridge High Tech MS
Boca Raton, Florida
Total Years teaching: 36

  What is your proudest moment as a band director?

I’ve had many proud moments big and small, but perhaps my proudest is when I had the opportunity to commission Robert Sheldon to compose “Iberian Escapades” which corresponded with the history of Boca Raton, Florida. Iberian Escapades was inspired by the resort architecture of Addison Mizner, whose Mediterranean-style estates launched a “Florida Renaissance” and inspired architects across North America. Mizner identified each of his Boca Raton villas with Spanish names and Sheldon wrote the three-movement piece to correspond with the architecture.

We had the premiere at the new high school, and it was the first big performance in the new facility. Robert came in for the premiere and it was a magnificent concert and experience for the students and community. BTW the piece is incredible and if you don’t have it, I highly recommend it!

How do you hope to make a difference in your students’ lives?

I want them to love art, culture, and music. I want them to grow into future lovers and supporters of the arts who can in turn provide an immeasurable return on the quality of their lives.

What’s the most important lesson you try to teach your students? 

I have an “old school” philosophy that includes hard work and perseverance. My students know I care about them, but I don’t accept half efforts and hollow excuses. Once they understand and develop a strong work ethic, a world of endless possibilities opens to them. I also try to instill “to whom much is given much is expected” we all have responsibilities to make the world a better place than we found it.


Georgia
James O. Seda
Southwest Dekalb High School
Decatur, Georgia
Total Years Teaching: 24

 What is your proudest moment as an educator?

I can’t single out one moment as being my proudest, but the act I’m most proud of is the willingness of my former students to return to our band program and give back with their talents, generous donations to the band program, and share with the current students their experiences after high school.

How do you hope to make a difference in your students’ lives?

Like many places, our band is truly like a family. Each child has friends they can trust, adults who truly care for them and build relationships that will last a lifetime. Having such a support system truly makes a difference in many of their lives.

What’s the most important lesson you try to teach your students?

The most important lesson I share with my students is that hard work pays off. We have a band creed that we recite before each performance that begins with the statement “Working Hard is Most Essential…” I want them to embrace the idea that hard work will always pay off. There are no shortcuts to musical, academic, emotional, spiritual success. You must be willing to work for it.


Hawaii
Gregg K. Abe
President Theodore Roosevelt High School
Honolulu, Hawaii
Total Years Teaching: 37

 What is your proudest moment as an educator?

The proudest moment(s) as an educator is seeing my students grow into responsible young adults over the course of four years. To put it into perspective, sometimes it is not about the accolades or awards but guiding the students to develop the necessary skills to survive once they leave high school.

How do you hope to make a difference in your students’ lives? 

I’d like to think that introducing music into their curriculum shapes the way they see and interact with their surroundings. It teaches them discipline, understand different cultures, and most importantly, it makes them feel good about themselves. Music should bring joy to a person’s life.

What is the most important lesson you try to teach your students?

To believe in themselves. It does not matter what seat you are in band or orchestra. It’s about what you can contribute to the success of the group. You don’t have to be the best player; however, you can also contribute in other ways; being a leader or as a mentor and role model to younger students. Teaching music can help build confidence within the student and hopefully develop discipline and self-control.


Idaho
Kristina Phillips
Coeur d’Alene Public Schools
Coeur d’Alene, Idaho
Total Years Teaching: 25

What is your proudest moment as an educator?

My proudest moment as an educator happens yearly, when my combined classes from eleven schools come together to perform as one big group at our regional large group festival. It’s mind-opening for the kids to see how they are a part of something so big and wonderful.

How do you hope to make a difference in your students’ lives?

I hope to instill in my students a lifelong joy in making music, in whatever way they feel called to. (although I selfishly hope it is with a stringed instrument!)

  What’s the most important lesson you try to teach your students?

The most important lesson I try to teach my students is they can do hard things!


Illinois
Katie Samayoa
Palatine High School
Palatine, Illinois
Total Years Teaching: 2 years 

What is your proudest moment as an educator?

My proudest moment as an educator has really been a series of moments. Those moments when my students are willing to lay it all out in performance and let themselves create and communicate something. Even if they don’t completely understand the importance or the magnitude of what they do every time they perform it’s something that brings a great sense of pride for me. If they can put themselves out there and be vulnerable in performance, then I know sensibility and courage can carry over to other parts of their lives.

How do you hope to make a difference in your students’ lives?

Currently I am an assistant band director at Palatine High School and am also the director of the mariachi program. In both the band and mariachi programs I have seen students come through who found a home in the music department. One of the biggest draws to music programs in our schools is the community and family they create. The difference I want to make in my students’ lives is for them to know they belong somewhere.

What’s the most important lesson you try to teach your students?

More than anything I want to make sure my students can walk away from our rehearsals with a sense of autonomy and ownership over their education. In rehearsal they learn how and when to follow and lead. Having that sort of responsibility can have an amazing impact on them. Even if it starts with something as small as counting off a tune on their own, they come to see the ensemble is their own and they take ownership over it. I want to make sure my students know even when I’m not around they’ll be able to continue taking charge of what they are doing in music and everywhere else in their lives.


Indiana
Amanda M. Cornet
Fishers Junior High/ Sand Creek Intermediate
Fishers, Indiana
Total Years Teaching: 30

What is your proudest moment as an educator? 

My proudest moments are times when I see students take leadership of the orchestra. Seeing students organize and work together on music or skills without prompting is one of my most rewarding experiences. It is satisfying to see the “aha” moment when they work together and create music as a group and collaborate on how to improve the performance. 

How do you hope to make a difference in your students’ lives?

As an orchestra director, I hope I instill confidence, develop a sense of community, and offer opportunities for musical exploration in both performance and as audience members. I believe these three things are important for developing musicians and junior high students. I endeavor to develop opportunities for my students to participate in performances for outside community organizations to build relationships not only in the school community but also in the surrounding businesses and neighborhoods. Some of the performances the students have participated in have been entirely student designed and led and I am only the facilitator. That willingness to go out of their comfort zone and build on the idea that music can be the connection between people of different backgrounds and experiences.

What’s the most important lesson you try to teach your students?

The most important lesson I try to instill in my students is we are a team, and all contribute to the success or failure of the final performance equally. Students that realize succeeding together is more rewarding than individual recognition begin to develop a sense of maturity and community. This lesson can lead to success outside the orchestra context and in their other classes and activities.


Iowa
Cliff St. Clair
Sheldon High School
Sheldon, Iowa
Total Years Teaching: 44

What is your proudest moment as an educator?

Recently, the superintendent admonished me to keep teaching as long as possible and numerous students have said, “Do not retire before I graduate!” Those comments have been most humbling, rewarding, and encouraging.

How do you hope to make a difference in your students’ lives?

I want them to know I care about them and want them to be the best versions of themselves as they move through high school and prepare to join the adult world.

What’s the most important lesson you try to teach your students?

Grace, forgiveness, kindness, and speaking the truth in love go a long way to building relationships and help students reach their potential.


Kansas
Joan Grover
Flinthills High School
Rosalia, Kansas
Total Years Teaching: 38

What is your proudest moment as an educator?

My proudest moment as an educator came after my high school band performed at a multi-state competition. My high school students collaborate with me on musical decisions about how we will perform a piece. The decisions are determined by the maturity of the group, but I want all of them to feel like it’s “their” piece of music. One of the judges at this competition commented that we did not sound like a high school teacher and band but rather as a group of musicians coming together to make a “magical musical moment.”   

How do you hope to make a difference in your students’ lives?

A drill sergeant told me all his recruits are great kids; some just haven’t figured it out yet. That’s how I make a difference:  I believe in my students. No one is allowed to say they can’t do something without adding the word “Yet” because with time, effort, and a little help, they actually CAN. 

What’s the most important lesson you try to teach your students?

While I want to teach my students how to love music, more importantly, I want to help them become good human beings. That means we give each other room to grow without instant condemnation for mistakes; we help those who make mistakes to make positive changes; we voice our opinions and learn how to accept that others may disagree; we learn respect for ourselves, each other, and our equipment; and we learn when we work together, we are indomitable.


Kentucky
David Ratliff
Madison Southern High School
Berea, Kentucky
Total Years Teaching: 29

What is your proudest moment as an educator?

My proudest moment as an educator is without question when I get to see a student’s face when they finally achieve something after time spent working on the task at hand. Whether it is an individual playing a particular tricky passage in concert band or a member of the marching band finally achieving a tricky spot in the show, seeing their personal pride after their hard work pays off is extremely rewarding as an educator.

How do you hope to make a difference in your students’ lives?

I grew up in Eastern Kentucky in the Appalachian Mountains in a tiny school with a tiny band program. As I transitioned into college, I learned early on that a teacher can make sure a huge impact on student achievement and ultimate success. I strive to be the teacher each day that I would have wanted to have teaching me back when I was younger. Students today need great role models not only musically but also personally. I try my best to help kids become the best version of themselves they can be, not only musically but equally importantly, as human beings.

What’s the most important lesson you try to teach your students?

I think one of the very best parts of music as a form of education is how students can learn so many different things through participation. Teamwork, inclusion, work ethic, perseverance and how to be detail oriented are all skills that can transcend music into the regular life of students who participate in music. I try to share much more than just music to my students every day.


Louisiana
Donny D. Alexander
Zachary High School
Zachary, Louisiana
Total Years Teaching: 23

What is your proudest moment as an educator?

I know it is somewhat selfish but having both of my daughters in our band program has been my proudest moment as an educator. They were both allowed to make their own choice to be in band or not, and it’s been one of the greatest pleasures in my life to see them come to the band hall every day and wanting to stay after rehearsal because their people are there.

How do you hope to make a difference in your students’ lives?

My hope is to give our students the same happiness, excitement, and peace I felt about band. The band hall was the first place I went when I arrived at school, and I couldn’t wait to get back there during the day and after school. The hope is that we’ve provided structure, unique opportunities, and a culture which allows our students to feel seen, safe, and loved.

What’s the most important lesson you try to teach your students?

It’s not what you do the day of, but what you do the 100 days before that determine your success. Every day we want to arrive with a positive attitude and prepared to give 1000% effort to make something better than the day before. And most of all, we must really enjoy what we do every day we’re together.


Maine
Kyle Smith
Westbrook, High School
Westbrook, Maine
Total Years Teaching: 21

 What is your proudest moment as an educator?

My most rewarding moments are when I see students take my teaching seriously and do their best to honor their families by giving back to others through their work in music. I am very proud to see students perform at a very high level but be humble and have a servant heart to help lift others. I am proud of many students who have become teachers, but always remember I am not in the business of creating band directors. I am in the business of helping young people grow into leaders of tomorrow, whatever their role in life. 

I am also very proud to work in a band town called Westbrook, and to have been able to lead the Westbrook Wind Ensemble at the NAFME All Eastern Convention in 201  Having 300 music educators give you a standing ovation (part way through the concert) was a very special moment.

How do you hope to make a difference in your students’ lives?

My hope is to show students that investing in the lives of others is the greatest reward. Through this I hope to help students understand their personal self-worth as they were created, not in the trappings and accolades of this time, but in their journey. 

I hope I can help students understand they will need to work hard to be successful, and they need to fail repeatedly before they succeed. That is normal and is the way it is supposed to be. Through the process of hard work, failure, and continued hard work I hope we have not prepared the road ahead for them, we have prepared them for the road they are going to travel.

What’s the most important lesson you try to teach your students?

Learning and relationships with people are the end goal. We do this through music. It is not about the destination, rather, it is about the journey. When doing so, work hard, be humble, and lift others. In the end it is all about relationships with people and about the music. Music will allow them to collaborate with other people in their lives – and that connection is the end goal. It’s not about the end point or the trophy or the performance. It is about the people, the music – for the sake of relationships and making music. Also, please PLAY WITH A GOOD TONE:-)


Maryland
Tiffany Walker
Wilde Lake Middle School
Columbia, Maryland
Total Years Teaching: 5

What is your proudest moment as an educator?

One of my proudest moments as an educator was the final cutoff of the spring 2023 band concert. I started my journey at Wilde Lake Middle School in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic and those very students who were once black boxes in my living room became well-developed 8th grade musicians, ready for their next musical adventure right before my very eyes. My heart beamed with pride as, together, we overcame the many obstacles of a changing world while creating meaningful memories we will cherish for the rest of our lives.

How do you hope to make a difference in your students’ lives?

I aspire to ignite a passion for music in my students which goes beyond the notes on a page. I will empower young musicians through advocacy, representation, leadership opportunities, and multiple pathways to success. Through music, I hope to instill qualities such as discipline, perseverance, and love for continuous learning in my students, ultimately shaping, not just skilled musicians, but well-rounded individuals ready to face the world with confidence.

What’s the most important lesson you try to teach your students?

The most crucial lesson I offer my students is the importance of embracing diversity, equity, and inclusion. Music is a language that transverses all cultures and identities, offering an opportunity for all of us to share in everyone’s unique brand of humanness. It’s not just about understanding differences; it’s about celebrating them without hesitation. Recognizing the unique perspectives and experiences everyone brings to the table enriches the learning environment and fosters a sense of belonging for everyone.


Massachusetts
Julienne Thornell
Hanover Middle School
Hanover, Massachusetts
Total Years Teaching: 27

What is your proudest moment as an educator?

I’ll never forget when our program abruptly ended in March 2020 due to the pandemic. When we finally had the opportunity to restart the instrumental music program in the Fall of 2021, I was very proud of the students who joined me on the journey to bring music back. It was more than just a chance to perform, it was an opportunity to connect and support each other through music. As an educator, my greatest source of pride comes from witnessing transformative moments in the classroom where students are learning who they are and discovering their potential. Additionally, performing at Boston’s State House and The Lincoln Memorial in D.C. are also wonderful memories, and the pride those students felt made each occasion special.

How do you hope to make a difference in your students’ lives?

I provide opportunities for them to be successful while also having fun in music. To be successful, students need to feel supported and accepted to develop as musicians and connect with their peers. Band is a team; everyone has a position to play, and no one is left on the sidelines. My focus at this level is not about trying to create professional musicians or music teachers (which is still wonderful, of course), it’s about developing musical skills alongside life skills, such as responsibility, collaboration, creativity, patience, time management, and perseverance. I hope students will remember what music has meant to them, what connections they made beyond the page, and the sense of accomplishment and pride when they achieved their goals through hard work and collaboration.

What’s the most important lesson you try to teach your students?

“It’s not hard, it’s just new.” When beginners encounter difficulties in playing new notes or learning more complex rhythms, they often don’t know how to manage frustration and uncertainty. To help them understand the process, I have them look back at where they started in the band method book and play a few of their first exercises, or if it’s an older group, revisit a piece of music they learned the previous year. As they play these with precision and confidence, students are often astonished at how “easy” it is for them now. This realization leads to a discussion about how they used to think something was too “hard” to play. Our mindset determines our approach and outcome. Something might not be playable just yet, but we can develop a plan to work it out. Whether it’s music or another area, I hope they learn if they stay engaged and keep a positive mindset, they can overcome challenges and achieve success not only in music but also in other areas of their lives.


Michigan
Rebecca Kilgore
East Rockford Middle School
Rockford, Michigan
Total Years Teaching: 26

What is your proudest moment as an educator? 

My proudest moment as an educator was fitting my two daughters for their band instruments and having them in band sixth through eighth grade. Being able to share amazing concerts and band literature with my daughters has been unbelievable. To see the look on their face during a concert is amazing. I was able to share unique experiences with both girls with the ERMS Bands. Madison participated in a Beginning Band Clinic I co-presented at the Michigan Music Conference in 2018. Elizabeth will perform in a demonstration clinic I will present at The Midwest Clinic this December. I am blessed to work with great students every day, but it is truly amazing to see your own daughters grow through music.

How do you hope to make a difference in your students’ lives?

Middle school is an awkward time for most kids, and it certainly was for me. Band provided a place where I felt confident and belonged. I want to provide an environment for my students where they can belong, feel safe and be silly awkward kids while making music together. I find joy in the kids hanging out in the morning, coming in to practice at lunch, and signing up for after school band club. I hope they remember the silly stories we made up about the music and crazy Christmas loving teacher who made making music together fun/exciting.

What is the most important lesson you try to teach your students?

Playing a musical instrument requires patience, practice, and hard work. I hope to instill in students that hard work overtime is VERY rewarding and pays off many times over. We often work on hard music for two-three months and make progress each day. The reward of an AMAZING concert after daily hard work is a great lesson. The beginners learn one note at a time and master each new note. They work so hard to play their favorite song and earn each band karate belt. There is no greater feeling to share with your students when their face lights up and you see them “get it.”


Minnesota
Jeff Sands
Minnesota State Community and Technical College
Fergus Falls, Minnesota
Total Years Teaching: 12

What is your proudest moment as an educator?

Helping students overcome their self-doubt and achieve things they thought were impossible are my proudest moments. Being a part of this type of transformation is not only academically gratifying but also resonates deeply on a personal level. Knowing this type of experience for students can transform their lives is extremely satisfying. These instances are also energizing for me to continue working harder to be a better educator.

How do you hope to make a difference in your students’ lives?

I hope I can help them achieve their goals and instill a sense of self confidence, positivity, perseverance, and generosity. Learning a scale or memorizing facts and dates isn’t what matters most in music – it’s self-discipline and other things not in the curriculum which set our students on a path of success.

What is the most important lesson you try to teach your students?

The most important lesson I try to teach students is to take ownership over their lives and education. Don’t wait around waiting for things to just happen for you – you must go and make them happen. Don’t be afraid to work hard. It’s OK to ask for help and always show gratitude to those who have helped you.


Mississippi
Lowell Hollinger
Jackson State University
Jackson, Mississippi
Total Years Teaching: 17

 What is your proudest moment as an educator?

Commencement day by far!!! Seeing my students walk across that stage after four or five years of hard work is the proudest moment for me as an educator. It is at that moment I feel I have accomplished my charge to them and their parents. There is a running joke with my students that I will not accept their friendship on Facebook until they have graduated. So, while at commencement when they pass by the wind ensemble after walking across the stage, they all look at me and say, “waiting on that friendship acceptance.” We laugh and then I start accepting the friendship requests of those students who have walked across the stage. It has become such a big thing that even students who transfer to other universities will message me pictures on Facebook of them walking across the stage at their school so I will accept their friendship request.

How do you hope to make a difference in your students’ lives?

I always hope I am making a difference musically, specifically for the future band directors and music teachers, but my student population is about 85—90% non-majors. Since that is the case, ultimately, I hope I am providing them with life lessons. Lessons they can use no matter what direction their career paths or lives take them. 

What’s the most important lesson you try to teach your students?

That they are coming to this institution to get a degree in some area but NOT band because band is not a major at this institution!!! I am always saying band can be the reason you came to this University, but it CANNOT be the only reason you are here, or you will not be here long.


Missouri
Shane Fuller
Liberty North High School
Liberty, Missouri
Total Years Teaching: 31

What is your proudest moment as an educator?

My high school bands performed at the Missouri Music Educators Conference four times throughout my career. It was a special experience getting to share my fine students with the entire State.

How do you hope to make a difference in your students’ lives?

I strive to be a constant source of encouragement to my students and colleagues. I hope their daily experience in band helps them to have a positive outlook on life.

What’s the most important lesson you try to teach your students?

I hope to have shown them that a happy and successful life or career is largely about building positive relationships.


Montana
Lisa Sundquist
Great Falls High School
Great Falls, Montana
Total Years Teaching: 15

What is your proudest moment as an educator?

I’ve had so many proud moments in my career. One moment that stands out was from my time teaching choir. I had an enthusiastic young lady who loved to sing but had a LOT of work to do. She came to my choir as a junior in high school and worked her tail off. She prepared for solo festival that year and did ‘okay.’  Her senior year rolls around and she once again prepares for solo festival, and she worked hard enough for her solo to advance to the State level. I was just so happy she would get to experience State with her peers, but I was also realistic in my expectations for her final score given her level of experience. One of the few moments I’ve ever really fought tears in front of my students was that moment, following the state solo festival, when I got read the ratings to my bus full of students and I got to her name – with ‘superior’ next to it. Truly, good things come to those who work for them, and I was immensely proud of her in that moment.

How do you hope to make a difference in your students’ lives?

I hope to make a difference in little ways. I may not create some monumental change for everyone, but I can certainly make every child feel wanted and appreciated. Giving someone a sense of belonging is a gift in itself. I also hope – in a much bigger way – to help them become the finest musicians they can possibly be. I strive to show them the benefit of working hard and holding themselves to the highest possible standards.

What’s the most important lesson you try to teach your students?

The most important lesson I try to teach my students is to be the most excellent versions of themselves they can be, both musically and as members of society. My hope is this lesson carries them gracefully into adulthood and leads them to success beyond high school.


Nebraska
Leah Purdy
North Platte High School
North Platte, Nebraska
Total Years Teaching: 24

What is your proudest moment as an educator?

I feel like my proudest moments happen not in big, public moments, but rather in quiet everyday moments.  The moment when the lightbulb goes off, they finally master a tough section in a difficult piece, or when I see them growing and maturing as human beings.  Also, hearing from students I taught 5, 10 or 15 years ago as they recount their memories of what this space did for them is something that keeps me coming back year after year.

How do you hope to make a difference in your students’ lives?

While students are in high school, I always hope to provide them with a safe space to be themselves.  I want them to feel comfortable in my room, no matter what is going on, what challenges they are facing, and to know I am ready to meet them wherever they are both musically and emotionally.  I want them to know they have an adult in their corner who will help them if they need it and have high expectations for their behavior and work ethic.  I want them to know they will have a cheerleader in me for the four years they are with me and for the rest of their lives.  More than anything, kids need a place to feel accepted, safe, and loved in their school.  Music is just the vehicle that brings them together.  That is what I want to provide for them.

What’s the most important lesson you try to teach your students?

When my students graduate, I want them to know they matter.  I want them to believe in themselves.  And, of course, I want them to have learned and developed as musicians, and now know music is something they can participate in their entire lives.  But more than that, music provides opportunities for students to experience successes that translate into every area of their lives.  I want them to understand the direct correlation between their hard work and success and to believe they can do anything they set their mind to doing.  I want them to leave this school ready and excited to take on the world with love, compassion, and enthusiasm!


Nevada
Jennifer Lowry
Del Webb Middle School
Henderson, Navada
Total Years Teaching: 17

 What is your proudest moment as an educator?

 I love watching the “a-ha!” moment. I love seeing their eyes when it finally “clicks.” I get so proud of the students, whether in rehearsal or in a performance, when they all lock in. As soon as we are done (and not on stage) the students are so excited about what just happened they can’t wait to recreate it. Another of my proudest moments was when we performed at the National ACDA Conference in 2019 and we got to perform in front of my mentors, the reason I became a music teacher. 

How do you hope to make a difference in your students’ lives?

I love teaching middle school. The students are willing to still be kids while they are trying so desperately to find themselves. I hope the students know how much I care about each one of them. They know they are supported, and I want what is best for them. I received a letter recently from a previous student (over a decade ago) who said now he realizes everything I was trying to instill in him, and the rest of his peers. I’m not sure he realizes how much that meant to me, especially after all these years. 

What’s the most important lesson you try to teach your students?

I try to teach the students to be kind and know my classroom is a safe place. When they leave my room, it doesn’t matter what their differences are, we are a community, we take care of each other. The other thing I’m working on now is helping students realize they are allowed to make mistakes. Students are so afraid to not be perfect, that often they will not try until they completely understand a concept. I want them to know it’s okay to try. It’s okay to fail. It’s not okay to give up or never even start.


New Hampshire
Andrea von Oeyen
Oyster River Middle and High School
Durham, New Hampshire
Total Years Teaching: 18

  What is your proudest moment as an educator?

This is hard to answer! There are so many! I have a unique job, where I direct a string orchestra program and teach the students for 8 years straight, from when they’re in 5th grade until they graduate high school. I think my proudest moments as an educator come when I can see my students grow not just as musicians, but as people throughout those eight years. I feel the most pride when I get to see music help students cope with the pressures of the modern age and become resilient adults through our close-knit orchestra community. I don’t see anything more important than allowing students to grow into people who can push forward through hard things and do so with kindness and empathy.

How do you hope to make a difference in your students’ lives?

I’m very into the idea of teaching mindfulness alongside music. I hear from many of my graduates while they’re in college or even after that they loved orchestra class, but the thing they really took with them after high school was the way I taught them awareness, mindfulness, to be deliberate in their choices, and how to deal with tough situations. Not every student of ours will become a professional musician, and I don’t think that is the measure of a great program. Our job as teachers (of any subject) is to send students out into the world ready to tackle life and ready to listen and try to understand others. We hope they have a passion or love for what we teach them subject wise, but the most important thing is that they are empathetic, contributors to whatever community they end up in!

What’s the most important lesson you try to teach your students?

This falls in line with everything I’ve said above. Orchestra (and band and choir!) is a place where students can practice working alongside those who come from varying backgrounds, cultures, demographics, and socioeconomic statuses. It is a place where those who are from various walks of life can work together and create something beautiful, despite their differences. I tell them a music ensemble is just a microcosm of the community they will end up in. I instill that in our orchestra community, we respect everyone even if their o7pinions and backgrounds are different than ours. We are kind and we attempt to be empathetic when we don’t understand. I tell them that in life, in any job, in any community, they will need to do all of this. And that in any community, the ability to listen to one another and work together despite our differences is a lesson that is learned in orchestra and applied in life!


New Jersey
Adam Freeman
Hackettstown High School
Hackettstown, New Jersey
Total Years Teaching: 18

What is your proudest moment as an educator?

It’s difficult to pick just one, as two moments stand out. My first concert after the pandemic (Spring 2021) was very special to me. As a band we had just gone through such a difficult time between virtual learning, split classes, and hybrid teaching. When we announced we were finally going to have a concert, I made participation in the concert and after school rehearsals optional. Every single one of my students still showed up to play in the concert, which was very touching to see how much they wanted to be there. In 2022, my wife and I welcomed our first child and shortly before our spring concert I contracted COVID. In both cases, I missed significant time in my classroom. As a result, my students stepped up and ran their own rehearsals. When I returned, the concert turned out better than I could have imagined because of their commitment to pulling off a great performance. I was so proud in both those moments.

How do you hope to make a difference in students’ lives? 

I hope to give them the tools they need to tackle life’s hardest challenges. I let them know it’s okay for them to take risks and attempt new things. It’s also important to me that I give them experiences that are unique and meaningful. When they enter the professional world, I hope they feel comfortable enough and equipped to take risks on meaningful experiences. One of the things I sometimes say to them is “the meaning of life is to give life meaning.” I hope they always use that mantra.

What is the most important lesson you try to teach your students?

You don’t need a leadership title to lead or do the right thing. My students help create a strong culture built on leading, listening, and helping each other equally. Sometimes you lead, sometimes you listen, but you always help one another. We might not always get along, but everyone respects each other and belongs in our “family”.


New Mexico
Tyler North
Sandia High School
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Total Years Teaching:  23

What is your proudest moment as an educator?

I honestly cannot select a single proudest moment, so I’ll simply state I am very blessed to continually witness my students grow through overcoming musical challenges in my classroom, in performance and beyond. While COVID has altered the nature and trajectory of our journey a bit, seeing my students develop and persevere as we rebuild has given me much to celebrate.

How do you hope to make a difference in your students’ lives?

I hope my students move on from the Sandia band program with love and understanding of music as well as fond memories – performance and otherwise. During their time in the program, I hope to provide my students with experience in overcoming challenges, fostering teamwork and camaraderie, accepting personal responsibility, and succeeding in the creation of meaningful musical moments for themselves and their audiences.

What’s the most important lesson you try to teach your students?

Something I tell my students (probably far too often) is that half of my class is about music, and the other half is about life. If I could impart just one life lesson to my students, it would be the importance of striving to do the best you can in your given circumstances. Anything worth doing is worth doing well, and if my students go forth into the rest of their lives with that concept in heart, they will make a better world through their chosen work.


New York
Jennifer Edwards
Ichabod Crane High School
Kinderhook, New York
Total Years Teaching: 24

What is your proudest moment as an educator?

I have spent my entire teaching career in the same district in Upstate NY and during this time, I have experienced some great moments of pride ranging from students performing at my wedding to walking into the hospital to have my first child and the head nurse happened to be a former student from my first class. I share a music office with the chorus teacher who was also my most inquisitive sixth grader more than 19 years ago. I am so proud of all my students for choosing music to be a part of their lives and I genuinely look forward to connecting with them when life or music brings us together again. 

How do you hope to make a difference in your students’ lives?

Choosing the right profession is one of the most important decisions in life. When I was the age of my students, I could only picture my life as a music teacher. I grew up in a family of educators and I had fantastic teachers who made a difference in my life. The characteristics I valued in them are now the ones I live by as a teacher. I feel lucky to have found my happy place and I hope to pass on these characteristics to my students during our years together. ~ be kind in words and actions ~ work hard ~ have a sense of humor ~ admit when you make a mistake ~ connect with others.

What is the most important lesson you try to teach your students?

Band teachers wear 50 different hats throughout the year, and many struggle to find a balance between the responsibilities of home and work. The hardest part is when we say yes to one thing then we are taking time away from another. Students start to make more decisions in high school, and they are learning how to navigate schoolwork, extracurricular clubs, friends, jobs, sports, relationships, and college choices. The most important lesson I try to teach my students is you need to have balance in your life and when challenges arise, talk about your worries with a trusted friend or adult.


North Carolina
Tammy R. White
Kiser Middle School
Greensboro, North Carolina
Total Years Teaching: 29 years

What is your proudest moment as an educator?

My proudest moments as an educator stem from creating a culture of excellence to support student success! In a world of instant gratification, encouraging students to pursue excellence is not easy work, but it’s necessary. At the end of the day, I am proud to be a part of a legacy which involves convincing students they can make meaningful music! I beam with pride for the successes of my students. I believe in them!

How do you hope to make a difference in your students’ lives?

I strive to make a difference in the lives of my students by making their experience in band valuable. I am an animated wise-cracking teacher who uses humor to engage, make personal connections, and establish trust among my students. You can have the most captivating lessons on the planet, but it will not work if your students believe you do not care about them. I hope when students leave my classroom, they know I care for them and expect only their best. I want them to know I am available to them, even after they venture to high school and beyond.

What is the most important lesson you try to teach your students?

No excuses… just results…this is a mantra I use daily with my students. Above my classroom door is a sign that reads, “Excellence doesn’t just happen, it is a decision made every day.” In a world filled with disruptions, achieving our goals, and reaching our full potential can often feel like an uphill battle. Teaching students to have a growth mindset can empower them to overcome obstacles when combined with hard work and dedication. I try to impart to my students, that when faced with challenges or setbacks, we can use this as opportunities for growth, learning and improvement.


North Dakota
Jana Schweigert
South Heart Public School
South Heart, North Dakota
Total Years Teaching: 18

What is your proudest moment as an educator?

My proudest moment as an educator is when I see my students working together with students from other schools to create a wonderful musical experience. Each fall my choir joins with choirs from four other schools for a one-day collaborative festival/concert. In the spring, 13 schools in southwest North Dakota join to create one massive marching band of over 300 students to participate in a parade; we stretch almost an entire city block! These events give small schools in our rural corner of the state an opportunity to be a part of something bigger that would perhaps be too daunting for each individual school to undertake.

How do you hope to make a difference in your students’ lives?

I hope to give students a better understanding of the world around them through music. I have had the opportunity to travel with students not only to several cities and states across the United States, but I have also been on music tours with students in Europe. It is amazing to see the growth and change in students when they share music with someone they don’t know, especially when they don’t speak the same language. It gives them a first-hand account of how music is truly a universal language.

What’s the most important lesson you try to teach your students?

The most important lesson I hope to teach my students is music doesn’t have to stop! Beyond high school there are opportunities to participate in music – either in college or community ensembles – or to continue to enjoy and appreciate music on their own. We don’t all have to be professionals, but if we enjoy something we should continue to be a part of it. Through participation, attendance, and support we can keep music going in communities across the country for a long time!


Ohio
Jonathan P. Roode
Eastwood Local Schools
Pemberville, Ohio
Total Years Teaching: 17

What is your proudest moment as an educator?

It is difficult to pick just one moment as my proudest. I’m fortunate in my school district that I teach 5th grade music all the way through high school band. Because of this, I have the distinct privilege of seeing many students through most of their musical education. Graduation is always a proud moment for me. These are students I’ve had for upwards of eight years and have been lucky to see them grow into fine young adults.

On the other end of the spectrum, I also get to start all the beginners. Those first few years are really something else; there’s so much growth and excitement as they’re taking their first few steps. I’m really blessed to have such a unique perspective and interaction with my students.

How do you hope to make a difference in your students’ lives? 

I hope my students have positive memories and great experiences they carry with them for years to come. When I look back at my own musical journey, sure, there are many great and memorable performances. But I remember more of the friends I made and our time together.

I hope through learning music, our students have more life-giving experiences. Through music, they collaboratively create beauty both in their lives, and in the lives of others. By studying music, students have more enrichment, more joy, more understanding, and more compassion, making them stronger and more caring individuals. They learn to recognize, respect, and cherish the inherent good in humankind.

What is the most important lesson you try to teach your students?

We impact students more by who we are rather than by what we know. I hope my students learn skills, so they live their lives with direction, conviction, and purpose. Through persistence and hard work, success is inevitable. Learning music builds character, principles, morals, and discipline that lays a foundation for all their actions.

This is a mindset I hope my students carry with them throughout their lives since it will help them be successful in all their endeavors. This foundation will help them realize their potential and play a powerful role in society as musicians and leaders.


Oklahoma
Michele Contreras
Classen School of Advanced Studies Middle School
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Total Years Teaching:10

What is your proudest moment as an educator? 

My proudest moment as an educator continues to be the experience of collective joy and triumph I share with my students after they create a momentous performance together. The creative journey and personal growth that develops in the process of producing music has the potential to make those performances incredibly impactful. Our performances are amazing opportunities to make music together and celebrate our students and their successes. 

How do you hope to make a difference in your students’ lives? 

Within the orchestra program at Classen SAS Middle School, I hope students will find comradery in a creative place. I hope they discover the importance of perseverance and give themselves the freedom to make mistakes and grow from them. I hope they find the unique qualities within themselves are invaluable, and they can develop lasting confidence as they learn to play an instrument and work together in an ensemble. 

What’s the most important lesson you try to teach your students? 

The most important lesson I try to teach my students is they can use their distinct abilities, predisposition, and circumstances to be leaders. It is so important for people to recognize how their actions affect others. Leaders can be loud or quiet, reserved or outgoing, and more! We each make a difference in our own authentic way.


Oregon
Jeremy Zander
Mountainside High School
Beaverton, Oregon
Total Years Teaching: 19

What is your proudest moment as an educator? 

I am most proud when I hear from former students and learn how their involvement in music has significantly impacted their lives for the better. Some have chosen to pursue music further, but I am just as proud of even those who may not have played their instrument since their final concert. It is gratifying to know they have successfully applied the valuable skills they gained in the pursuit of music to their lives, either personally or professionally. 

How do you hope to make a difference in your students’ lives?

I hope because of their time in my class, students internalize the traits of good teamwork, leadership, and perseverance. I hope they learn how to fail well, learn from their mistakes, and grow. I hope they learn how to forgive themselves for not being perfect, but despite some failings, what they can accomplish is incredible. I hope they learn how their own part (in life as well as music) fits into the greater whole, and how sometimes it is necessary to make small adjustments to make everything come together. I hope they learn how to break monumental tasks into small, manageable chunks. In short, I hope they learn how to accomplish their dreams. 

At the same time, I hope they are equipped to continue with music for the rest of their lives, should they choose to do so!

What’s the most important lesson you try to teach your students?

I’ve noticed, particularly when rehearsing my younger bands, a tendency for students to rush ahead through slow passages of music, eager to get to the fast and exciting parts. In these musical moments, I try to remind my students that while it’s certainly good to look forward and be prepared for what is coming next, it is also important to be present in the moment and to appreciate the good things in the time and place you are in right now. And if things are maybe not so good, one can ask themselves what they can do to improve the situation for themselves and everyone around them. While this can certainly apply to blend, balance, intonation, and phrasing, it is always a special moment when students realize this lesson is about far more than just the music. Rather than constantly looking to the future, take the time to live in the present and thereby make the future even more worthwhile!


Pennsylvania
Samantha Mastrian Leali
Shenango Area Junior/Senior High School
New Castle, Pennsylvania
Total Years Teaching: 21

What is your proudest moment as an educator?

In 2022, our Treble Chamber Singers were selected to perform at the PMEA All-State Conference. Having twenty-two of our students represent our district was a beautiful moment. This performance gave those young women the opportunity of a lifetime and showed them that with hard work and determination you can achieve anything in life. It was a very valuable life lesson for them, and I was beaming with pride as if they were my own children. 

How do you hope to make a difference in your students’ lives? 

I truly hope my students know there is someone who believes in them and their potential both in and out of the classroom. I hope they know as educators we see unlimited potential and simply want them to be the best version of themselves. My support and interest in their achievement does not stop when they graduate. I will always be on the sidelines cheering them on. 

What is the most important lesson you try to teach your students?

Compassion, tolerance, and understanding are the most important values I hope my students will take with them. Every one of us walks a different path in life. Music is the common bond we share and through music we can learn to love and appreciate each other. We can learn to support each other and see the value in each other not only as musicians but as individuals. I always tell them, “I do not care what you achieve, just try your best, and be a good human.”


Rhode Island
Nancy Richardson
Bain Middle School/Cranston High School West
Cranston, Rhode Island
Total Years Teaching: 23

 What is your proudest moment as an educator?

It’s so hard to pick just one!  My students continually inspire me with the creativity and thoughtfulness they bring to the process of rehearsing. If I had to pick ONE though, it would be my chamber orchestra performance at the spring concert. COVID and scheduling conflicts deeply impacted enrollment last year. My chamber students put their hearts into preparing a grade 3 piece they all loved, but earlier in the year, it had been beyond our abilities. The rehearsals were as much fun as the performance of an excellent arrangement by Julie Lyonne Lieberman of the Lebdike Honga. 

  How do you hope to7 make a difference in your students’ lives? 

What I hope to bring to my students is a deep love and satisfaction of the musical process. It is the vehicle through which we learn about ourselves as caring, creative, and capable human beings. I meet my students where they are when they come to me, but I always aim for enough mastery that we can delve into the meaning of music and the intentions of the composers. I was so lucky to have worked with Julie Lyonn Lieberman and Larry Rachleff for many years in a local professional orchestra. His compassion, brilliance and mentoring have continued to inspire me every time I go into my own classroom. 

  What is the most important lesson you try to teach your students?

The most important lesson I try to teach the students is they own their musical journey. Of course, I get students with a variety of interests, abilities, and backgrounds. I stress they are all important to the ensemble and the orchestra community and their work has a direct effect not only on the performance quality, but on the joy and excitement we will experience during the learning process.


South Carolina
Jarvernique Tinsley
AC Flora
Columbia, South Carolina
Total Years Teaching: 2

What is your proudest moment as an educator?

My proudest moment as an educator was when I was able to help my students make a region orchestra. Seeing a student get discouraged, then seeing them overcome is one of the greatest feelings a teacher can have.

How do you hope to make a difference in your students’ lives? 

I hope to make a difference in my students’ lives by creating lifelong musicians. Whether it’s professionally, locally, or just appreciating it will show I have instilled something they cherish as not just music, but a gift. 

What is the most important lesson you try to teach your students?

The most important lesson I try to teach my students is perseverance/confidence. There will be times when they are faced with obstacles and I want to show them if they don’t get discouraged and continue to push through, they can do anything they set their mind to.


South Dakota
Lyn Alberty
West Middle School
Rapid City, South Dakota
Total Years Teaching: 34

What is your proudest moment as an educator?

My proudest moments occur every time I witness a student come out of their “shell” because of band. I teach grades 5-8, so this happens frequently in my classroom. A student who starts band as a shy 5th grader and leaves 8th grade as a self-confident young musician brings me great joy! I think music ensembles provide a great opportunity for students to find a way to express themselves and to become more confident in pursuing their passions.

How do you hope to make a difference in your students’ lives?

I want my students to think of my classroom as a place where it is safe for them to be themselves. I want them to trust I will always be kind and patient with them, even on their worst days.

What’s the most important lesson you try to teach your students?

I try to teach them that when they make a mistake, they need to pick themselves up, find their place, and keep going, whether it’s in band or anywhere else.


Tennessee
Kelley Burroughs
Ocoee Middle School
Cleveland, Tennessee
Total Years Teaching: 26

What is your proudest moment as an educator?

There have been many moments over the years where my students have made me proud, moments where they worked hard and made beautiful music. My proudest moments include our premiere of Celtic Farewell, which we commissioned in memory of the loss of a colleague. The students played with so much emotion. It was a moment I will never forget. I am also proud every time I see my students working in United Sound. I love to see their passion for music and their compassion for other students. It is a joy to see them celebrate someone else’s success. 

How do you hope to make a difference in your students’ lives? 

I hope all my students know they are loved, and they are an important part of a family. I want them to have a rich experience in band that will carry them through the tough times. Through music, I hope they recognize beauty in themselves and in others. 

What is the most important lesson you try to teach your students?

I hope my students will always love music, whether it is continuing to perform or through hearing others perform. I hope they will continue to apply all the “other stuff” we teach: take responsibility, work as a team, know when to step forward and shine, know when to step back and support someone else in their moment to shine.


Texas
Jonathan Cao
Vines High School
Plano, Texas
Total Years Teaching: 13

What is your proudest moment as an educator?

It’s hard to point to any one moment as my proudest, but I feel immense pride when a student recognizes their own growth. So much of the time, I can see the potential in a student long before they can envision their capability. When they can finally realize their goals and grow in their self-confidence, I feel a sense of gratitude to have been able to steward this young person’s journey for a season.

How do you hope to make a difference in your students’ lives?

I hope to make each student feel seen every day they enter our classroom. All of us have an innate desire to be seen, understood, and accepted. When our students come to rehearsal, they bear the weight of adolescence and finding their own understanding of this very complex world. We’re all a little better equipped to get through this life if we know we are seen and loved. For many of our students, band is one of the few places they can feel a sense of belonging – even if just for a moment in their day. The most reserved student can feel a fantastic strength in performing, and the angriest student can soften when confronted with the safety of their peers. Most of my time is spent curating a culture where our students can come as they are and become who they wish to be.

What’s the most important lesson you try to teach your students?

I hope to shift each student’s worldview. I want to challenge the way they see themselves and how they fit into the world around them. While we are learning lessons of intonation, balance, and technical precision, I constantly draw them to look up at the community they inhabit. Each of them has a voice that is unique and beautiful, and their perspective makes the world around them a better place. I hope I can instill in them a sense of duty to truly share their hearts with those they meet along their journey.


Utah
Kirsten Candland
Sunrise Ridge Intermediate, Desert Hills Middle, Desert Hills High
Saint George, Utah
Total Years Teaching: 31

What is your proudest moment as an educator?

Every baton cut-off at the end of a performance when students have smiles to share. Those are my proudest moments.

How do you hope to make a difference in your students’ lives?

I hope my students know that their music is lifelong and can make a difference in their lives daily, and that difference continues into the lives of everyone else with whom they connect.

What’s the most important lesson you try to teach your students?

The discipline they gain through music carries to every other aspect of their lives.


Vermont
Aimee Bushey
South Burlington High School/Frederick H. Tuttle Middle School
South Burlington, Vermont
Total Years Teaching: 27

What is your proudest moment as an educator?   

My proudest moment was recently when I stopped to look around at how many of my former students are now my colleagues and to know how many former students are currently making music in some capacity- whether it’s as their profession or as a vital part of their life. I am so blessed to work with professionals who were once high school music students- some of them are now math teachers, others are theater teachers, and a few are music teachers- whatever their current discipline is, it’s truly amazing to know I had the privilege of being a small part of their journey and that journey has brought them back to the place where they began. I am also amazed at how many former students are continuing to sing in community ensembles of all types, who participate in their local theater groups, and who make vocal music a priority in their lives. I am blessed beyond measure. 

How do you hope to make a difference in your students’ lives? 

I try to program music that is relatable for them in the hopes it sparks discussion about the world around them as well as all musical aspects; I try to create a space where every student can know they are seen and they have a voice and they know they belong; I do my best to inspire my students to be courageous and remember that being musical takes hard work, long hours, and dedication. I hope my students will gain enough skill, curiosity, and love for music they are able to continue to be musical throughout their lives in any way that makes them happiest, and they are able to share that love, enthusiasm, and curiosity with those whom they love; and I hope they find the best of themselves in that process. 

What’s the most important lesson you try to teach your students? 

I really try to remind my students each day that they are important, they have a lot to offer, they can do hard things, and music can be transformative in many ways. I try to remind them that being a good person is most important and really the best way to become a musician. I always remind them that learning to be musical can be hard but if you persevere, it can be the most rewarding part of your life.


Virginia
Kathleen Schiafone
Kempsville High School
Virginia Beach, Virginia
Total Years Teaching: 22 

What is your proudest moment as an educator?  

When my treble choir learned the gift of giving music. The treble choir performed medleys from each decade at the local hospital. Some of the selections the students did not care for until a lady in her 50’s asked us to sing “Let Me Call You Sweetheart” for her parents in the hospital room down the hallway. Her father had sung this song to her mother every year on their anniversary. The mother, who was lying on the hospital bed, opened her eyes and smiled with delight at the first moment of hearing her husband and the choir sing the song. The students truly learned it wasn’t about the song, it was the gift of giving music.

How do you hope to make a difference in your students’ lives? 

By teaching students to have fun learning, to think critically, and to choose to do the right thing even when no one is looking.

What’s the most important lesson you try to teach your students?

Besides learning how to read music, is to maintain a life-long love of music.


Washington
Megan Shultz
Glacier Middle School
Buckley, Washington
Total Years Teaching: 5

  What is your proudest moment as an educator?

One day I was out sick, and my substitute’s schedule was mixed up. For ten minutes my kids were in there by themselves, and when my assistant principal realized they were alone and came running into my classroom, he found my kids sitting, focused, and conducting their own rehearsal. I am continuously proud of my students every day, but it was an extra special moment when I realized their intrinsic motivation and passion for playing superseded any need for adult authority or direction. 

  How do you hope to make a difference in your students’ lives?

Above all else, I hope students leave my class feeling loved, valued, and proud to be part of something greater than themselves. Whether they go on to play in a professional orchestra or only spend their middle school years in a band setting, I want to instill in my kids a deep sense of belonging and purpose.

What’s the most important lesson you try to teach your students?

Whatever you do, give it 100% of your effort and passion! Whether we are playing one note or a full 9-minute piece, I try to always encourage my students to be fully engaged, fully present, and put their heart into it. I have a student this year who told me, “When I step into this band room, I feel like I come alive and become invincible!” I hope when they leave my classroom and enter their future careers, relationships, and adult lives, they never lose their passion to work hard for the things they love.


West Virginia
Joshua Chiado
Taylor County Middle School
Grafton, WV
Total Years Teaching: 10

What is your proudest moment as an educator?

My current job is my dream job, as corny and cliché as it may sound. When I took over the Band Director position in January 2019, I walked into a disastrous and dying program. A school of over 700 students had roughly 50 students in band between four grade levels. The band morale was low, and the remaining students were ready to quit. I grew the program to over 100 students in one year and now have over 130. Due to their growing success, the band has gained the respect and admiration of the students, teachers, administrators, and community members.

How do you hope to make a difference in your students’ life?

Taylor County is a very small, rural county. Many of my students come from broken homes and an extremely rough life. Our band and choir programs are heavily family oriented. Most of the band and choir students call me “dad” and my wife (choir director) “mom.” I have built a trusting relationship with my students over the years, and I consider each of them my “adopted kids.” I want nothing but the best for them, in music and in life. I want them to carry this sense of family and community as they move on with their lives.

What’s the most important lesson you try to teach your students?

I want my students to grow up to be decent, moral human beings. Through music, I teach them passion, emotion, life, discipline, how to deal with struggles, and many more lessons. I’m not expecting my students to grow into professional musicians, but I do expect them to grow into decent human beings. Human beings who give back to their community. Human beings who care and have dreams and ambitions. Our community is small and rural, and I want my students to be able to see a need and be part of the solution.


Wisconsin
Jeff Kasparek
Glacial Drumlin Middle School
Cottage Grove Wisconsin
Total Years Teaching: 34

What is your proudest moment as an educator?

While many moments come to mind, such as a good rating in a concert festival, performing for VIPs, or finding that four oboes want to play in jazz band (yes…four oboes in jazz), I think most fondly of the moment when a student makes a breakthrough, and their eyes light up with “I DID IT!” 

How do you hope to make a difference in your students’ lives?

When students struggle outside of our rehearsal spaces, I want them to know our room is safe. Our students are a family and support each other beyond the notes. Our band team works collaboratively from beginning band through high school. We teach students to work together, care for and support each other, and take what they learn with them outside of our rehearsals.

What’s the most important lesson you try to teach your students?

I try to teach students to live without their technology. Watch, listen, feel, and live. Real life exists all around us, and we need to interact with real people every day. In our music classes, we rely on watching, listening, and feeling all the sounds and actions around us to change notes on a sheet of paper into a musical experience. If we can do that, we can live.


Wyoming
Estela Torres Guernsey
Paintbrush Elementary School
Gillette, Wyoming
Total Years Teaching: 6

What is your proudest moment as an educator?

I do not know if I can pinpoint one moment as being my single most proud moment as an educator. I continually experience an abundance of pride whenever I watch my students making music and truly enjoying it. This happens during performances, when the adrenaline has hit them and they are suddenly so excited to perform for their grownups on stage, but also in the creative moments in the classroom where we have created something surprisingly fun or beautiful, often with a lot of student input. There is so much joy and pride in the discovery, creation, and sharing of our music.

How do you hope to make a difference in your students’ lives? 

I hope my students leave my classroom having experienced making music in a collaborative and enjoyable way, but also, they have learned about the music of people who may be different from them. I hope because of being a part of my classroom community, they are empowered to take musical risks in their lives be it joining band or strings at the 5th grade level, deciding to take up guitar later in life, dabbling in electronic music in their spare time, or whatever unique way music speaks to them.

  What is the most important lesson you try to teach your students?

I try to teach my students how empowering making music as a community can be. When we all come together for a common goal, it creates something greater than ourselves. I also think I try hard to teach them the power of hard work, perseverance, and they are loved and valued because of what they innately bring to the table in the classroom.


 

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