What Did We Learn from the Essays?

Thomas Palmatier • June 2023Perspective • June 11, 2023

In this issue of SBO+ we announce the winners of our student essay contest, with student scholarships and teacher products generously donated by the NAMM Foundation, Adam Audio, Alfred, Casio, Focusrite, Hal Leonard, MakeMusic, and Yamaha. Nearly 1,500 students took the time to tell how their music teacher had made a positive impact on their lives and how that educator stood out compared to other teachers. Essay after essay spoke eloquently and often intimately about the life-changing impact a music teacher had on lives. As you read the essays by the ten winners, keep in mind I could have easily selected 100 or even 1,000 winners, all with compelling stories to tell.

One notable change from past years is the diversity of musical genres represented. In the brief time since we announced the change of SBO to SBO+, we have been embraced by choral, modern band, general music, and musical theater teachers and the essays reflected that. Many members of high school bands, orchestras, or choirs wrote that their elementary general music teachers were the most influential educators in their lives because they had started them on the path of embracing music.

Another thing present in many essays was that their teachers were continually looking for ways to improve their musicianship and teaching methods. Students took notice when a teacher was a lifelong learner and saw that as something to emulate in their own lives.

This spring I had numerous opportunities to adjudicate and give clinics to ensembles of all types who were participating in various festivals and competitions. While our student essayists observed if a teacher was dedicated to self-improvement, the same thing was obvious to me as I evaluated performances. On too many occasions I saw ensembles who were underachieving because of their directors. Graduating with a music education degree will prepare a teacher to (hopefully) survive their first day on the job. From then on to be successful as a teacher, we must constantly find ways to improve and keep learning. Having a successful and experienced teacher as a mentor is a must. Also, take advantage of the many professional development opportunities in the summer. There are conducting workshops at many universities. The two major summer professional development clinics, Conn-Selmer Institute and Yamaha’s Music for All Summer Symposium are now offered virtually as well as in person at a very affordable price. Nearly all state music associations have some type of summer session for directors. Be one of those teachers that students want to emulate – never stop learning!

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