Nancy E. Ditmer, professor and department chair at the College of Wooster in Ohio, assumed the office of 2012–2014 president of the National Association of Music Education (NAfME) on June 18.
Ditmer served as the Association’s North Central Division President (2002–2004), as president of the Ohio Music Education Association (1996–1998), and as editor of the Triad (1991-93).
A nationally known clinician and music educator, Ditmer was designated a 2008 Lowell Mason and received the 2006 Distinguished Service Award from the Ohio Music Education Association, among other honors during her career.
Prior to her appointment at the College of Wooster in 1984, Ditmer taught in the public schools in Arcanum and Versailles, Ohio. She is also the founder and director of the Wooster Music Camp, a summer program for middle and high school instrumental music students.
She was asked to discuss her teaching career and to lay out her Association road map for the next two years.
You have been president-elect for nearly two years. Was there anything that surprised you about leading on the national level?
I am not sure if this was truly a surprise, but I have been overwhelmed with offers of support from people from all corners of our profession. Some, of course, have come from friends and colleagues, but many are from people who I don’t know well or have never met. I have felt a tremendous outpouring of understanding for the level of work that needs to be done, gratitude for my willingness to serve, and offers for assistance.
A number of issues will come your way during your term as president, but is there a particular area or areas you plan to focus on? Areas that you believe will demand attention?
There are three major issues that come to mind as I think about this question. The first is teacher evaluation and its potential impact on music educators throughout the country. Our association quickly produced a position statement when new initiatives started to surface, but there is much yet to be done as we work diligently toward a system in which music teachers are evaluated using appropriate criteria.
Another major area of work will happen in the development of a new version of arts standards. This process is already happening under the capable leadership of our current president, Scott C. Shuler, who I have asked to continue in this role through the next two years. As Scott and his colleagues work to develop these standards, it is important for us to seek funding sources to support the development and eventual dissemination of the new materials.
The third item is that of exploring creative and innovative ways of delivering high quality professional development for all categories of membership. Engaging music educators and collegiate members in meaningful experiences and activities should strengthen the national organization and our state affiliates, hopefully leading to increased membership numbers and a higher level of participation and engagement among all members.
Can you discuss your early teaching career?
I started my teaching career in the small community of Arcanum, Ohio, where the music program was highly respected and strongly supported by everyone. Two of the four administrators had been music educators, so it was utopian in terms of scheduling and financial support. I started in the middle school, teaching band, choir, and general music in grades 6-8 and later moved to the high school where I taught beginning band as well as high school concert, marching, and jazz bands. After eight years in Arcanum, I spent one year in the Versailles (OH) schools teaching band in grades 5-12 before leaving for graduate school at The University of Iowa.
During those early years of teaching, I was surrounded by supportive teachers, administrators, and community members and had wonderful students who inspired me every day to be the best teacher I could be. I also spent a great deal of time with band directors from nearby schools, many of whom served as mentors and in the process grew to be lifelong friends. I became involved in the Ohio Music Education Association very early in my career by volunteering as a local host for middle school solo and ensemble events and being elected secretary-treasurer for OMEA District 11.
Upon leaving graduate school at Iowa, I was hired by The College of Wooster to teach marching and symphonic bands, jazz ensemble, and music education courses, and to supervise student teachers. After 28 years, my responsibilities have changed and evolved somewhat, but I still enjoy working with talented, intelligent, and dedicated students whose energy, enthusiasm, and humor have kept me reasonably young for so many years.
What has being a band director taught you about you about music education? About life in general?
One of the most important things I’ve learned in the course of my career is that whether we teach band, choir, orchestra, guitar, general music, theory, composition, or any other aspect of music, we are all music educators who need to work together to provide the best possible musical experiences for all students. I find it disturbing when teachers compartmentalize themselves and think only of their sub-discipline within music. Particularly during these difficult times when the arts seem to be under attack from every corner, we must think more broadly about our roles. Instead of protecting our own “turf” as band directors, for example, we need to support each other and encourage students in their musical pursuits no matter what form that might take for them.
I was told by one of my professors in undergraduate school that we are not music teachers, but rather that we teach children and young adults through music. I have thought about that comment throughout my career and have come to understand that she was exactly right. In my earlier years of teaching, I was primarily concerned about the upcoming performance or what rating we might receive at a competition or whether we would win a particular marching band contest.
As I have watched students cope with such life-changing experiences as the loss of loved ones, a troubling medical diagnosis, or personal involvement in automobile accidents, I have grown to understand that everything we do must be kept in perspective. While I still care deeply about those upcoming performances and I work hard to prepare my ensembles at the highest possible level, I understand that the human beings in the group are also experiencing life outside of our rehearsals and that sometimes rehearsals or performances are not the most important thing in their lives.
Perhaps the most essential lesson I have learned from my work with bands over the past 39 years is that life happens in spite of the perceived importance of an upcoming performance; it is important to understand that students’ priorities are not always the same as ours and that is okay. Making music together can also have tremendous healing power, and that is a message that I try to get across to my students at every rehearsal. Sometimes leaving life’s troubles at the door and creating beautiful music can be a very cleansing and renewing experience.
Read Part II of the interview with Nancy E. Ditmer
Roz Fehr, Managing Editor for News, June 12, 2012. © National Association for Music Education (nafme.org)