Helping Students Identify Beauty in the World, and in Themselves

Helping Students Identify Beauty in the World, and in Themselves:
Music Educator Award™ Finalist Darren McCoy

Melissa Salguero was named the 2018 Music Educator Award honoree.

Nominate a teacher by March 15, 2018. 
Applications due by March 31, 2018.

The GRAMMY Museum Foundation and the Recording Academy have chosen 10 finalists for the 2018 Music Educator Award. Eight of the finalists are NAfME members as was last year’s winner, Keith Hancock of Tesoro High School in Rancho Santa Margarita, CA. Teachers are encouraged to apply for the 2019 award by March 31 by visiting Participating in the application process makes you part of our overall music education advocacy movement so teachers, apply this and every year.

NAfME member Darren McCoy has spent the past nine years as choral director at Oak Harbor High School on Whidbey Island in Oak Harbor, Washington. During this time, Darren has taught Show Choirs, Chamber Choir, advanced choirs, and implemented unauditioned men’s and women’s choirs. He has been named as one of the 10 finalists for the 2018 Music Educator Award™.


What inspired you to become a music teacher?

I think I’m a teacher because of the teachers I had. They fostered honor, integrity, and initiative and a sense that music opens many doors. They taught that music doesn’t have to be defended in relationship to other subjects. Because they showed me that it is truly more rewarding to give than to receive, I decided I wanted to dedicate my life to sharing that with my own community.

What goals do you establish for the music program at your school?

It’s simple. I want them to love music their whole life. All kinds of music. And if they don’t love some music, they should be able to say why in an intelligent manner. The goal is to give them an aesthetic education and help them learn to identify both what’s beautiful in the world and in themselves. If they understand that goal, they will show it by participating in events that benefit the Oak Harbor community. They’ll perform for veterans, retirees, other schools, and professional clubs around town.

Photo courtesy of Darren McCoy


What role do you believe your NAfME membership has had in the professional development aspects of your career?

NAfME helps promote high standards for all areas of music through advocacy and other means. And then it provides resources for getting to those standards and best practices. Whether those resources are for teaching and inspiring your students, or holding yourself accountable to the same expectations for continued improvement, it’s nice to know that there is an organization connecting likeminded people. NAfME helps focus my curriculum, my academic year, and inspires me to keep learning. 

“[Teaching music] needs to be a combination of loving music, seeing what music does for your community, caring about your students, and pacing yourself for the long term.”

What would you say to students interested in studying music education?

Go into music for the right reasons. It needs to be a combination of loving music, seeing what music does for your community, caring about your students, and pacing yourself for the long term. Beyond that, branch out. My best advice comes from my experience as an actor. “Anger is ALWAYS a second-tier emotion.” To adequately address those situations, focus on the first tier which caused the issue. Stay in touch with the students and their expectations. Reality – expectations = happiness. Delegate to others only the things you cannot stand to be wrong. Learn to trust people but cover your bases. Treat secretaries and janitors like they run the school. And finally, all music comes from somewhere and goes somewhere, just like the students in your class. Be sure to treat them like you will know them for 50 years because you might.

Darren McCoy
Photo courtesy of Darren McCoy


What role do you believe music education plays in the overall learning experience of students?

Music is a science, a type of math, a team activity, and a study in world language, history, and much more. It improves attendance, SAT scores, and builds self-esteem and the ability to plan for long-term goals. But it should not be considered important just because it helps students do better in other classes. It is its own subject and worth studying in its own right. Music surrounds our everyday life, and every student should receive a basic level of music education. From there, they should be able to access instrumental and vocal programs as part of a basic education that is part of a curriculum they can take during a regular school day. That may be difficult for some schools to provide but it is a goal worth working towards.

For more information on the GRAMMY Music Educator AwardTM process – and to enter your name for consideration in the 2019 competition – please visit Nominate a teacher by March 15, 2018. Applications due by March 31, 2018.

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Elizabeth Baker, Social Media Coordinator and Copywriter. February 15, 2018. © National Association for Music Education (