With more than twenty years of teaching experience, MENC Choral mentor Cindy Harrison is ready to help you with your choral issues. Check out the Choral Discussion forum!
How did you decide to go into music teaching? What was your major influence in making that decision?
Although I grew up heavily involved in music, I was bound and determined not to go into music. I was going to go into art! However, my junior year of high school, two new teachers started at my school – a new art teacher, and a new choir teacher. The choir teacher was incredibly encouraging and supportive; he is the reason that I am still in music more than 30 years later. His influence during a critical time of my life helps me remember how seemingly small acts as a teacher can have a lasting impact on each student.
What one piece of advice would you give teachers new to field, those in college now?
Always have someone you can turn to for advice and guidance. Teaching music can be incredibly rewarding, but it can be equally exhausting. As you enter into your career, stay connected with colleagues and mentors. Things will happen that you feel totally unprepared for.
Develop relationships with your administration and other teachers as quickly as possible, even in the midst of starting a new job. They will be invaluable when it comes to procedures and protocols, which differ from school to school.
Work to stay balanced. Yes – we are passionate about what we do. But you will be a better teacher if you take care of yourself first.
What about those who have been in the field for a while?
My advice to those that have been in the field for a while is to work to stay connected.
As a music teacher, the biggest struggle I have always faced is the feeling of disconnect – with both my colleagues at my school and other music teachers. Being a music teacher requires us to focus a lot of time and energy into building and maintaining a lot of activity!
Never stop learning. Use professional relationships, workshops, and whatever else you can.
Keep raising the bar both for yourself and for your students. Never allow complacency to creep in.
Do you have a favorite grade level to work with?
I really can’t narrow it down to one grade level. I have worked with every grade, from pre-school to graduate level students; each level has its own personality. I just really enjoy working with kids who want to be there, who want to learn, and who are willing to work hard for a goal. It makes my job so much more fun!
Any observations on how has field changed since you started and now?
I think NCLB has really changed the face of every school in the country. There is so much more focus on “teaching to the standards” and accountability, my fear is that we are losing the ability to create and imagine simply because it isn’t measured on a standardized test.
What are your favorite types of music to listen to/play/sing when “off duty” as a teacher?
My husband is really the music-phile of the family. He inherited his father’s LP collection, so when I come home at the end of the day, I might hear The Mills Brothers, Copland, The Beatles, Beethoven, James Taylor, Bette Midler, or Gregorian Chant going. We love it all!
Cindy Harrison has taught music at every level from Kindergarten through Graduate level and has served on the faculty at LaGrange College (Georgia), John Brown University (Arkansas) and at the University of Memphis. She currently directs the vocal music program at Hutchison School in Memphis, Tennessee.
–Sue Rarus, May 5, 2011 © National Association for Music Education