Nancy E. Ditmer, professor and department chair at the College of Wooster in Ohio, is 2012–2014 president of the National Association of Music Education (NAfME). She was asked to discuss her teaching career and to lay out her Association roadmap for the next two years and how music educators will deal with issue ranging from teacher assessments to budget cuts.
In part one of an interview about her presidency she discussed her two years as president-elect, and the issues that will take center stage. Here she talks about working with students, why NAfME works with other arts and education groups and what is it like to advocate for music education with legislators on Capitol Hill.
What do you most like about working with students?
I can honestly say that I enjoy everything about working with students, including the challenges that they sometimes create. There have been times during my career when institutional frustrations were significant enough to make me think about leaving, but every time that happened and I thought about my students, I knew that I was in the right place. I am blessed to work with a diverse population of intelligent and energetic students whose humor makes me laugh every single day.
Seeing the success of former students, no matter what career paths they have taken, is extremely rewarding and creates a great sense of pride for me. I have had the opportunity to teach a number of “grandstudents” over the years, and it is such a pleasure to help them achieve even higher levels of musicianship after being initially taught by a former student. One of my former students team teaches with my sister, and hearing from her about what a fine teacher he has become is one of the many experiences that makes teaching such a rewarding profession.
Do you feel it is important for NAfME to work with other arts and arts educations groups? If so, why?
I think it is absolutely critical for all arts and arts education groups to band together (pun intended), especially during these difficult times when the arts are under attack from so many different directions. As mentioned in the answer to a previous question about what I have learned from my experiences as a band director, we are all in this together and the only thing that makes sense is for us to pool our resources, financial and human, and to work together to promote the importance of music and the arts in education and in society.
What are the biggest challenges NAfME and its members face today?
The specific issues are ever changing and include such things as teacher evaluation, cuts in music programs, and lack of funding, but the overall challenge in our society today, in my opinion, is to help people understand that music and the other arts are not superfluous. Unfortunately, this is not a new challenge, but particularly with the rapid development of technology and ever-increasing lack of personal interaction, it seems that the arts are more important than ever and perhaps at the same time, as undervalued as they have ever been.
NAfME members must continue to be diligent professionals and excellent teachers who lead outstanding music programs that provide students the opportunity to learn about music and participate in the creation and performance of a wide variety of musical styles.
For the organization itself, it will be important to cultivate appropriate human and financial resources in a difficult environment. We need to develop and engage young leaders at a time when people in these generations are not as inclined to do volunteer work as those of us in the baby boomer generation. It will also be important to find fiscally sound ways of providing appropriate and desired services for members.
You’ve visited Ohio elected officials in Washington the past few years through NAfME’s Congressional visits. What would you say to a music teacher who perhaps finds it daunting to approach elected officials and speak up for school music programs?
I must admit that the first time I visited a legislator, I was quite nervous and unsure about what I would say or how the visit would go. Music teachers are great advocates and are generally quite knowledgeable and passionate when they talk about the importance of music in the education of children. My advice is to carry that passion into the legislator’s office, be prepared to tell a story or two about your experiences with students, and simply be yourself. It might also help to remember that elected officials work for us, so in essence they are being paid to pay attention to what we have to say!
Is there anything in particular you would like NAfME members to know about you?
I have two cats, Dolce and Scherzo, whose names match perfectly with their personalities. Their unconditional love and the companionship that they provide are more than I ever could have imagined when I adopted them eight years ago. They miss me when I travel, but fortunately they are happy to see me when I return, and they do not try to punish me for being away. Obviously, this will be important in light of my travel schedule over the course of the next two years.
I collect clocks and currently have about 170 scattered throughout my home and office. It did not start out as a collection, but after obtaining a couple of musically themed clocks in the early 1970s, one thing led to another, and now the passing of each hour in my home is celebrated with chimes, cuckoos, bird calls, and a variety of other interesting sounds.
Finally, I have three neighbors who are music educators and members of NAfME, all of whom have promised to keep the lawn mowed, the snow shoveled, and the house looking good when I am away, so to Gary DeVault and Eric & Leanne Ratica, I am grateful for what you will do and now that it has been put in writing and distributed, I am confident that you will follow through on your promises!
I am honored and humbled to have the opportunity to serve my profession in this way and look forward to meeting as many members as possible over the course of this journey.
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.
Read Nancy E. Ditmer’s Biography
Roz Fehr, NAfME Managing Editor for News, June 20, 2012. © National Association for Music Education (NAfME.org)