New Hampshire Teacher of the Year Discusses the Profession of Music Education

Sandra Howard, NHMEA President-Elect; Michael Butera, NAfME Executive Director and CEO; Heidi Welch, 2012 NH Teacher of the Year;Timothy Russell, NHMEA President

In October, New Hampshire’s Department of Education Commissioner, Virginia Barry announced that a music teacher had been named 2013 New Hampshire Teacher of the Year. Teacher Heidi Welch has served as the director of music at Hillsboro-Deering High School for 16 years. She teaches chorus, A Cappella choir, concert band, and musical theater, and music theory, American history through music, film music, and guitar classes.

She is a member of the National Association for Music Education (NAfME) and the New Hampshire Music Educators Association, a federated state association of NAfME.

Prior to teaching in Hillsboro, she taught elementary general music, chorus and beginner band in Claremont, New Hampshire for more two years.

Welch has also served as the music director for a number of shows, and most recently worked as an actress in New Hampshire with the Not Your Mom’s Musical Theater Company. She received a bachelor of music education from Keene State College, master of education from New England College, and is currently pursuing a doctoral degree in K–12 Educational Leadership from New England College.

Welch joins other recent recipients of each state’s Teacher of the Year award who have made contributions to the education profession. Each will be evaluated by a national selection committee for the National Teacher of the Year (NTOY) program sponsored by the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO).

The next national Teacher of the Year will be announced in April, 2013.

She was chosen as the state teacher for promoting the music education profession in many positive ways including serving as a mentor to pre-service music educators during their practicum and student teaching experiences.

Sandra Howard, president-elect of the New Hampshire Music Educators Association interviewed Welch after her selection.  Howard is assistant professor of music education at

Keene (New Hampshire) State College.

The following transcript, which Howard made available to NAfME, is from a recent interview with Welch, who shares the extraordinary role music education has played in her life as an educator and a musician.

Here Welch discusses about the profession of music education here. She also discusses her career as a music educator.


What should teachers do to strive toward a ‘master teacher’ status?

First, we must have a clear understanding of classroom management, instructional techniques, and our roles as the music educators within our school and community. High school music classrooms across the country are varied. Many are performance-based, where literacy plays a minimal part in the instruction, as the performance is the final product and winning is the ultimate goal.

We as music educators need to understand and make clear to our students that the music classroom is a learning environment as well as a performance or rehearsal space. For the learning to be meaningful for the students, it has to be much more than just singing or playing to performance level.

Secondly, it is also important to become involved outside of your building and community.  Becoming informed, attending state and national conferences, and using a network of teachers outside of your building as well as inside to spur educational conversations goes a long way to encourage, strengthen, and improve ourselves as educators. I have served on the NHMEA board as well as the all-state auditions chair, and I have been the recording secretary for the New Hampshire Band Directors Association for many years.

I have presented at and attended assessment workshops offered by the New Hampshire Department of Education, and have been the chairperson for our district music festival for several years, after having served as the band chairperson. In all of these roles, I have relished the opportunity to build relationships with other teachers across the state and to learn from all of them.

It gives me an opportunity as well to see the variety of concerns that music educators have across the state and beyond and what each is trying to do to combat those issues. We share lessons, information, techniques, fundraiser ideas, and problem-solve current issues we are having in our classrooms, rehearsals, and with education in general.

Thirdly, we must not be afraid of accountability in our profession. I have spent the last year working on a five- teacher team from our school to revise our Professional Evaluation Plan.  This work has afforded me the opportunity to really look at effective evaluation methods that will be able to stem the conversations regarding the protection of less competent teachers, and will instead allow all teachers to reflect, improve, and flourish within the classroom.

The basis for all of this has to be the student. Not gaining feedback from the students frequently means that the teachers are not looking in the mirror. Everything that we do begins and ends with the learner in the seat in the classroom. Lesson and rehearsal plans are designed with those students in mind, and we must—as educators—ask the question frequently of ourselves “What do I expect each student to know and be able to do as a result of this lesson, activity, rehearsal, lab, etc.?” 

As the teacher of extremely mixed groups, which include freshmen through seniors, all at different levels in their own musical education, and having students of all learning styles and abilities, puts me in a precarious position as a music educator. It is my duty to find a way for all students, regardless of ability, to be a part of the musical “family” and in turn they—more often than not—will surprise me with how far they can go.

Incentives and tying teacher pay to student growth is an extremely difficult issue in terms of accountability, however, if I am doing my job as a teacher, I should be incorporating literacy and supporting the other core curricula in my classes as often as possible. Should my evaluation be based on those scores? No, but I should be able to have evidence to support my role in furthering literacy in my classes, whether they are electives or performance-based classes.

Should I be held individually accountable for students’ growth in my classroom, no matter what their starting point is? Of course. Feedback from students, as well as from administration and colleagues, combined with a solid evaluative procedure, such as Charlotte Danielson’s Framework for Teaching, with a connection to student growth will offer a comprehensive view of each teacher in the classroom and eliminate administrative bias as much as possible.


What are some of the most challenging aspects for you in being a teacher?

The most challenging aspects have been learning how to balance a personal and home life with school life. At the beginning of my career, I taught K-5 general music, 5th grade band (at two schools) and 3–5th grade chorus.  In addition, it was a 45-minute commute to a needy district. The kids were great and so much fun to work with – but they were long days.

It was quite difficult balancing a new marriage and a career with very low pay. The balance part can be the most difficult for teachers trying to balance a “musician life” with the life of being a good teacher. Late night performances and practice compete with the needs of the day to day teacher duties of lesson planning, grading, financial records, IEP and 504 reading and input forms, college recommendation letters, etc.

I spent a year doing some professional level theater work a few years ago and that was an extremely difficult balance with a family (including an infant) and a full-time job. I made it work, but it took its toll quickly, and I found that I needed to choose.

I chose my students over all of it without much thought. I realized that I am a teacher first – and that is all that I really want to be. The other challenge for me is that I am the only music teacher in my school. In many ways this is a great thing, though sometimes it would be nice to bounce ideas off a colleague or get feedback from someone in the field.


What is some of the most important advice a mentor gave to you about the teaching profession?

That is a hard question as there have been so many bits of advice over the past 16 years that have informed me as a person as well as a teacher. I think some that I reflect on daily came from Dr. Anthony Maiello, who said to “always say the SECOND thing that comes to your mind instead of the first.”

That piece of advice challenges me to think about what I say every day to my students.  Instead of saying “That was an awful entrance – let’s try that AGAIN,” just say, “Let’s try that again.” In many cases, the students know that the entrance was not correct, so I take a step back and reflect on whether it was a poor cue from me, if I was not clear as to where I was beginning in the piece, etc.  It may be that the students were looking at the clock, talking to their neighbor or simply not paying attention, but we can save time and energy by saying the “second thing.”

Another piece of advice is to learn to say no. This took me years to be able to do and even more years to do without guilt. We work very long hours— (especially if we are the only teachers responsible for an entire program from electives to band and chorus and all that accompanies (pardon the pun) it. It is OKAY to say no to chaperoning the dance. It is OKAY to say no to one more committee. If we said no to the little things more often, less burnout and stress would occur.

The last piece of advice I received was to never just “make up” an answer to a student’s question. It is okay to not recall every trill fingering on flute after this many years, I don’t recall all of them at a beat’s notice – simply tell the student “I will check”, or “Check your trill chart … I want to be sure that I don’t give you the wrong information.”

November 6, 2012. © National Association for Music Education (