The Work of Culturally Responsive Teaching
Constance L. McKoy Reflects on Passion and the Process
By Lisa Ferber
This article first appeared in the April 2019 issue of Teaching Music magazine.
“People who want to teach in a culturally responsive way must constantly seek to do it.”
“According to my mother, I could sing before I could talk,” says Connie McKoy, professor of music education and director of undergraduate studies in music at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. The Fayetteville, North Carolina, native started exploring music by playing her great aunt’s piano. “When I was eight, I expressed the desire to learn piano, and my mother got me a piano and I started studying,” says McKoy. Her classroom-teacher mother encouraged her, too. “When my mother started teaching, classroom teachers were expected to provide music to their students, so she taught me a lot.”
While McKoy was at Oberlin, a friend marched her over to the conservatory and she got a teacher. “I thought, ‘If I’m good enough to get a teacher, maybe this teacher would help me audition for the conservatory,’” notes McKoy. “I kind of wanted to be the next Patricia Shehan Campbell or Luvenia A. George. Their work focused on teaching music of world cultures.”
Culturally Responsive Teaching focuses on how culture influences how people learn. McKoy currently teaches courses in general music methods and multicultural issues in music education; she makes a point to talk with teachers about looking at their students as people who have musical information, and getting to know these students musically so they can take this information and use it in their own teaching. “Ask what students’ musical goals are and what they want to do with music,” says McKoy. “Some children want to be able to play and sing in their communities or take their experiences and share them in their classroom.”
McKoy agrees with Paolo Freire who, in his book Pedagogy of the Oppressed, spoke of our “banking system” approach to teaching where educators “pour” knowledge into students as though they have no information unless we give it to them; instead, we should “mine” students for the information they already possess. “If people are thinking about teaching music, they should consider what it is they have a passion about in relation to music,” remarks McKoy. “And it has to involve working with people. Culturally Responsive Teaching is not something where someone can take a workshop on and say, ‘I know this.’ It is a disposition, and there are strategies you can apply. The book Vicki Lind and I wrote, Culturally Responsive Teaching in Music Education, has a lot of strategies. So, I would suggest people attend workshops, but they must understand this is not something you get a certification in; it’s ongoing, and people who want to teach in a culturally responsive way must constantly seek to do it.”
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