Checking In with Eastman Student Teachers: Part Two

By John Fatuzzo

For Eastman students studying Music Education, the student teaching semester is more trying than any other. A new schedule, daily travel, hours of lesson planning and many more practicing piano, conducting, and secondary instruments, are only some of the typical challenges student teachers face every day. But most agree that it is also the most rewarding: watching students progress and improve, and learning about one’s own teaching style, are invaluable experiences.

Last month, I had the opportunity to talk with Stephen Canistracci ’15 about his student teaching experience at Burger Middle School in Henrietta. Again, I’ve spoken with two current Eastman student teachers who are busy teaching every day: Daniel Stenziano and Abigail Arnold.

Dan is a saxophonist from Wayland, New York studying Applied Music and Music Education. His first student teaching placement was at School #58 of the Rochester City School District. Though his placement was intended to be elementary school band, he also taught general music at the middle and high school levels.

Abi is a bassoonist from Elmhurst, Illinois, and is also studying Applied Music and Music Education. Abi’s first student teaching placement was at School #12 of the Rochester City School District, where she taught general music to students in grades 2 through 4 and band for students in grades 4 through 6.

John: What have been the biggest rewards and challenges of student teaching so far?

Dan: The biggest reward has been having the opportunity to get kids inspired and excited about playing music. That is something that is very important to me. The biggest challenge was teaching high school general music. There was no curriculum in place, so I had to make it up as I went along. It was very difficult for me to try to find and create teaching material that I felt would be engaging and meaningful for high school kids in that particular setting.

Abigail: Teaching kids in an inner city setting is definitely a challenge. In this environment there tends to be a good portion of kids with IEPs (learning, emotional, or physical disabilities), and it is difficult to cater to everyone needs. I spent my first couple weeks learning which kids I could push when it came to playing and practicing, and which kids would completely shut down at even the smallest amount of constructive criticism. There were times where I would have kids refuse to play just because they didn’t have the time or the circumstances to practice at home, and didn’t want to struggle through their lesson. That being said, I couldn’t have asked for a better placement. I left school every day feeling exhausted and emotionally drained, but getting a “See you tomorrow, Ms. Arnold!” from the kids on their way to catch their buses made it all completely worth it. I was creating relationships with my students.

Abigail also noted that, because School #12 itself was under construction, the school was temporarily located to the old Jefferson High School building. She mentioned teaching lessons in small rooms and having to teach band in the old weight room as being significant challenges caused by the move.

John: Could you share a particular story of an exciting (or humorous) teaching moment and/or a difficult situation you dealt with successfully?

Dan: I made the mistake of telling a group of fifth-grade clarinetists that something they played was “hip’. Apparently they found it hilarious. For the rest of my time there my name was Mr. Hip.

John: What aspects of your Eastman Music Education training have prepared you best for “real life teaching?”

Dan: Learning in depth about the way people learn music has been very helpful to me and has shaped the way I approach music teaching. The central focus of the Music Education program at Eastman is that kids should be doing things like singing, moving their bodies, and playing by ear before they learn how to read notation. I find that using this general idea to guide me in my teaching has worked very well in real life applications.

Abigail: Before we went out to teach, Dr. Grunow told us we would learn more in our first week of student teaching than we had in our entire Eastman careers thus far. He was right. Nothing can quite prepare you for being in front of a band full of sixty fifth graders including trombonists blasting in the back, clarinetists poking each other with their instruments, and percussionists – well – being percussionists. That being said, the music education department here at Eastman gave me such a strong background in musicianship skills and how to teach those skills that I felt confident in what I was saying and teaching. This confidence could be seen and felt by my students, which made dealing with the things that can’t possibly be taught in a classroom (kids crying, discipline issues, dealing with 11-year-old boys) that much easier.

John: What are some aspects or challenges of student teaching that you were not anticipating or surprised by?

Dan: I was not anticipating having such major problems with classroom management. Disciplining people is not something that comes easily to me so I had to really think about why I was having these issues and how I could shift my general approach to improve the situation. I found that the key to classroom management is developing personal relationships with your students. If there is a sense of mutual trust between the teacher and students, there will be far fewer discipline problems.

Abigail: When you decide to go into a profession like teaching, very rarely do you think about everything that has to go on before you actually teach. I found the most difficult thing about student teaching not to be the actual teaching, but to be dealing with all the administrative things that affect your program. There are so many state, county, district, and school regulations that you have to fit into your lesson plan. Juggling all these things, in addition to classroom and student management, is the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to do.

John: Do you have any big projects or events coming up?

Dan: I’m very excited to be conducting three high school and middle school bands for a concert on December 17 at my current placement, School of the Arts.

Abigail: I am currently at Churchville-Chili Senior High School for my secondary placement, which has a concert coming up in a few weeks on which I am conducting. In addition to that, I am recording my teaching for edTPA, a portfolio that all student teachers need to put together in order to receive teaching certification. There are also three written tests in addition to edTPA that I have scheduled to take in January.