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 semester, we heard from undergraduate Stephen Canistracci, Abigail Arnold, and Daniel Stenziano about their personal student teaching experiences on the Eastman blog. We pick up this series of blog posts for this semester by checking with a graduate student.
Thomas Corcoran (MM’16), from Boston, Massachusetts, is a second-year graduate student completing his Master’s degree in Music Education. He is currently student teaching with Dr. Adam Foley at Neil Armstrong Elementary School in Gates. Dr. Foley received his BM, MM and PhD degrees from Eastman, and coordinates Theory in Motion, the musicianship program for students in grades 1-6 at the Eastman Community Music School. Thomas and Dr. Foley teach general music to all 450 students in the school, from Pre-K to fifth grade.
In an interview with Thomas, I was able to get a glimpse of the life of an Eastman student teacher, and he was able to reflect on his first few months of living the life of a public school teacher.
What have been the biggest rewards and challenges of student teaching so far?
The biggest reward is developing relationships with students. Nothing makes me happier than seeing (and hearing!) student progress. Comments like “I was singing that song all week” or “I heard a song on the radio that was in minor tonality” always make my day. It’s nice to feel that the work you do affects students’ lives outside the classroom.
The biggest challenge is the schedule. You have to wake up very early, and the days are long and intensive. It is physically and emotionally demanding. I have never been so exhausted in my life!
Could you share a particular story of an exciting or interesting teaching moment or a difficult situation you dealt with successfully?
Some of the most exciting teaching moments have been with my BOCES class, which is a class for students with severe disabilities. It is amazing to see all the meaningful ways they can engage with music. One of my favorite activities has been having them strum a guitar while I play chord changes to a simple song. Some of the rhythms they come up with are really interesting. One week we were playing “Hot Cross Buns” on the guitar, and one particular student played it in a sort of blues style. It was the coolest version of “Hot Cross Buns” I’d ever heard.
Which aspects of your Eastman Music Education training have prepared you best for “real life teaching?”
The music education program at Eastman prepares you for real life teaching through different fieldwork experiences. Prior to student teaching, I had taught general music lessons to all levels (K-12), middle school chorus, and high school chorus in both urban and suburban schools. I had the opportunity to collaborate with many different educators and expose myself to vastly different styles of teaching. These experiences help you to feel comfortable in front of any group of students.
What are some aspects or challenges of student teaching that you were not anticipating or were surprised by?
Discipline. You need to be tough and consistent as a teacher if you really want students to focus and accomplish something. Being the tough guy is hard for me, but I’ve had to learn how to do it.
Do you have any big projects or events such as unit plans, pieces or concerts to conduct, or certification exams coming up?
I am in the midst of completing my edTPA, which is a portfolio assessment for teacher certification. Then I will be starting my job search. Otherwise, I have some chorus concerts coming up at Gates-Chili High School on March 21 and 23.
My high school placement is at Gates-Chili High School with Christine Merkel, who is the choir director. I will teach two different choirs, run group voice lessons, and help to advise an all-male a cappella group as well as a show choir.
Best quote from one of your students so far is…
“Mr. Corcoran, you need a haircut.” – First grader
Any additional information or quotes you’d like to add?
Music teaching is hard work! A great musician does not necessarily make a great teacher. You need to have an understanding of how children learn, as well as strong musical skills.