Person of the Week
Jo Ellen Yeaple
Music Teacher and Self Esteem Builder
One of my students left the school and still comes back all the time to say, “You cared about me. You saw good in me. You didn’t give up on me.” To be a teacher you have to love children. You can’t just love music. By being sensitive to the children’s needs, teachers will be better learners and won’t keep their student from learning.
1. What led you to the mission of being a music teacher and self-esteem builder?
I find myself humming and singing all the time. In fact, I sing all day! I composed thirty sacred children’s songs and am producing a sacred CD that will soon be available.
I started off as an opera singer. I segued from opera into trying to make the Olympics in white water kayaking. My mother said I was trying to avoid responsibility. 🙂 I took my love of competition, coaching children, and my love of performance and went back to school to get a K-8 certification in choral music.
I became a teacher and I’m very glad because being a music teacher gives me a special relationship with the students. I get to know them from the time they are three and half, all the way until the time they are eleven or twelve years old. They may not remember me personally, but they will remember that they felt good about themselves when it comes to anything musical – whether it is singing or playing an instrument. That’s a good feeling for me to have and being in music makes it fun to be a teacher.
Music is a foreign language so it stretches the student. Music also allows the release of a student’s personal “chi” or energy — their inner self. Music IS a way to express the inner self. Some kids can do this in sports. Others don’t feel comfortable expressing themselves in sports, but they can sing.
Music is a way for kids to express their individuality. Through music I can create consummate performers. Their abilities in music can help with math and logic. In fact, one of the games we play is “Do The Math”. We link math and music symbols and the kids have to track whole notes, half notes, and sixteenth notes. It is marvelous.
2. What does this mission mean to you?
Music is good for the soul. As a music teacher, I’m giving children a piece of themselves that they didn’t even know they had. They can take that piece of music and they can evolve it, broaden it, and unfold it for the rest of their lives. I give them the tools to be able to do that.
You can see all the beautiful pictures on the wall of my classroom and all the instruments. Those are just tools, but there is a musician inside each one of the children. They may not know it. Some of them may never sing in your presence or they may not continue to play an instrument, but they know that they are loved.
Children come back and say, “Hello.” One of my students left the school and still comes back all the time to say, “You cared about me. You saw good in me. You didn’t give up on me.” I was just his music teacher. Isn’t that interesting? What a good feeling.
To be a teacher you have to love children. You HAVE to. You can’t just love music. You must love the children. You have to put the children first. You have to be good at your craft, but also really think about the children. Think, “Is this really age appropriate? Am I building their self-esteem? By asking them to sing, am I embarrassing them in front of other people? Am I sensitive to their needs?” By being sensitive to the children’s needs, teachers will be better learners and won’t keep their student from learning.
I loved my music teacher from high school. We had a big party for him about four years ago. He came and he said, “You know those eight years when all you guys were there, were the best eight years of my life!” It was mutual. We all helped each other.
Now as a teacher, I always feel that I am building self-esteem in the child. That’s my role as a mentor. I see myself building self-esteem whether it is through piano lessons, teaching music in the classroom, teaching in the Sunday school, or coaching.
3. What was your best day being a music teacher and self esteem builder?
One of my best days is when I had a student who was reluctant to sing. He was afraid he could not match pitch. I said, “You sing a note.” He sang a note and I matched him. His little chest popped up because I was able to match his note. It started him singing. This is a strategy that I have used for other children as well. If the kids don’t think they can sing, I’ll say, “Well you sing something and I’ll match you.” So I flip-flopped it and they became the person in control and I was matching them. This is a wonderful even magical experience. This strategy has helped me along the way.
4. What was your worst day being a music teacher and self esteem builder?
My worst day was when I was called into the office and told I needed to address my “lining up skills”. I had the kids lined up inside the music classroom. The other teachers didn’t know we were ready and came a few minutes late. By the time they got there, we had dissolved into laughing, talking, and moving about the room. That’s not right and I knew better. This was a real wake-up call. I had become relaxed about my own rules.
I developed a wonderful management plan. I decided to start lining them up outside the classroom. There was nothing to touch there. We had the “door of silence” as they came out of the room.
At the beginning of the year I played Bach and read stories to them. It was a quiet listening time. By Christmas time, they didn’t need the stories any more. They would just stand quietly and wait for the next teacher.
5. How did you survive your worst day?
I think I have always had the ability to take what is said, credit what has been said, and take the “barb” off the arrow. Otherwise I could have just quit, flown off the handle, been resentful, or spent the rest of the year in a “stew”. But I had this ability to say, “Alright. I see it. I can look at myself as if someone else is looking at me. What did they see? If it looked like chaos, it was chaos.” I also modified some other rules, made logical consequences to these rules, and stuck with them. I had been a little lax and we were having too much fun.
Other teachers have come forward and told me how much they have appreciated the changes I have made. They have complimented me and even come forward to tell me they too have a problem with the same things. One teacher even sent an email to the whole community to say she was working on the same problem and would appreciate support. That was the hardest thing that ever happened. I was humble and made the necessary changes.