Featuring one teacher’s journey as an educator
This is the eleventh in a series of blog posts telling arts teachers’ stories. This series contains a set of questions to provide the opportunity for you to read educators stories and to learn from others.
Shari Tarleton has been teaching music for approximately 21 years in Pennsylvania; Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; and Brunswick, Maine. She began teaching in Brunswick 15 years ago at Coffin Elementary School and 6 years ago she moved to Brunswick Junior High School. Her teaching responsibilities include choral music in 6th, 7th and 8th grade, beginning band and 6th grade general music. There are currently about 185 students who participate in the choral music program at BJH. They also have extra-curricular music theater, show choir and advanced choir. Shari is a Teacher Leader with the first phase of the Maine Arts Assessment Initiative.
What do you like best about being a music educator?
I feel the best thing about being a choral music teacher is the interaction that I have with my students. While there are times when I am the instructor and they are the learners, the final creation is a cooperative endeavor between all of us. And those performances, whether they are in class or in public are incredibly powerful; a blend of technique and emotion and whatever is impacting us at that particular moment. I like to remind my students that one difference between music and athletics is that in music, I am right there with you while an athletic coach is confined to the sidelines.
Tell me what you think are three keys to ANY successful arts ed program?
The first item in a successful arts program I feel is having the culture to support arts education. This happens in the school, in the community and at home. The second item for a successful program is creating a learning environment that supports both the technical aspects of the arts as well as the space for creativity. There needs to be a balance between the two. Finally, clear lines of communication are necessary between teacher/students/parents/administration and community. Culture, balanced curriculum and communication; I feel these are the driving factors in a strong arts education.
What specific way(s) do your assessment practices tie into the success of your program?
Each student owns a piece of the learning process and each student has control over their own learning. Assessment practices support this. When standards are clearly presented and students are aware of the standards, then they work toward achievement. There is no timeline for this. We work together and we support each other. The learning is not dependent on me as the teacher, but it is owned by the student. I provide skills, knowledge and opportunities that support the learning process, but the student learning is owned by the student.
What have been the benefits in becoming involved in the arts assessment initiative?
I have certainly increased skills and awareness of standards-based assessments. The technology support has been amazing through the initiative. I also very much appreciate the network of teachers in the arts initiative and the collegiality and the professionalism that is shared.
What are you most proud of in your career?
This was very hard for me to answer! I am very proud of all of my students every time they choose to be involved in music. Some of my former students are music educators, theater performers, and “in the spotlight” and many of them continue to sing in church and community groups. I am very proud to see that they have chosen to continue in music.
What gets in the way of being a better teacher or doing a better job as a teacher?
My current frustration is schedule. There are so many ways to teach and provide opportunities, but when the students are not able to be present for instruction or the instruction cannot be offered in an optimal way, then learning suffers and adds a layer that is out of my control.
Apple or PC?
Apple at school but PC at home!
What have you accomplished through hard work and determination that might otherwise appear at first glance to be due to “luck” or circumstances?
Vocal instruction! I am a piano player with an instrumental background. I need to work very hard to learn how to guide students, especially middle school students, through the skills of singing!
Look into your crystal ball: what advice would you give to teachers?
Be flexible. Do as much as you can with what you have. Keep up with the technology. And don’t lose the enjoyment.
If you were given a $500,000.00 to do with whatever you please, what would it be?
I would put in a performance area so my students would not have to perform in the gym. Or take a long vacation to somewhere warm!
Thank you Shari for sharing your story!