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Another Arts Teacher’s Story: Andrea Wollstadt

February 26, 2013

This is the 20th in a series of blog posts telling arts teacher’s stories. The first 19 were told last year by the phase I Maine Arts Assessment Initiative teacher leaders. The  series continues with the stories from the phase II teacher leaders. These posts contain a set of questions to provide the opportunity for you to read educators stories and to learn from others.

Andreaphoto2Andrea Wollstadt teaches general music to grades K, 4, and 5 and when the schedule allows she conducts a children’s choir. Andrea has been teaching music for 16 years and has taught every grade level- from Kindergarten to college-age students, and every music-education subject: band, chorus and general music. She presently works in the Biddeford School District where she has been teaching for 5 years. Andrea is one of those super teachers who sees approximately 600 students once a week.

What do you like best about being a music/art/drama/dance educator?

I absolutely love helping students discover what they are passionate about in music. Some students are real performers – they love to sing and dance in front of an audience. Other students are much more reserved – they enjoy writing music. I also have students who are very physical–they love drumming and finding the beat through movement. Helping students find that one thing in music they really connect with – that is the reason I teach!

What do you believe are three keys to ANY successful visual and performing arts education?

  1. Flexibility – I believe you have to be flexible. What works in one school may not work in another. You have to look at each school, and the culture of the school, and figure out what will be the best possible program for students.
  2. K-12 collaboration – There needs to be a connection between all music staff K-12. Musically educating students does not stop when they leave your classroom! I think it’s important to look at the entire K-12 program and make sure it all makes sense and works together to create the most effective program. In my current position I am at an extreme disadvantage because I see students in kindergarten, and then not again until 4th grade. I work very hard with the music teachers in grades 1-3 and middle school. We make sure the transition from school to school is seamless. We have similar philosophies, we use similar language, and we have had many discussions on standards.
  3. Personal connection – I believe developing a personal connection with every student is THE most important aspect of teaching for any subject and all grade levels. This task can be quite daunting for arts teachers. I currently see between 550-600 students once a week! I want to get to know my students as much as possible. What kind of music do they like? Are they a fan of Katy Perry or Eminem? Are they more interested in performing, or do they like individual composition projects? It’s so important to get a sense of who they are!

How have you found assessment to be helpful to you in your classroom?

Assessment allows me to take my classes from enrichment to education. If I never assessed my students I would never know where they are in their skills, and then I would not know how or what to teach them. The skill level in any of my classes varies greatly. I need to assess students so I can differentiate my instruction. I can offer more challenging activities for gifted students and easier activities for students who struggle. Assessment also allows me to figure out exactly how to help the students who struggle. If a student is not singing on pitch I need to figure out – are they above or below the pitch? Is this more of an ear-training problem or a vocal problem? OR is this possibly a student who has the ability to sing on pitch but does not demonstrate this ability in class due to shyness? Assessment can help me answer these questions and remedy the problem.

What have been the benefits in becoming involved in the arts assessment initiative?

I think of the assessment initiative as a giant “think-tank.” The biggest benefit to me has been the exposure to new ideas and perspectives from other arts teachers. I love all the creative ideas generated from our meetings and discussions. Even though I am a music teacher I am not really a creative thinker. I am much more of a concrete “black and white” type thinker. I really rely on other teachers for inspiration. The assessment initiative has provided that.

What are you most proud of in your career?

My technology skills. I have to say this–my sister is an audio engineer in Nashville and she would laugh hysterically if she new I was bragging about my technology skills! (I guess it’s all relative.) I am certainly no “techie,” but when I started teaching music I had ZERO skills and ZERO equipment. Over the years I’ve learned how to advocate for the equipment I really need. I have also taken classes and basically pestered people to help me learn what I needed. I am now a self-professed “Garage-Band Queen.”

What gets in the way of being a better teacher or doing a better job as a teacher?

Time, Time, TIME!! There is never enough time with ANY of my students. The once a week classes are never once a week. There are constant interruptions to the schedule and most of the time I’m lucky if I see a class 3 times in a month. There’s never enough time to teach all the things I want/need/should be teaching!

What have you accomplished through hard work and determination that might otherwise appear at first glance to be due to “luck” or circumstances?

I really work hard every year to get to know each and every student. I learn all their names, I learn what kind of music they like, and I try and learn a few things about them. Whenever possible I make connections outside of our music classroom. I attend evening functions like family night, literacy night, etc. I also attend Winterfest, Chalk-on-the-walk, and other Biddeford activities. If I see my students in the grocery store I always walk over to chat for a few minutes.

Look into your crystal ball: what advice would you give to teachers?

Find the joy in the day to day activities and don’t sweat the small stuff. Take the time to stop and chat with kids, really listen to them sing (even if it is a JustinBieber song!) I get great joy when they get excited about musical things. Revel in that joy and look for it in each day.

If you were given a $500,000.00 to do with whatever you please, what would it be?

Easy – build a state of the art music studio on our property next to our house. My husband and I would use the studio for recording and private lessons. We would also use the money to outfit the studio with top of the line instruments.

Imagine you are 94 years old. You’re looking back. Do you have any regrets?

No. My days as an elementary music teacher are never boring. I wouldn’t change a thing!

Thank you Andrea for telling your story!

 

 

 

 

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