Archive for April 9th, 2013


Another Arts Teacher’s Story: Mari-Jo Hedman

April 9, 2013

This is the 26th 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.

IMG_0096Mari-Jo Hedman has been teaching music since the fall of 1982 after graduating from the University of Southern Maine with a B.S Degree in K-12 Music Education. Mari-Jo is currently teaching K-12 music in the Fort Fairfield School District, MSAD #20.  She has taught in this district for a total of 17 years. She has also taught in Mars Hill, Caribou, and Union #122, which was at the time comprised of Stockholm, New Sweden, Westmanland, and “the other Woodland”.  In MSAD #20, she is responsible for about 300 students K-12 and teaches everything from classroom K-5, beginning 5th grade instrumental and band, 5th grade chorus, 6-8 chorus and 9-12 chorus. Mari-Jo also teaches a piano/percussion class at the high school.

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

I love the fact that I work with grades K-12 because I can really see the growth from the first day of kindergarten right up until the day they graduate from high school, providing they continue with the vocal music program throughout their middle/high careers. I also love seeing kids come in that are struggling with many other classes in school, but they thrive in the music classroom.  That makes my day!

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

  1. There needs to be a well-rounded curriculum that allows for as many musical experiences as possible. For most students, except for the music they hear on the radio or TV, their only musical experiences will take place as part of what I offer in the music classroom, and extend to the musicians that I bring into the school, or the local field trips that we go on.
  2. You need to LOVE what you do so that you can get your students to pick up on that excitement and want to keep coming back for more. You need to get the students turned on to music as soon as you have them in your classroom for the very first time.
  3. You really need keep up with what your students are listening to and try to incorporate some of their musical choices into the curriculum. It helps me to stay excited about what I am doing when I see a student come to me and they can’t wait to show me their newest favorite song that they just can’t live without. They especially love it when I like it enough to buy it and add it to one of my playlists.

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

I am the only “special” in our system that truly does assessments and gives grades like the “regular” classroom teachers. I find that it gives me an opportunity to get to know each and every student’s needs and accomplishments and be able to communicate that to the parents. I think that this has benefited me in regard to justifying that music is essential, especially in these days of budget and job cuts. I also feel that students have a better understanding of what and how they are doing. It also helps students know on what they need to continue working.

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

MAAI has been such a breath of fresh air for me in regard to assessment. Being with so many creative and hard working minds, sharing and receiving great ideas as to how assessment is done, what works and what doesn’t, has been true incentive for me. It has really made me look at what I am doing in my own classroom. I have so many new ideas and have tried some new things in not only elementary classrooms, but up through the middle/high levels as well. I have made strides in the right directions, but still have a long way to go.

What are you most proud of in your career?

I am most proud of students who have continued on in some aspect of music after they leave the halls of Fort Fairfield Middle High School. It is so humbling to realize that you have had enough of an impact on a student that they want to pursue a music career or maybe sing/play in some local music groups. The other thing that I am most proud of is the student that struggles and just keeps at it and at it until he/she finally gets it! I love to see the pride in children’s faces when they overcome that musical “hurdle”.

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

The massive amounts of paper work or details that are constantly added to our plate. It would be great to be able to just focus on 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 have been fortunate to get some grant money that helped to enhance the elementary program by offering new opportunities that otherwise our school district would not have been able to afford. I have a wide variety of percussion equipment for 5th percussion ensembles, ukuleles which I also teach at grade 5 along with enough piano keyboards to use in a group of 30 students if I ever had that many. I still do recorders in grade 3. It doesn’t magically happen. This also requires a solid underlying curriculum in grades K-2 in order to prepare students for being successful in developing the skills and knowledge needed in order to perform on these instruments.

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

As an arts teacher, you always have to have a clear vision of what you want your students to accomplish.  Be creative and think outside of the box when building your curriculum and the musical experiences that you want to offer your students. Be diligent and don’t take “no” for an answer. If you want/need something badly enough, fight the fight to get it and don’t give up.  You will be majorly reward in the end.

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

I would use this as a start up fund for a new performance facility. Currently there is not a place at the elementary school where all grades that I teach, K-5, can be at the same time while including friends and families. This means I have to hold concerts in the high school gymnasium OR split the concerts over a two-night span of K-2 then 3-5. This performance also takes place in the gymnasium. Right now we split the concert into two nights. There is only room for one performing group and the audience. The other groups must wait in their classrooms until it is their turn to perform and we do not have a set-up that allows them to watch ongoing performances. A performance venue such as an auditorium would be a dream!

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

I wish that once I had started teaching in Fort Fairfield I had stayed in that one location. Moving around and coming back to Fort Fairfield 3 times during my teaching career put me at a disadvantage and more importantly, the students were at a big disadvantage. We used to have large performing groups, competitive show choirs and jazz choirs, as well as an active music boosters organization that allowed us to travel as a group every 2-4 years. We went to Boston and Halifax, Nova Scotia for competitions in which we did well. By not staying put in one school system it allowed other teachers to come in that were not competent in the same areas. It truly hurt our extra-curricular groups to the point that we have none of the things listed previously. Consequently it has also hurt our regular concert choir and concert band; we are a fraction of the size that we had in the past. Our school enrollment is so small that I know we will never have the opportunity to get that quality of program to return. Very sad!






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