Another Arts Teacher’s Story: Bonnie Atkinson

May 8, 2013

This is the 30th 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.

Screen shot 2013-05-05 at 9.39.47 PMBonnie Atkinson has been teaching Grades 3-12 Instrumental Music in the Machias School System for 6 years.  She began teaching K-12 Music in 1998 at Lubec Consolidated School, then moved to the Machias School System in 2000 as the K-12 Choral Music Director and Elementary General Music Specialist. She had a brief stint as an adjunct teacher at the University of Maine Machias for piano and woodwind students, then left teaching from 2003 – 2007 to start a family. Currently in Machias, she works with 300 students a week in a variety of general music classes, lessons and group rehearsals.

What do you like best about being an music educator?

I enjoyed all of the training that I received at the College of St. Rose in Albany, NY and the University of Maine in Orono. The process of learning all of the instrumental and vocal pedagogy and participating in such high-quality performing ensembles enriched my life through my late teens and early twenties.

I love being a music teacher for the deep connections that my students make with other students and with me. I love the ownership that my students have of their ensembles and the enrichment that the music program brings to the little coastal town we live in.

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

  1. Documenting success (on bulletin boards, in newspapers, any where you can!)
  2. A teacher that loves with their job.
  3. An atmosphere of safety, excitement, exploration and creativity.

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

Assessment gets my finger on the pulse of what each and every student can do and where they need to go next. In my Instrumental Music program, having students responsible for their own weekly assignment recordings on Noteshare has turned the tables on who is doing the data collection portion of assessment and has them practicing and improving far greater than any other technique I have found.

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

The commitment to the Maine Arts Assessment Initiative has been a wonderful experience.  Because of the workshop I was to present, I found that I could not give up because something was different or hard to do in my classroom or because I was busy with lots of other things. I stretched my wings on using recording technology in my classroom that I learned about during the Summer Session of MAAI. My students and I are reaping the benefits of it.

Professionally, I received 3 credits from Endicott College for my participation in MAAI and writing a reflection paper on that experience.

Personally, the camaraderie and collaborative spirit among the Teacher Leaders is refreshing, enlightening and a group of like-minded colleagues willing to support others.

What are you most proud of in your career?

I am very proud that I followed my heart to teach in Washington County. I have lived in the Machias area for 19 years and I, like most teachers reading this have had many students connect to school through music that really, really needed it. They have come to master their instrument and it makes them shine. My prideful moments come in small bits: a student that finally is able to find that perfect balance of playing in a quartet with confidence, a student opening that “school” trumpet that looks a little beat up to me but looks like gold to them, a rehearsal near to concert time when I can just go sit in the bleachers and listen to my Grades 5/6 Band play through a song without me. So far, I am most proud that I feel like every year “is the best one yet!”

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

I love challenge and I especially love change. I think this helps me to “keep my eye on the prize.” Time, finances, scheduling – all of that are obstacles that all teachers are facing, but I honestly cannot name one thing that is getting in my way right now of being a better teacher. I am still hungry to learn and attend workshops, read professional journals, take courses, check out Music Teacher blogs and advice forums and continue to grow. I have 2 incredibly supportive Principals in the Elementary and High Schools I teach in, as well as amazingly helpful and supportive colleagues in both schools.

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

The growth of my performing groups takes a lot of individual contacts with kids and parents, especially those beginning instrumentalists. This takes a large amount of extra energy for phone calling and emailing, but is well worth it. I think that most parents feel comfortable bringing concerns (and praise!) my way because the pathway has already been established.  Making a habit of touching base with 1 or 2 a day (which takes just minutes) over the years I have been teaching has made a huge impact on my program.

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

Keep a nice  journal on your desk or in your school bag. Write a few  things in it each day that you are grateful for that happened or something funny that a student said. You will notice the little nice things each day more than you ever had before. When a fourth grade trombone student said to me that he enjoyed the Solo & Ensemble night because his mom let him eat 2 pumpkin frosted whoopie cushions at intermission, I nearly came undone. I could not wait to run to my leather-bound journal during lunch to write it down!

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

My first thought would be to go out and buy a Lamborghini because I have always wanted one since I was 3 years old. However, because this is an Arts Education blog, my obvious second choice would be to do my very best to begin to provide a second music room for our school.  Both I and the Choral Director share one Music Room, she on a cart for Elementary General Music while I have Band rehearsals and large-group lessons and I searching for an empty room for small instrument lessons while she has Chorus rehearsals. I have this perfect vision of a general music classroom full of Orff instruments and a wall-mounted LCD projector and surround-sound speakers and space to move, move, move!  The impact this would have on our already strong music program would be astounding!

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

Making music with kids?  Billions of smiles and zillions of breaths being taken by past students and poured into their instruments for one wonderful common cause: making a joyful noise!  Not a single regret.

 Thank you Bonnie for telling your story!


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