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Another Teacher’s Story: Kate Smith

February 17, 2015

MAAI Teacher Leader series

This is the first blog post for 2015 on the Phase 4 Maine Arts Assessment Initiative’s (MAAI) Teacher Leaders sharing their arts teachers’ stories. This series contains a set of questions to provide the opportunity for you to learn from and about others.  You can learn more about MAAI at http://mainearts.maine.gov/Pages/Education/MAAI# and learn more about all 61 of the MAAI Teacher Leaders at http://www.maineartsassessment.com/#!teacher-leaders/c1qxk.

Screen Shot 2015-02-16 at 3.58.23 PMKate Smith is an elementary music teacher at Central Elementary School in South Berwick where she teaches 400 students in PreK through third grade. PreK students receive half a year of music, 30 minutes a week. Kindergarten receive 30 minutes a week and First through Third Grade receive 50 minutes a week. Kate also offers second and third grade chorus during January and February for 30 minutes a week. Prior to teaching at Central, Kate was the Music Director at Presentation of Mary Academy, a private all-girl high school in Methuen, MA. Kate received her bachelor’s degree from USM in 1998 and her Master’s in Technology in Education from Lesley University in 2011. Kate is the Outdoor Classroom Coordinator at her school and the 2014 York County Teacher of the Year and the 2015 District 11 VFW Teacher of the Year.

What do you like best about being a music educator?

The joy on the children’s faces each day as they experience music in its many forms.

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

  1.  Highly trained passionate and effective educators.
  2.  A well planned curriculum with meaningful objectives
  3.  Support from the administration, staff and community. Support should come not only in the form of adequate funding but also through parent involvement and authentic opportunities for collaboration and integration with peers. The Arts MUST have a place at the table.

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

Assessments tell me where we are and inform my next destination. Without them I am left to guess (or worse, assume) that students understand and can perform the content. Frequent assessment assures me they still remember or allows me to fill in the gaps. I refer to my favorite form of assessment as “dipstick” assessments, kind of like checking the oil in your car. Quick, easy and essential. Student centered assessment and proficiency based assessment mean the kids know I am with them to the end. I am going to differentiate until I find the right method for their learning style and I am not going to quit until they have met their objectives.

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

There are so many benefits!!! For one, the teacher leaders are like one big family. Everyone is incredibly helpful and supportive. There are many readily available resources through the initiative that take the guess work out of creating authentic, effective assessments. Best of all, it is a “Judgement Free” Zone. Everyone realizes no journey is the same. We have all received vastly different levels of professional development through our individual districts, and that’s okay The point is to move forward from wherever you find yourself through the arts assessment initiative.

What are you most proud of in your career?

My students. My growth as a teacher too. I am constantly learning and willing to take risks.

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

Isolation. We are often the only music, art or drama teacher in our building. It’s really important that we find ways (and time!) to observe each other, collaborate with each other and share resources. Technology can make this possible, but we have to be willing to take risks, step out of our comfort zones and open ourselves to opportunities for powerful collaboration and personal reflection.

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

Relationships and connections. These include community members, parents, staff, local businesses, our education foundation, local musicians, artists and past and present students.

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

Drink water. Eat breakfast. Go for walks. Build a PLC (personal learning community) comprised of exceptional Arts teachers . Read for pleasure. Go on vacations or staycations. Rest. Remember, you need to be at your best for these kids, they deserve it.

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

I would split it three ways-

  1. a donation to our local education foundation
  2. establish after-school Visual and Performing Arts classes, Culinary Arts programs, and Gardening classes for South Berwick residents ages 3-103.
  3. a donation to Copper Cannon Camp, a free fresh air camp for underprivileged children, located in Bethlehem NH.

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

I am a visionary. We don’t look back. My grandparents never stopped making a difference in other people’s lives. Even in their 90s. I intend to follow in their footsteps.

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One comment

  1. Kate, you inspire all of us! Fabulous responses, straight from the heart, on all questions. Sure wish you were teaching at our school.



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