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Another Arts Teacher’s Story: Virgil Bozeman

March 21, 2016

MALI Teacher Leader series

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This is the third blog post of the Maine Arts Leadership Initiative (MALI) Phase 5  Teacher Leader stories. This series contains a set of questions so you can learn a little bit about the work they are doing as Maine arts educators. CLICK HERE for more information on MALI. CLICK HERE for more information on the 73 of the MALI Teacher Leaders. CLICK HERE for Arts education resources. Search in the “search archives” box on the bottom right side of this post for past stories. There have been 62 posted to date.

Screen Shot 2016-03-21 at 5.23.50 PMVirgil Bozeman IV has been teaching at Richmond Middle/High School for 17 years. He teaches 150 students in grades 6-12 Choral and Classroom Music, the total population grades 6-12 is 270. Virgil has four choruses, grades 6, 7/8, and two high school. In addition he teaches grade 6 and 8 General Music and AP Music Theory.

What do you like best about being an arts educator?

I believe that music educators are in the enviable position of being able to leverage naturally intense student interest to promote critical thinking, demand strong work ethic and introduce students to the incredible depth and breadth of our tradition. It is easier to get students to sing Rachmaninoff than to read Tolstoy.

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

  1. Quality repertoire
  2. Individualized assessment
  3. Quality repertoire

I know this is pithy, but I firmly believe that great music is the best teacher my students will have.

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

Simply put, the better I have become at assessing individual student growth, the more my individual students have grown. I used to think that changing the way I assessed would necessitate a drastic change in my teaching methods. Nothing could be further from the truth.

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

Across the state our music/art/dance/drama colleagues are doing innovative work in the area of student assessment. Many are already involved in MALI, as are a ever-growing number of teaching-artists. It is a tremendously fertile collaborative environment. I can always count on the fact that solutions are already being developed and tested for assessment challenges that I am experiencing in my classroom and ensembles.

What are you most proud of in your career?

I am most proud when graduates from Richmond High School continue be active music makers in college and beyond.

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

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Virgil, center, in deep discussion with colleagues at the MALI summer institute, August 2015.

I am lucky to teach in a supportive small school with a terrific student/teacher ratio that allows me to focus more easily on the individual needs of students. That being said, our small size can sometimes be a barrier, both in limiting the repertoire I can introduce to our students, and working within a schedule that can prevent interested high-school students from being able to enroll in music classes/ensembles throughout their careers.

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

Creating the culture and expectation that our students will have to approach music from styles/cultures/languages that lie far outside their immediate experiences and interests. I used to think it was just “something in the water” in Richmond, but now recognize how important it was to remain true to this vision, even when students occasionally exhibited frustration at not being able to sing enough of “their music”.

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

When I first arrived in Richmond, the school had just cycled through four teachers in a five year span. That turnover had sapped the continuity and morale of the music program. Don’t think that the grass is necessarily greener somewhere else. Most arts educators encounter barriers where they work, be they schedule, budgetary, cultural, or facilities-based. If it feels as though there are too many barriers to building and maintaining a quality program at your school, it just means that there is important work that needs doing, and nobody is better suited to this work than you.

Also, keep searching for opportunities to improve your musical chops. We need to model life-long learning to our students, and they need to see us doing it.

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

Make a lead gift for the construction of a suitable performance space at my school, sock away living expenses to take a sabbatical to finally pursue a DMA in choral conducting.

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

Aside from not knowing how they kept my corpse animated for 20+ years, I will regret knowing that there were students who could have learned so much about themselves through learning how to use their voices, and either they never walked through my classroom door, or I failed to reach them when they did. IMG_0087

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