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Another Arts Teacher’s Story: Dianne Fenlason

April 5, 2016

MALI Teacher Leader series

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This is the fifth 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 64 posted to date.

20160324_142730Dianne Fenlason currently teaches middle school bands, grades 6-8, at Spruce Mountain Middle School. In addition, she teaches the following at Spruce Mountain High School: piano, guitar classes, contemporary vocal ensemble, a rock history perspective and performance class called Rock of Ages. She has taught a variety of other music electives over her 28 year career. Dianne has been at Spruce Mountain, formerly Jay Public Schools, since 1995.

What do you like best about being a music educator?

The best part of my job is working with my students and seeing them progress through the years that I work with them. I used to work with grades 4-12 students and to see the transformation of these students is awesome.

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

For me the keys to a successful arts education include providing an opportunity to any student, creating a challenge for all students and establishing a rapport with each student. I also believe working with students beyond the classroom can greatly impact the success of your program within your school. Seeing students in another setting outside my class and them seeing me as well has benefits to building respect for one another and in a word, is fun.

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

I have always felt assessment has been crucial for student progress and I had been doing instrumental performance assessment since I began in 1988. At first I used assessment simply to have an opportunity to hear high school students individually and try to provide them with feedback. Today I use assessment similarly but also incorporate a specific scaffolding of expected skill outcomes as well as a tool for students to self assess and track their own progress.

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

My involvement with the arts assessment initiative has provided validation that what I had been doing was on point and it has made me focus my instruction on the specific outcomes I feel are important for all students.

What are you most proud of in your career?

The proudest moments in my career all revolve around student success. I once had a senior trumpet player perform the National Anthem standing on the pitcher’s mound at a state baseball playoff game. Whether taking students to adjudicated festivals, or instituting new and different ensembles or performing music that students may perceive as unattainable and having them realize group and individual success, is something that keeps me teaching year after year. Also seeing students pursue or participate in music beyond high school provides an undeniable sense of pride knowing that what you do and have done has made a lasting impact on their lives.

IMG_0173What gets in the way of being a better teacher or doing a better job as a teacher?

All professions have hurdles but I have never felt I couldn’t improve or do a better job. There is always someone who does it better and if I can learn from them and it helps my instruction with students than I am willing to do that. The educational field has undoubtedly become more difficult since I began and it has meant doing things differently and working harder to maintain the same expectations I have always had. Social and economic changes as well have greatly impacted students lives but I will always stand by the adage that students will meet whatever bar you set, so why not keep the bar high.

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

I would have to say that my “luck” is that I continue to enjoy what I do. There is a quote that describes what we do that says something like “art is hard work masked by fun.” As visual and performing arts educators we not only teach students but also administrators and communities that the arts are not a frill but a necessity. This agenda never happens by luck but only from hard work, commitment and a belief that arts truly enrich our lives. I have told myself that when what I do is no longer fun, then I am done.

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

If I were to give advice to any teacher I would say make sure you love what you do and be willing to sacrifice for others while maintaining a balance for yourself at the same time. Teaching can often times commandeer much of our energy but it is important that we find a sense of accomplishment in what we do and find ways that refill our tank when we feel we have given everything we have.

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

If I were given $500, 000 I would build a performance venue and become the house manager. There are not nearly enough large theaters or concert halls in the state of Maine. Augusta, our state capital, does not have a performance hall to draw people to the area. I would try to use the hall to provide performances for local schools and community groups to attend shows as well as perform in the local facility. If we can encourage performance attendance early in young people than I believe they will be patrons of the arts later in their lives.

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

At age 10 I knew I was going to be a music teacher. I never wavered in that decision, so if I live to be 94, I will look back with no regrets. I don’t believe in “if only.” I was once asked why I continued to teach at my school and I replied by saying, “it is where I am supposed to be for now.” I am blessed to have worked with many wonderful students and excellent educators and colleagues over my career. In the end, I will have given all that I was capable of and if I made a positive impact on one student or colleague than my time was not wasted. I feel confident that I have made an impact on some and to me that is most rewarding.

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