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  • Writer's picturemartinthomasemo

Why you should put your hand up!

Updated: Jul 16, 2021

6 reflections from 6 years on the MENZA board (Music Education New Zealand Aotearoa)

This article was be published in the June edition of Tune Me In, MENZA's quarterly magazine.

Outside "The Spot", Hermosa Beach, California, USA.

In June 2021, I’ll step off the MENZA board after completing two 3-year terms. I thought it would be a good chance to reflect on my teaching and being on the board. Also it’s a chance to share why I’d advocate for you to put your hand up to get involved in music education outside of your school.

Reflection 1 - You don’t always have to feel qualified

I returned from overseas in 2011 not having taught music Secondary school music above Year 10. I took a fixed term position of three junior classes for a year and took any relief I could. The following year it turned into an acting HOD role and eventually a permanent position. When I began as an acting HOD, I did not feel qualified at all to teach senior music or take over a highly successful choral-focused music program. I made mistakes, took a few risks on what I spent money on, got rid of student desks and over a few years I put my own stamp on the department. Looking back on 7 years at that school, how I responded to the students who were coming through the door (or not!) was important, not if I felt qualified to teach them. I gained perspectives from other MENZA board members and teachers I met through being on the board which informed my practice in the classroom and how to respond to the changing shape of Music education. I began running workshops without any formal qualifications in teacher-training, but it gave me the chance to ‘try before I buy’ and direct me down the path of getting relevant qualifications. Early on at my school, I hosted a Primary music MENZA day, and as a secondary school teacher I was outside of my area of expertise, and initially scared by the level of enthusiasm and movement. I was outside of my comfort zone but the Primary teachers loved it and went away buzzing. I realised that if I hadn’t organised it, it wouldn’t have happened. I didn’t need to be a Primary music specialist to run the day, but I did have to put my hand up to make it happen.

Reflection 2 - Get involved in something outside of your immediate school music department

In a Skype call in 2012 with Gregor Fountain, now principal of Wellington College, he advised me to pick one thing outside of my schoolwork to broaden my skills and knowledge. I chose a local community orchestra, and it helped me connect with other instrumental music teachers in the area. It also helped get me playing Trumpet regularly. Subsequently I expanded that ‘one thing’ to include supporting arts teachers in regional areas, gaining some national contracts and eventually to supporting the work of MENZA. Whilst at times there was a tension between spending time teaching my own students and travelling away for workshops. I saw my trips away as being part of the wider goal of supporting music education across New Zealand. If I hadn’t had support from others being generous with their time and resources when I began teaching, I would have found it a lot harder. If we only stay in our school bubbles, we will all suffer.

Reflection 3 - Keep playing

For some teachers this isn’t something they even think about. For them, to be human is to play music. I have had to be intentional about carving out time, making my projects sustainable and realising that at times I will have too many musical projects. Continuing to play music for me enriches my work and reminds me why I’m passionate about music education. When teaching, I’d consciously share my gigging experiences with students, including co-constructing a setlist for a pub gig with a senior class. Rubbing shoulders with others performing music in the ‘real world’ also kept me connected with their practice. At times, you might not feel that it’s important to keep playing, but I encourage you to find ways to do it regularly. My current workload and bands being on hiatus means that my only music project that is active right now is DJing. However, as the only outlet, it’s given me the opportunity to focus and improve my skills after 21 years of DJing. (Insert pun about being stuck in a groove)

Reflection 4 - You’re always going to be busy, it’s not an excuse

It’s obvious but you’re always going to be busy. You’re a musician and a teacher. There will always be something to do. More meetings to attend, emails to answer, resources to tweak or more practice you could do on your instruments. Those on the MENZA board are volunteers who are teachers just like you. They have families, friends and gardens to tend. I haven’t always got it right with juggling my time but, if I waited until I had spare time, I would never have got involved in things outside of my teaching job.

Reflection 5 - If not now, when?

How will you know when it’s a good time to put your hand up? I realised that if I didn’t put my hand up to get involved in things, I was going to find it hard to learn new skills to use in my teaching practice. I didn’t quite know what exactly I wanted to learn, but I rightly assumed that working alongside other music educators would help me refine the direction to take. I had to be in the room with others, not just sitting in my office wondering why the ventilation was always too hot/too cold. I’ve had great conversations in shared taxis to airports, over dinner and between workshops that have informed my teaching practice. Why wait to get involved? If you’re stuck where to start, ask yourself: Where did I want to be in 5 years’ time? What do I want my teaching to look like? Who might help me get there?

Reflection 6 and conclusion: You never know where your journey will lead...

If you had told me in 2011, that in 10 years, I’d have taught a few thousand kids how to play 3 chords I would have believed you.

I wouldn't have believed you if you said I’d have a Masters, be working on a PHD, have had a free trip to the USA and multiple times to Australia, sit down and eat lunch every day, get to help students and teachers around NZ, be re-writing NCEA Music and have two chapters in a book on classroom music technology projects. What I’m sure of, is that if I didn’t put my hand up to get involved locally and nationally, then most of that wouldn’t have happened quite the way it has, if at all.

Being on the MENZA Board is just one valuable way of getting involved. There are smaller roles out there, including getting your local teachers together, or volunteering in your community or presenting at a conference. Drop me a comment/use the contact page if you need help identifying what you can do.

Stunned, after a week in Los Angeles as a guest educator at Ableton Loop.


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