Five (of The Many) Great Things About My Teaching Job

Jessica Stein is a trumpet player and band teacher at the Haldane Central School District in Cold Spring, NY. Most recently Jessica played in the pit orchestra for Marist College’s production of Anything Goes. Jessica is a founding member of Millennial Brass, a brass ensemble that performs regionally in New York and Connecticut. Additionally, Jessica subs with The Greater Newburgh Symphony Orchestra.

During the summer of 2016, Jessica attended The Aspen Music Festival and School where she performed significant orchestral works alongside some of the countries’ top classical musicians. Jessica has played internationally in Graz, Austria as a member of the American Institute of Musical Studies’ professional festival orchestra. Upon beginning her graduate work in 2014 at SUNY Purchase, Jessica was a finalist in the Purchase College Concerto Competition performing the Arutunian Trumpet Concerto.

Jessica earned her Master’s of Music from SUNY Purchase under the tutelage of Raymond Mase. Additionally, Jessica holds a Bachelor’s of Music with a double major in Trumpet Performance and Music Education from The Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University where she was a recipient of the Sylvia Friedberg Nachlas Endowment Scholarship.

I have never spoken so openly about being a public school band teacher. I just started my job in September 2017, and I’ve been pretty quiet about it. As a professional musician, at first, I felt that having a teaching job was something to be ashamed of. However, in the past six months, I’ve realized that couldn’t be further from the truth. I think it’s time for me to speak out about how fantastic my job is. So without further ado, here are five (of the many) great things about my teaching job. 

1. I practice more efficiently

I have much less free time these days. Not only do I spend my days at school, but most evenings I devote to lesson planning. However, my limited free time has resulted in more focused and goal-oriented practice sessions. I’ve adopted a weekly “assignment log” for myself that I keep throughout the week. I give myself assignments to learn that I check off as I accomplish them throughout the week. Another tool that I use during my practice sessions is a timer. I give myself a set amount of time to achieve a single task. Most days I find that I can accomplish some goals in as little as five minutes, but sometimes things just aren’t going right and then the best thing to do is leave it for another day. By practicing this way, I do not waste my chops or time on one task.

2. I’m a better listener

Not only has my musical ear developed immensely since beginning my teaching job, but my ability to communicate with many different people has also improved. During band rehearsals, my ear is much more sensitive to what is happening. I am much quicker at identifying when a specific instrument section is lost or when students play wrong notes. These skills then translate to my gigs and make me a better musician. When I’m on a gig, I’m listening for intonation much more closely. I’m working to match the players around me. I’m also looking for the conductor’s feedback and working to create better the vision they have in their head because when I’m the conductor that’s precisely what I’m asking of my students.

   I have also improved my ability to communicate with other people. As a teacher I have to I have to balance relationships with my students, their parents, the other music teachers, the rest of the faculty, the custodial staff, and the administrators. At the beginning of this year, I was timid about communicating with all of these people. As the year has gone on, I feel much more comfortable with my communication skills. The new capabilities I’ve developed translate directly to gigs. I’m less shy around other musicians, and I feel more confident in holding a conversation.

3. My students bring me out of my shell

I’m a shy and introverted person by nature. In fact, most people are shocked when they find out that I play the trumpet because it’s such a loud instrument and I’m such a quiet person. The first month of school my voice was so tired from talking all the time, but now I speak louder and with more confidence in my classroom.  

I’ve learned that students need animation and enthusiasm from a teacher. It helps keep them focused, engaged, and excited about the music. I’ve been pushing myself to be more animated when praising my students as well as to be more open to joking around and laughing at my mistakes. I’m more passionate about encouraging my students to give 100% of their effort in my class, and I’m also more open with my students when they are not putting forth as much energy as they are capable of giving.

Opening myself up to my students has improved my musicianship because I’m starting to care just a little bit less about what other people think about me but in the best possible way. I’m slowly shedding my self-consciousness and beginning to embrace my confidence when I play the trumpet at gigs. Don’t let me fool you, I’m still always working on this every single day, but being in the classroom with my students has helped me take the first few baby steps.

4. Change is slow and that’s ok

I’m working on decluttering my classroom and getting it set up just the way I want it. I’m trying my hardest to get my students to come to group lessons. I’m working on getting new technology into my classroom. I want to create a system for borrowing school instruments. I’m working on practice log and incentive systems for younger students.

    These are just a few of the many ideas that I’m working on incorporating into my classroom and in my teaching. Some days I am completely overwhelmed by all of the changes that I want to happen. On those days my awesome coworker reminds me to do one micro-task at a time, and eventually, it’ll get done.

  I always expected to get better at the trumpet RIGHT NOW. It took me getting a teaching job to realize that change is a slow process, and that’s ok. Making improvements to my trumpet playing is just like creating the “perfect” band program. Both are going to take time, patience, and many micro-tasks, but I’m willing to put in the time and effort to make it happen.

5. I’m still a professional musician

Just because I’m a band teacher doesn’t mean I’m stripped of the title of “musician,” in fact, I feel like more of a musician now that I did before my teaching job.

I’m gigging more regularly, and I’ve made many new connections to people through my teaching job. I’ve met some excellent instrument repair technicians, private teachers, and musician parents. All of these connections just add to my growing network.

I also feel much more like a musician because of all the skills I’ve gained through teaching like improving my musical ear; I’m listening to more music than I ever have, and as a conductor I’m thinking about music in a whole new way. Finally, I’m re-discovering my passion for playing music through teaching music. My students will be the first ones to tell you how excited I get about music and I’ve never been more happy with where I am.

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