Since taking her first music class in elementary school, Natalie Lopez knew she wanted to teach music.
Now a junior music education major at FIU, Lopez got her first opportunity when she signed up for the Elementary Music Methods (MUE 3340) course for the Fall 2014 semester.
The course, a requirement for all music education majors, focuses on the development of instructional skills, techniques and strategies for teaching music elementary school classroom.
But for the first time, the students taking the course got to teach a third-grade music class once a week at Carlos J. Finlay Elementary School throughout the semester. Professor Cathy Benedict’s students had the unique opportunity to go into an actual elementary school classroom and practice what they learned in her class in a real-world setting.
“They were beyond generous to allow us to come and teach that class,” Benedict said of Carlos Finlay Elementary. “This helped our students see what it means to be a teacher.”
Benedict taught the third graders for the first few weeks of the class while her music methods students observed. After that, Benedict’s students took turns teaching lessons for the duration of the semester.
Through the experience, students like Lopez got to shake off some of the fears that come along with teaching, such as crafting lesson plans and effectively delivering a lesson to a group of elementary students.
“I was always worried about it – but getting in front of that class and actually teaching made me realize that I can do this,” Lopez said. “The experience made everything feel more real and put my goals in perspective. This class gave me focus and set me down the path I’m on now.”
The experience also shattered many misconceptions that these students held prior to taking the course – including the notion that teachers are supposed to simply impart knowledge on students. They saw that elementary students could think critically about musical concepts – like melody, rhythm and harmony.
“If you show them that you expect them to do that because they are capable of that, they are so much more receptive to listening to you,” said Alexa Marsellos, a sophomore music education major who took the course. “They would fix things you pointed out to them and they would sing beautifully. They made music.”
Lopez added: “There is potential inside them that you sometimes don’t see. If you have them engage in these activities that help them along the way to understand the larger concept, they can understand complex concepts.”
According to Benedict, it is one thing to tell her students that elementary school students are capable of learning at a high level and something completely different for those students to see it happen before their eyes.
“It’s earth shattering when someone realizes that an 8-year-old can reflect on their own thinking and my students got to see that,” Benedict said. “If you believe that everyone can think, then what does it mean then to facilitate an environment in which you are asking people to think? Because we are musically wired, music is our medium for facilitating an educative environment.”
Observing their peers teaching the class also proved valuable for classmates. Where as Lopez may have taught a particular song behind a piano, for example, another may have utilized a smart board or other teaching tool.
“You get to see everything from a different perspective,” Lopez said of watching her classmates teach. “ You notice how they are approaching the lesson and see that everyone has a different way of teaching and thinking. You get to think about how you would do it, how they are doing it and it just gives you one more resource to feed off of.”
At the end of the Fall semester, the third graders that Benedict and her students taught also had the opportunity to perform the songs they learned throughout the semester at the annual Music in Need Benefit Concert which took place in the Wertheim Performing Arts Center in December 2014.
As a result of the concert, $250 was given to Carlos Finlay Elementary for purchasing musical instruments, equipment and other materials.
The third graders that Benedict and her students taught also had the opportunity to perform at a school board meeting in front of Miami-Dade County Public Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho and other school board members.
Benedict says that the elementary school expects students taking the course, which is taught every other year, to come and help teach music classes in the future.
“This was one of the more profound teaching experiences I’ve ever had, and I’ve taught a lot,” Benedict said. “There was a lot of joy in this class. My students got to see themselves differently and I think it might have surprised them that they loved and enjoyed working with children.”