Music, Learning, and Teacher Development by Dr. David Sparks

Dr. David Sparks, Assistant Professor of Science Education and Faculty in the UTeach program at The University of Texas at Arlington, shares advice.

I have always been a student and lover of music. It started in the 6th grade when I picked up a trumpet and squawked out a few notes. Then through six years of band, 2 years of stage band (with a flugelhorn), numerous years of choir, singing solos, and filling in as a music minister in my church. But the last few years I have experienced a renaissance of sorts in my musical life.

It began in the summer of 2015 when I purchased a turntable. This act opened up a new world to me. A world of classical music, jazz, blues, movie soundtracks, and classic rock artists that I have never heard of before. When my shelf space filled up with vinyl, I started buying cheap CD’s and discovering even more music from groups in the 1990s and early 2000s. It has evolved into a full-fledged addiction with my collection currently surpassing 800 vinyl records and 200 CDs, as well as a few thousand downloaded songs. I re-discovered a love and respect for music on a scale that I never thought possible.

One phenomenon that has accompanied this obsession is learning to appreciate songs I have never heard and develop a taste for new artists. Vinyl records almost require that you listen to the entire collection of songs on a particular recording, which can include the good, the bad, and the ugly. But the real experience is listening to a new song or album and withholding judgment until you have listened to it once or even twice. As with some movies, I do not always like an album on the first listen. But with patience, I can hear the nuances of instruments, internalize the lyrics, and feel the passion of the artists as they created their work. The hard part is listening with an open mind and letting the music speak to you. In this process, I have greatly expanded the variety of genres that I am willing to play and I have a new love and appreciation for most styles of music.

But this is not about music. This is about listening to advice. This about listening to those who have fought the fight before you; those who have worked in the trenches and taught thousands of students. This is about listening to the voice inside you that says “This is not working” as you make adjustments to a lesson you are teaching. This is about not listening to the negative voices around you; the voices that say your profession is underpaid and overworked and the kids are disrespectful and never want to learn. As you grow as a professional educator, opening your mind includes taking on greater and greater responsibilities and not listening to that voice that says “This is impossible.”

Open your mind to being an artist. Just as musical artists create works of great significance that touch emotions, bring back memories of childhood, speak of the power and excitement of love, and also expose the hurt and pain of loss. Create lessons that inspire. Create lessons that make kids laugh and cry and have memories that they will never forget. Create a symphony and speak through the instruments of your students to create something that will move them for years, decades, and a lifetime.

When someone asks me “How many more records do you need?,” my answer is always “One more.”

When someone asks you how many students you think you can change and inspire, your answer should also be: “One more.”

Create. Inspire. Sing your song.

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