In the light of the fledgling political hashtag of #pussygate, I’d like to take a moment and pick your brain about gender in the profession of music education. You see…
I’ve wanted to be a band teacher ever since I was 12.
Once I had made that decision, there was nothing that could stop me.
I worked hard to learn my instrument well, and was the only one in my class to participate in the high school band while I was still in middle school- and got my first taste of sexism while I spent my entire 7th grade year as 1 of 3 girls (the other two were twin sisters who unceremoniously ignored me) in the beginning brass class. And the ONLY girl in the class for the second half of the year. [My teacher called me the ‘horny french woman’ because I played horn.]
By the time I actually hit high school, I was in every performing ensemble I could fit into my schedule, was elected to Band Council, spent my senior year as Drum Major, performed in all the school musicals, took gigs for money, and sang in the choir- all with my eyes on the prize of becoming an awesome music teacher.
When I graduated, I negotiated my way into a job working at the local music store. I figured that this could prepare me very well for my future as a band teacher. Even when my boss offered to help pay for my college if I would switch to business and stay working for him- I was still determined to live the life of the comparatively poor music teacher.
Working in a music store, I had plenty of opportunities to meet, chat with, and help the local music teachers. It was something I LOVED about my job. One day, as I was helping a certain teacher select clarinet reeds, he asked where I went to school and what I was studying.
I said, “I’m working on my degree in music education. I want to be a band teacher.”
If I close my eyes I can still relive the moment, because the next thing he said was so shocking to me:
“You should reconsider. Women don’t make good music teachers.”
After being thoroughly offended, I recalled that the three of the most influential music teachers I had ever studied with had been women: Lauren Flygare, Chelle Leyva, and Lea Nelson.
I’d like to say that his comment didn’t bother me. But I can’t. It did. To my core.
It bothered me enough that I quit my higher-paying management job to jump with both feet into my music ed degree at BYU.
The truth is this:
If I did nothing else, I was going to show that sexist dude that I was going to be an incredible music teacher. In spite of the fact I happen to be a woman.
Because there is no reason why women don’t make good music teachers.
Not only did I get my degree, I did so while being pregnant and nursing a newborn. My reward for this effort was being the first in my class to be hired to teach full-time. The job offer came 3 weeks before I even graduated.
I went on to more than double the size of the music program at the brand-new school, where I was hired to teach band, orchestra and general music, in only 3 years. They had to hire another .5 FTE to take over the orchestra because the music program had grown so quickly. My bands and orchestras flourished and consistently received superior ratings at district festivals.
I truly felt that I had proven that guy wrong. I was a woman and an outstanding music teacher.
I recall now, 20 years later, and think about what I wish I could tell that guy. I think I would say:
“Actually, I think women could make stronger music teachers. We have a greater sense of empathy, tend to be more approachable to both genders, and for those of us who also have a family/baby to care for at home, we know how to balance things and deal with children in any emotional state.”
If you look at the Gender Analysis of Music Teachers by MTD Research, you might agree with me.
The article states: “the vast majority of band directors at large, public high schools in high income areas are male. In fact, 84.62%.*
…In contrast, at small, private elementary schools in low income areas, 83.66% of general classroom music teachers in our universe are female!”
But, truthfully, this reply would have made no difference whatsoever. And I can’t say I believe it’s even true, now that I read it.
The truth is that your gender in no way determines your potential success as a music educator.
What DOES make a difference is your willingness to learn all you can to create a successful program and implement it.
It takes a great desire to teach children, to pass on your own passion for music as a seedling for theirs.
It takes musical talent, a huge toolbox of teaching techniques.
The ability to not only read music 12+ lines at a time, but to be able to read children by their body language alone.
It takes charisma and diplomacy.
It takes persistence and ego.
It takes creativity and caring.
It takes nothing that is specific to any one gender, only the characteristics that make a powerfully effective teacher.
Though I have been extremely fortunate to have many female music teachers influencing my life, the best band and choir teacher I have ever known is my dad. After retiring from 25 years at the collegiate level, he took his state retirement and a job at one of the smallest schools in the state of Utah. He then took that music program and in 3 years had 99% of the student body in one of his ensembles**. He had the band performing at state festival, where, after their performance, I stood next to a colleague- a teacher at one of the most affluent and populous schools in the state- as he shook his head and said, “It’s absolutely amazing. I don’t know how he does it.”
So is it true that one gender makes a better music teacher than the other?
The only thing that is different between the genders when it comes to music teaching is that there is a smaller percentage of women teaching music at the high school level. READ THE RESULTS HERE. It has nothing to do with quality of teaching.
With all the additional work that high school teachers take on…
That only proves that women are smarter.***
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*I love all my high-school-teaching dude friends, but seriously, you’re mostly trumpet players. Can someone say ‘ego much’? Ha ha ha!
**Seriously. 99%. There were a couple kids who did private violin lessons so they weren’t in the band or choir, but every other kid was.
***Disclaimer: I don’t actually believe women are smarter. Wiser, maybe….