Alumni Feature: Kate Wyatt - The Gift of Music Education
Wyatt, a 2019 graduate of our 100 percent online Master of Music in Music Education program, has the chance to share the gift of music education with 200 string students in the Egg Harbor Township schools every week. She also has a private studio and directs the Preparatory group of the Atlantic Youth Community Orchestra at Atlantic Cape Community College.
She’s continued her work through Covid-19. You can read more about her experiences as a musician, teacher and in our 100% online Master of Music in Music Education below.
Question: Where do you currently teach and what are some of your specific responsibilities?
Kate Wyatt: I teach in two schools, Dr. Joyanne D. Miller School and Fernwood Avenue Middle School. I work with about 200 fifth through eighth-grade orchestra students. My fifth-grade orchestra students are beginners and we put on multiple concerts a year. The first year is spent with a lot of focus on posture, positioning and developing a clear tone. Students are working on their notation reading skills and articulation. By middle school (sixth grade), students either continue with me or go into the other middle school. I teach in a large district and we have two middle schools!
My middle school students spend their sixth-grade year solidifying their foundation and furthering their skills. If sixth-grade students are comfortable, they can audition for the Fernwood Symphony Orchestra, which is an ensemble made up of the wind ensemble students in band. I conduct this ensemble and we are one of the only middle schools with a symphony orchestra in the county! I also have a fiddle club made up of seventh and eighth-grade students. This group performs fiddle songs, modern pop and rock music, as well as modern pieces. The fiddle club plays at many events on and off-campus. I also conduct the Atlantic Youth Community Orchestra and work with the preparatory students.
Q: How did you know you wanted to be a teacher?
KW: There are many reasons why I decided to become a teacher. One of the biggest reasons was because I never had stability with any of my violin teachers. I actually first started at around five years old, but that teacher moved after just a few months. I was able to find a new teacher a few years later. She worked with me for a long time, and she was very devoted… However, she was very hard on me at times and it was discouraging. I actually didn’t know if I hated or loved my instrument for a long time.
I have watched music influence students in ways that will resonate with me for the rest of my life. I have encountered hundreds of students since I began teaching in 2012, as a private teacher. My first private student was terminally ill at only ten years old. That 30-minute lesson once a week was very special. She didn’t think about her condition or feel anything but joy in those 30 minutes. She was all in the music and our time together brought us both infinite amounts of happiness. Since then, I have continued to encounter students with unbelievable stories. They are beautiful, unique, heartbreaking, happy; no two students have the same story. Music has always provided me a sense of comfort and it was always my home. I feel it is a gift to give my students those same feelings. Each day is special to me!
Q: What are a few of your favorite teaching memories?
KW: Oh this might be a long answer. I feel like each day there is something that really sits with me for a while. One thing that I am very open with my students about is my stage fright and anxiety. I have struggled with it forever and at this point, it is really a big part of me! I had one student named Maddie who was at my first school. We had an in-school performance and I know she was very nervous to play for her classmates, despite being on stage with about 40 other students. She actually ran off the stage crying before the curtain opened. I felt so awful about this but I knew I had to talk to her! I spoke to her about my own struggles and fears, which happened to be very relatable for her.
That afternoon we had another in-school concert for the other group of students. I explained to Maddie that I want her to still try to play. I told her I don’t mind if she is in tears the whole concert, but she needs to at least beat the beast and play on stage! She wound up smiling all through the performance and did very well! I ran up to give her a high five and praise after the concert. However, that was interrupted with all 40 of her classmates hugging her, cheering her on and celebrating their accomplishments, together. It was very bittersweet! This was one of my first concerts as a public school teacher and it made me realize that I was on the right path because that was the best I felt in a long time.
A more recent memory was from last year. I had a sixth-grade student at my current position who showed me what hard work does. She auditioned for the Symphony Orchestra and did not get in the first time. I knew this upset her, but I felt that she needed some more practice. We decided to meet up during her lunch and we worked together for about two weeks. She reauditioned and did pretty well. Now she is towards the end of her seventh-grade year and I had seen extraordinary growth and focus. She is now playing closer to a high school level and continues to work hard. My memories of her earlier days constantly remind me that all students are capable of amazing things with a teacher’s support.
Q: How did you know you wanted to be a teacher?
KW: There are many reasons why I decided to become a teacher. One of the biggest reasons was because I never had stability with any of my violin teachers. I actually first started at around five years old, but that teacher moved after just a few months. I was able to find a new teacher a few years later. She worked with me for a long time, and she was very devoted. However, she was very hard on me at times and it was discouraging. I actually didn’t know if I hated or loved my instrument for a long time.
Toward the middle of high school, I tutored this girl who took lessons from the same teacher, who was a little younger than me. She was on the autism spectrum and her family thought it might be nice for her to not only make a new friend but get some extra help with her practicing. We wound up working together a few times a week and she was improving a lot! Sometimes she wouldn’t understand how I explained something, and it came very easy for me to work with her. I remember being very proud of her and myself. I realized that maybe all the negativity and feelings of discouragement my teachers caused me could fuel me to do better for my own students one day.
I have watched music influence students in ways that will resonate with me for the rest of my life. I have encountered hundreds of students since I began teaching in 2012, as a private teacher. My first private student was terminally ill at only ten years old. That 30-minute lesson once a week was very special. She didn’t think about her condition or feel anything but joy in those 30 minutes. She was all in the music and our time together brought us both infinite amounts of happiness. Since then, I have continued to encounter students, with unbelievable stories. They are beautiful, unique, heartbreaking, happy and no two students have the same story. Music has always provided me a sense of comfort and it was always my home. I feel it is a gift to give my students those same feelings. Each day is special to me!
Q: How did you come to study in our online Master of Music in Music Education?
KW: I knew towards the end of undergrad that I wanted to continue learning. Once I got my first job, I spent the first two years getting my feet wet. I figured since I was working part-time and felt like I was balancing it well with working at 2 studios, I applied. The one thing I really wanted to get better at was teaching music. I felt like undergrad taught me about music and about teaching, and that you can teach music. I didn’t really feel like I knew much more than the surface of what I was trying to do. I had a lot of experience from private teaching for years before graduating, but classroom teaching is different from private teaching.
I was working (and still do) seven days a week teaching music. I knew I wanted to refine my craft and gain more knowledge, so I was looking for a 100% online program. Weirdly enough, I saw an old classmate post about her experience at Kent State and she happened to be doing the program online! I took this as a sign and did a bit of research. Next thing I know, I am talking to admission advisors from a few schools and planning my next more. I was more than impressed with Kent State’s program and I applied only to Kent State. I got in and the rest is history!
Q: How did you balance your studies with classroom teaching?
KW: As I mentioned, I started my Master’s at Kent State while working in a position that was three days a week. I spent the other two days doing most of my school work. Halfway through the Master’s is when I started my full-time position. I usually did my work in the evenings after teaching private lessons. I also did some work during my prep period and lunch since I was already in the music teaching zone. I loved the fact that I could learn and then immediately practice my new skills and knowledge in the classroom. I felt like classwork and my job were easy to balance because I constantly felt like I was connecting the two. The way the classes are laid out also makes it easy to focus because I only had to focus on one class at a time. I feel like the set up really was on my side!
Q: What are some of your favorite memories or experiences from your time in our online program?
KW: I have nothing but beautiful memories and experiences with this online program. I thought I was always a hands-on and “in person” type of learner. Experimenting in the classroom with new tricks and content was always something I looked forward to. I feel like I really saw myself grow into a much more effective educator and I felt way more
Q: Since the online program is intended for practicing teachers, it allows for the opportunity to apply what’s being learned in the classroom right away. How were you able to do this for your students?
KW: I did mention this previously, but I will be more specific. Some class projects or assignments require you to practice the content in the classroom. I took one class that provided me with many rehearsal techniques and exercises that can enhance my ensembles. We wrote about which examples would benefit our groups and why. Although we did not have to directly report back with the results of using these practices, I was astounded by how well they worked, and how my students were playing afterward.
When I took my music technology class, I obviously learned a lot about ways to incorporate technology in my classroom. I feel that these topics made my classroom more “modern” and I realized how much more exciting my lessons could be with technology. For example, I now use a loop or beat instead of a metronome. Although this doesn’t sound like it would be a big change, it makes my students very excited and they seem to have more fun. The class also provided me with knowledge on how to teach nontraditional/non-classical musicians music. Not all students are interested in the traditional ways of playing music. I learned ways that I can use tools to connect traditional and modern instruments using Garageband, and other programs. I also noticed that my numbers went up this past year because I have used topics learned in that class as a way to connect to the younger generation and balance relevancy with classical.
There are many other classes that provided me with ways to enhance my classroom. These examples are a few of so many.
Q: Many schools have recently needed to switch to online learning in response to COVID-19. How did your time in our 100% online program help prepare you for the switch to online learning?
KW: The funny thing is that I was somewhat excited (aside from the circumstances) to teach online because I was familiar with distance / online learning due to Kent State’s online program. Not only did I have more resources and experience with online learning, but I had a great idea of how to lay everything out. I had no doubt that I’d be able to quickly adjust and provide my students with a user-friendly learning experience.
Q: Anything else you’d like to share?
KW: I just want anyone reading this to know that Kent State completely changed me as an educator and person. I did learn a lot along the way in all my courses, and I feel way
People go back to school for so many reasons but one thing I can promise you is that this program turned me into the best version of myself in so many ways.