Pace Academy’s Vonda Vrieland, who has been teaching music for 21 years, was inspired by her mother’s career in the same field. As a child, Vrieland said, she pretended to teach music classes at her mother’s school during breaks.
Vrieland uses singing, dancing, writing and composing, among other activities, to teach her students about music, hoping to see them “to reflect the joy of making music,” she said. The students all participate in plays, including one in the holiday season that has them sing in multiple languages and perform in American Sign Language.
Q: What attracted you to teaching at first?
A: I was inspired by my mom and teachers I had throughout my school years. As a child, I went to my mom’s music classroom during Spring Break. I remember participating and having the time of my life because I was able to play the instruments, sing and dance. In fact, after her day was over, I would venture out to other classrooms and act like I was teaching a class. Back at home, I am grateful I had friends who loved to play school. We would set up a classroom with a blackboard and assign a teacher and a few students. We all wanted to be that difficult student to see how our friend [playing the role of the teacher] would handle the situation.
Q: Has the appeal changed?
A: No, the appeal has not changed. I think I have the best job in the world because I get to sing, dance, play instruments, listen to music and act every day!
Q: What keeps you going year after year?
A: The exuberant response of the children as they sing, dance, play instruments and create.
Q: What do you think makes a great teacher?
A: A teacher who is passionate about teaching, loves children, [is] an encourager, a good role model, mindful of individual needs, actively involved in their lessons and a lifelong learner. A great teacher should be involved in the community by attending workshops, conferences and being part of a network supporting excellence in music education.
Q: What do you want to see in your students?
A: I want them to reflect the joy of making music and take personal investment in their learning.
Q: How do you engage your students?
A: I use a myriad of teaching manipulatives and games. Sometimes a puppet introduces a song; a beach ball is tossed from student to student to practice reading rhythms and pitch; a stone-passing game to encourage steady beat; chasing games to teach a musical concept; an interactive board to assist in musical writing; and many other fun games and teaching tools.
Q: Do you have a project or special program you use year after year?
A: I weave together three best practices in music education: the Orff-Schulwerk, Kodaly, and Creative Movement. Through the Orff-Schulwerk approach, the child experiences music naturally and unconsciously through imitation, exploration, improvisation, composing, drama and speech. The Kodaly Method uses a sequential approach to teaching skills such as singing, listening, moving, reading and writing, with the child’s voice as the primary instrument. The Creative Movement approach teaches elements of music (such as beat, rhythm, dynamics and tempo) and personal expressions through movement. I also use folk dancing to teach sequential dance patterns and world music.
Drama is a collaborative effort between the classroom and music teacher. Each student in the elementary school participates in a musical play where they have a significant role through speaking, singing and choreography.
During the holiday season, the entire Lower School presents “Light One Candle” to the families and community. The program is a unique reenactment of the Jewish story of Hanukkah, as well as the Christian story of Christmas. Every student learns and sings songs in multiple languages and American Sign Language.
Another feature of our program is the Lunchtime Concerts. Students who take outside music lessons are able to perform in front of their peers, teachers and parents during lunchtime.
Q: Is there a “trick” that works to get students involved?
A: The “trick” is making it fun, while the child is unaware of how much they are learning.
Q: What do you hope your students take away from your class?
A: I hope my students gain an appreciation and love for music, progress in musical skills development, become independent learners, and continue to learn and enjoy music throughout their lifetime.