by Web on May 3, 2017
Millsaps College student Sarah Altman considers the hour each Monday afternoon she spends teaching six students to play the piano as time well spent.
“I have continuously discovered the parts of music teaching that really matter to me...and the parts that don't,” said Altman, a senior from Gulfport. “What matters is the engagement, persistence, gut appreciation of music, and music literacy skills. Teaching these students is often the best part of my week.”
Altman instructs students from the after-school program at Operation Shoestring, which provides year-round academic, social, and emotional support to elementary, middle, and high school children in central Jackson, while supporting and providing resources to their families.
“The students came in ready to learn,” Altman said. “Getting started from ground zero is hard, long work, and they have shown up and shown out every week. Having this regular, focused meeting time allowed them a chance to gain musicianship skills that will follow them for the rest of their lives—and it gave me the opportunity to hone my teaching, classroom management, and engagement skills.”
Robert Langford, executive director of Operation Shoestring, said the classes have expanded the horizons of the six participants.
“The kids are having a great time,” he said. “We are delighted by the partnership with Millsaps and the quality of what is being offered to the kids we serve.”
A member of the Ford Teaching Fellows Program, Altman has tuned her abilities with assistance from Rachel Heard, who chairs the Millsaps College Department of Music and is also an associate professor of music and piano instructor.
“In the fall semester, I worked on research and pedagogy training and did lots and lots of reading,” Altman said. “I coupled that textbook learning with interviews with local piano teachers. We chatted about everything from keeping students engaged to setting up a veritable business with the Internal Revenue Service.
“Dr. Heard and I then set to making a broad syllabus for the next semester of teaching. These loose goals we made were in line with what I decided was really important to me as a teacher.”
The 10 weeks of piano classes is also designed as an internship experience for the Vocation, Ethics, and Society minor that Altman is earning. The minor is intended to help students explore their social, cultural, and ethical worlds as they contemplate their own lives, ideals, and the meanings they will attribute to their work.
Altman, who is pursuing double majors in elementary education and music with a concentration in vocal performance, plans to be a teacher.
“I will be certified in K–6 general education, and K–12 music,” she said. “More than likely I will be teaching in an underserved public school in Mississippi.”