Bryson Tarbet 0:00
Before we get started, I wanted to let you know that today's episode is brought to you by the study beat Survival Guide. In this free ebook, I share my top 20 favorite songs and chants for study beat in the elementary music classroom. to grab your free copy, head on over to that music teacher.com/study Beat. Again, it's that music teacher.com/study beat. You can also check out the show notes wherever you're listening to this episode now.
You're listening to that music podcast with Bryson Tarbet, the curriculum designer and educational consultant behind that music teacher at the elementary music summit each week, Bryson and his guests will dive into the reality of being an elementary music teacher, and how music can truly be transformative in the lives of the students you serve. Show Notes and resources mentioned in this episode can be found at that music teacher.com.
Bryson Tarbet 0:57
Hello, and welcome back to that music podcast. I am so excited to welcome back Sarah Oliver to the podcast today talking about something a little bit different all about, you know tips and tricks for being a music teacher at a Catholic school because that's not something we talk about often. So Sarah, thank you so much for joining us today. So Sarah, what inspired you to become a music teacher? And how did you end up working in a Catholic school setting?
Sarah Oliver 1:24
I pretty I'm pretty sure I always wanted to be a music teacher. I started band it in fifth grade. And then once you got an instrument in my hand, and just kind of pushed me toward music and band and choir. I knew like, Oh, I'm gonna be a music teacher. And that's what I did. Like, I love it. I love teaching music. Nothing could change that. As far as working in a Catholic school, I never thought I would end up in a Catholic school, let alone being a Catholic human being. I grew up Pentecostal. And there was a time where I absolutely lost my faith, like completely. I was just done. I was done with it. And I was teaching in charter school in Cleveland. And when I moved down to the Dayton Xenia area, I ended up at a charter school in Cincinnati, and I was like, I can't live this life anymore. And I interviewed at a Catholic school and a Montessori school. And I was like, Oh, heck, no, I'm not taking that Catholic school job. Even though they offered it to me. I ended up teaching at the Montessori school for a year, and I was absolutely miserable. And I hated it. And it wasn't the Montessori method or the school itself. It was just people I worked with, like, it was just not a good fit for me. I was just not pleased. And I was like, Oh, God, I'm actually praying, God, if the Catholic school job opens up, I promise this time, I'll take it and answered prayers, that Catholic school job opened up again, and I interviewed again, obviously, it was less money, I felt like maybe that was a little bit of my punishment for not listening the first time. But, um, they hired me and I ended up being there for a few years, a couple years, especially during COVID. But like, that's what brought me into the Catholic faith, and just becoming like, the Catholic and the Christian and the human being that I am today, and it's impacted. My entire life, I completely did a 180. And that's how I ended up working in the Catholic school system. And, and honestly, I don't ever want to leave, like I can't see myself working anywhere else.
Bryson Tarbet 3:34
I'm so glad that you ended up where you feel like you belong. Like that's, that's such an awesome story.
Sarah Oliver 3:39
It's the best, it's a blessing. It's quite a blessing.
Bryson Tarbet 3:43
So let's dive right in. Because I again, this isn't really kind of our typical topic. But the reality is, is there are a bunch of music teachers that do not teach in a public school setting. And that is a definite valid form of music making. So can you talk a little bit about for you, at least, you know, the role of faith in music education, so working in in a Christian setting and Catholic school setting, how do you incorporate faith in your music lessons?
Sarah Oliver 4:09
Oh, man. So like, I mean, just even before the kids get in my room, I have a quote from not a quote more of a prayer for to St. Cecilia, to pray for us as musicians. And you know, the kids see that every day like, just to like pray for us as musicians to guide us through our class. And the one thing I can do is like we can sit and we can before we even start class, just to kind of get like our head, you know, back on sometimes we need to stop and pray or we can say a Hail Mary or pray the rosary or something or like, really, I like to say like, led led just started last week. And sometimes I like to start class with Hey, what do you guys doing for Lent? Or, and, and that's a good way to kind of just engage my students in conversation. and also allows me to like, just kind of trust me with my process. And then we can start music making. But I think it's a really good way for us to start class by just like prayer, talking, and just engaging in even religious conversation because for them, maybe that's all they get that day. And for me, it's really important. So I really just like to start my class like that, because I think it kind of helps us all, like recenter and refocus on what, what's important.
Bryson Tarbet 5:31
Thanks for sharing that. So I would love for you to kind of talk about in what ways do you think or do you see that the Catholic school system, and that kind of environment supports the integration of faith in music education,
Sarah Oliver 5:43
I think it just is like a really big part of the music education because we go to Mass every week. And like a big part of the mass is the musical liturgy. And part of the musical liturgy in a mass is to bring everyone together to sing as a congregation. So like, not only am I doing that in the classroom, but I'm also bringing my entire school together outside of the classroom, but still in the school setting to sing at mass, which is, you know, another way we can pray with each other. Another way we can celebrate each other. And just being able to do that is extremely important. I think it is anyway, because the more comfortable they are in the classroom singing with me, it's so beautiful to hear their their voices at Mass, you know, I don't I have to, quote unquote, play can't play piano at mass. And I'm not very good. But just hearing them saying, like, you can see me at the piano sometimes, like, I'm singing too, but like, I just start beaming. And I think that integration of faith and school like, and the fact that these kids trust me enough to sing with me at maths, and to come into my classroom and say, Hey, man, sounds very good job playing piano at maths are really I really love to hear you singing or like, you know, I've had moments where I've had an accompanist. And they're like, you know, Mrs. Oliver, wouldn't you sing, I hear God in your voice. And I love that. And it just makes, it makes everything more real and more profound for me. And it makes me realize that I am in the right place doing what I'm supposed to be doing.
Bryson Tarbet 7:19
I really like that answer. And, you know, for the listener, you and I, you know, Sarah, we've had conversations about, you know, your interpretation and your kind of feeling about how music and fits into the Catholic school setting. And I think that you know, it, it's truly a, a place for some people that is a place that you know, they are meant to be in that setting. And I truly believe that you are in the right setting that you're in, I love that you were sharing that and that you're able to allow these kids to be able to share music in a different way. But let's kind of flip a little bit and talk about some of the challenges. No one's saying that public education is perfect, but I think a lot of us can agree that there are also some very real concerns and challenges when it comes to being an elementary music teacher in a Catholic school setting. So can you talk about what are some of the biggest challenges that you faced in your teaching, whether it's at your current position, or any of the puzzles students been at before,
Sarah Oliver 8:16
I think and my current position, like I think the biggest challenge that I face is diversity. Student Diversity, like we do not have a diverse culture. And it's unfortunate some days because the hard part about teaching students who are not necessarily culturally diverse is that bringing a new culture or something different into the classroom is definitely a challenge for them. Because they, they don't know how to appreciate it when it's presented to them at first. So like, you know, a big part of my rules, or guidelines in my class is like, hey, we need to be respectful of everybody, and everything and different cultures and different types of people no matter what, because like, our job isn't to judge people. Our job is to love people, right. And that's probably my biggest challenge at the Catholic school that I'm at now, the previous Catholic school I was at it was probably a 180. From where I am, it was more of like, the one I'm at now it's completely private, funded by the families, the one I was at previously was a choice. And there was a definite one E. So those students like the challenge with them, and with me, was being comfortable enough to teach them and me being diverse, like, and bringing their culture to life, instead of bringing my culture to them. Because it was just a different community. And but the one thing that we could share together was was our faith, which was nice, but definitely, definitely the biggest challenge that we face. And I would say a lot of Catholic schools face or a lot of private schools is is being culturally diverse and presenting that to students.
Bryson Tarbet 9:54
I love that you're making that such a huge part of what you're doing and what You're doing it in a way that it's not an afterthought. It really is. When I'm making my lessons, I'm, I'm being sure this is happening. So can you talk a little bit about some of the solutions, some of the ways that you've brought into brought in different cultures into your classroom or even brought in, you know, at your previous district, or previous school, you know, ways that you've brought in, allowed their culture to shine, and celebrate, be celebrated.
Sarah Oliver 10:23
Um, definitely, like right now, like, I have been tasked with teaching electives this year, which has been interesting, but one of the electives that they asked me to teach is World drumming. And I'm like, okay, but just so you know, if I'm teaching real driving, I'm going to make sure these kids are educated about these cultures, we're not we're I'm not going to teach West African rhythms and dances without the students understanding, appreciating and respecting the West African culture. Okay, so like, that's an example of how I'm just kind of trying to divide, diversify my students and have them, you know, be more respectful to what we're doing. And I said, you know, these drums are a way we talk to each other. And we need to respect that. And I also leave quite a few families right now at my school from West Africa. So I've been reaching out to them as well, and asking them to share, you know, if they feel that they want to, like no pressure at all, like if there's something that they would like to share about their culture, or some music, or if they just like to talk to me, they're always welcome. And they get really excited about it, especially like, my students are like, Oh, zodra, can I play one of those drums, I have something, you know, my parent, my dad's from Ghana, he showed me this, and I want to show you, and at my other school is it was me more bringing different types of music into the classroom that I wouldn't normally listen to. And, or having the my students bring in what they like to listen to, or music that they like to hear, and just incorporating that somehow, into our lessons so that, you know, we could feel connected in some way.
Bryson Tarbet 11:56
So on the flip side of that, we've talked a little bit about some of the challenges, what do you think are some of the unique opportunities that you see teaching in a Catholic school setting, or even just like a Christian school setting, or even just a private school setting that you wouldn't necessarily see in a public setting,
Sarah Oliver 12:12
I think I get a lot of opportunities just to do things a different way. Like, I don't have necessarily have like, like someone who might be like, Oh, I'm the arts department head, or the arts superintendent for such and such a school district. And this is what I want you to teach. And this is how you're going to teach or, like, I'm not, I don't necessarily have to go to five or six different schools during the week, you know, and, and I love that I get, I was able to go to my admin and say, Hey, this is my philosophy of music, education, I trust this person, can't this is how I'm teaching PS, you know, like, by the way, this is what I'm doing. And if you want me to teach these other classes, ie, I need this, you know, like, I need a set of drives, you know, I need a $10,000 set of drums, you know, I can get that. Not always, but I can I usually get what I asked for typically, because they want to make the parents happy. You want to make families happy, they want us to bring this well rounded education to their students. And that's something that at a Catholic school, a lot of private schools that we get those things, and we have the opportunity to connect with our students for the next eight or nine years. Because it's a K through eight setting. So I'm there with my students connecting with them. I don't have to go from building to building to voting every two days, which is definitely a blessing because I know some people like they'll teach it four schools a week. And it's a lot. I mean, I'm very blessed and thankful that I don't have to do that.
Bryson Tarbet 13:48
Thank you so much for sharing that. I think that you brought up a lot of good points. And I'm glad that you, you kind of feel like you're in a point where you're supported. And you're at a place where you can't you have the tools that you need, or you know that where you can find them or ask for them. So let's kind of shift away from wherever we're at and shift back to the students. What do you what do you see what at your core is the, you know, how does music education positively impact your students? How have you seen that happen?
Sarah Oliver 14:17
Oh, man, I have seen like, just like in the two years that I've been at this particular school, just a growth in their musicality, and the fact that I just feel so connected with each one of my students, like my classroom is basically in the center of the school. So every kid passes by my classroom every day. And I make it a point a lot of times to stand in my doorway, so that I can say hello, you know, but I think like just how I teach, like, in general, compared to maybe what they had before is just a lot more musical in a different way. You know, especially using, you know, being inspired using code I like that has made such a huge impact on my teaching. Like I don't know where I was five or six years ago, but it wasn't where I You have now like, I think even last year, I had mentioned to you like, or this summer or sometime we were talking like, I feel like it's my first year teaching because I finally understand what I'm doing. And I'm able to bring that to my students. And I'm still learning and growing, and they're learning and growing with me. And they are more musical and just seeing that shift in them. Like I've seen, I've talked to parents and other teachers, oh, my goodness, they're seeing more than they ever seen before. Like, I can't believe it, like I love hearing their voices. And just the compliments about their Christmas concerts and, and the performances that they put on. It's just like, it's exciting to see and so exciting to hear, like, I love that that growth that they're having with me that maybe they didn't have before.
Bryson Tarbet 15:44
So I know that we brought up a lot of things that can apply to a lot of different teachers. But I would love to kind of boil that down to what advice would you give to other teachers or their music teachers, especially those that are working in a private Catholic Christian school setting.
Sarah Oliver 16:02
I mean, for me, my advice is like, it's, it's so easy to get lost in your day, it's so easy to get lost in the testing the gossip that every day, just kind of mundane things. And the advice I would give them is don't forget, you can pray before class, you can pray with your class, you can have very close relationships with your students. Like I tell them about my life. Like not everything, of course. But like, where I know that I can expose my faith to them. And they can learn something from it. I talked to them about it. And they remember that I know I had a student say Mrs. Oliver. I was at church. And we were doing praise and worship songs. And he's like, it made me think about you. He's like an amazing pray for you. And like, that's a huge deal for me like that, just like touches me right? Right in my goodbye, like in my heart. And the thing is, is like you can pray as a kid and you can tell your kids hey, I'm I'm not having a great day, let's Can we pray before class? Or Can someone tell me a good story like about your faith today or something that that God did for you that made you have a better day when you were having a rough day. And also, my biggest takeaway is to let my students know that we're still Catholic, and we're in a Catholic school, but we're also still musicians, and I want them to love music and to love God and to just, you know, bring the best versions of themselves.
Bryson Tarbet 17:38
I love that. What do you hope your students take away from your class?
Sarah Oliver 17:41
Um, for me, I hold my students take away that I love them, that they're important to me that God loves them through me that I want them to know that they can depend on me to pray for them to sing with them. I know, I think it was St. Augustine don't quote me if I'm incorrect. That said, singing is praying twice. So when we do a lot of singing, so I always remind them to just like, sing big and fast. I can I also want them to take away just like you can be musical, no matter what the mind music classroom is a safe space. And if they need a place it to go, like, they can come see me like if they're upset, or maybe maybe I was tough on them that day, and they feel upset that they can talk to me. Because I make mistakes too. I'm definitely not perfect. I definitely don't I sometimes I have a short fuse. But but they know that, you know, if they've had a rough day and it's partially my fault, I will always make it right and, and that they can always come to me. Regardless,
Bryson Tarbet 18:45
sir, I really appreciate this conversation. This is definitely something a little different for the podcast, but I appreciate you bringing in a little bit of perspective that I don't necessarily have. So where can my listeners that want to continue this conversation? Continue with this this with you? So where can we connect with you online,
Sarah Oliver 19:03
um, you can connect with me noteworthy catholic.com, you can get in touch with me at Sarah at noteworthy catholic.com You can check out my website. It's more Catholic and faith based rather than music base. But I'm starting to kind of dive into musical liturgy and the music of the mass and how that works and how I can help other like not necessarily music teachers or Catholics, just Greek and Catholic teachers reconnect with their faith, and also the music that they bring to mass. All right,
Bryson Tarbet 19:36
well, I will be sure to grab those and put those in the show notes as well. Sarah, thank you so much for chatting with me and I hope you have a great rest of your week. I hope you do too. Thanks