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Two Music Ed Students Learn as They Teach in Elementary Classrooms

Ily Olsen and Olivia Hiatt—two students in the music education program—teach after-school ukulele lessons each week to fourth- through sixth-grade students. Though Ily and Olivia were hired to teach separately at two different elementary schools, this opportunity has allowed both Ily and Olivia to take the training they receive as music education students and apply it in real-world classrooms as teachers.

In January 2023, Ily Olsen heard about the opportunity to teach the ukulele class and knew she wanted to do it, saying, “My philosophy is that when there is an opportunity, you take it.” Even if it had been an after-school art class, Ily would have been eager to teach. “I am really passionate about teaching, [and] the fact that it was [a music class] and something with instruments made me excited,” Ily says. When she started teaching the class, Ily wasn’t very far into the music education program. But the more she taught, the more she was able to manage the classroom, set expectations, and help students learn.

Ily Olsen
Ily Olsen, music education student
Photo by Marin Productions LLC

Olivia Hiatt was also excited to learn about the teaching opportunity and eagerly accepted the job at the beginning of 2023. But at the start, “Lesson planning never really went the way I thought it would,” Olivia recalls. But during the fall semester of 2023, Olivia took an elementary practicum class with Dr. Erin Bailey where Olivia learned more about preparing lessons for young children. “Going through that class while [I was] teaching elementary-aged kids was really, really helpful,” Olivia recalls.

oliviahiatt.jpeg
Olivia Hiatt, music education student

With additional skills under her belt, Olivia was able to make the transition between simply teaching the lessons to helping students learn while recognizing their individual needs and encouraging them. “Now I get excited every single week to see the kids,” Olivia says. “[They] really love coming to class.”

In the music education program, students have the chance to demonstrate teaching skills during class time, and eventually, they gain more experience during practicum and student teaching. Ily has valued her time teaching ukulele lessons because it’s given her additional time to practice the principles she learns in her classes. Ily says, “Everything that I'm being taught right now, I have my own personal [classroom] to try it all out, which is amazing.”

With time and space to practice, Ily has moved from relying on explanations to utilizing demonstrations to teach skills. Ily says, “I'll teach a concept, then I'll have the students show their peers, and then [they’ll] do evaluations. . . . [The students] get more into it, more excited, and they actually learn.”

Gaining this in-class teaching experience has prepared both Olivia and Ily for their future careers in music education. Ideally, Olivia hopes to teach high school band, but after working with elementary-aged kids, Olivia discovered a love for elementary education. Working with younger-aged children has also helped Olivia learn how to work with first-time music students. Olivia says, “[This experience has] helped me . . . recognize at what point [students] make the switch from being frustrated that they can't figure it out to the point that they're like, ‘Oh my gosh, I got it!’”

Even though Ily doesn’t plan to teach elementary students, she has also valued the chance to work with young musicians. Ily says, “A lot of the things that I'm [learning] in the elementary school classroom can be brought into my future classroom, even though they're going to be older students.” Ily’s teaching experience has prepared her for student teaching in the coming semesters. “Of course, I'm still going to have a lot to improve upon [during student teaching],” Ily says, “but I feel like [this experience] is really helping me in my [teaching] practice.”

Through their efforts to teach, lift, and empower young students, Ily and Olivia are sharing their light and love for music.

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