Teacher Feature: Karen Bryan

Center for Educator Development in Fine Arts proudly presents Music Teacher Karen Bryan. Karen Bryan teaches at F.M. Gilbert Elementary School in the Irving Independent School District.

Karen Bryan says, "My personal motto is: There is no song more important than the child who sings it."

Question: Why do you teach music?

"I was called to teach. When I first started going to college, I thought I was supposed to be a special education teacher because I have a huge heart for children who are hurting emotionally. And then, the more I got into music, I realized that music touches everybody and all children have special needs. By teaching music, I am able to reach all of them," says Karen Bryan.

"I look at it this way: As an elementary school teacher, it is my job to turn these kids on to music. Even if they don't know everything about music theory, I would like them to know when they leave me that music is something that they cannot live without. Then they will take music in middle school and high school, and they will get the theory that they need. But if I teach them all this theory and I don't teach them that music is something that they have to have, just like air to breathe, then it won't do them any good because they won't take music anymore. And if I don't do my job, then middle school and high school directors don't have a job."

Question: How does music education reach all students?

"One of the favorite things that I like about teaching music is that it does not matter. Music doesn't care. If you're gifted, music doesn't care what language you speak, music doesn't care if you have problems with math. Music touches the soul. And, as long as all children have souls, all children can make music and feel good about music."

Question: How does music education enhance other areas of learning?

“Music education helps kids to realize that there are creative and positive ways to channel their energies, their fear, their anger, their happiness, their joy,” says Karen Bryan, "Music touches children in a way that nothing else can."

"When I teach music, for music's sake, I'm covering language arts, math, science, social studies—the whole package."

"Sometimes when kids come to my classroom, there are other things going on in their lives. Sometimes I can just see it in their eyes that they are not ready for music. Then I help them leave that garbage that's weighing them down in the hallway. Sometimes we will literally stand there as if we have a backpack that contains the problems that we have already encountered during that day. We take the backpacks off our shoulders and put them down in the hallway. And I tell them these are your concerns, and they will be waiting here for you when music is over, if you want them."

"And so we come in and we leave those problems alone for just a few minutes and then when we come out I'll say, 'your concerns are still here, if you want them.' And sometimes they'll say, 'Mrs. Bryan, I'm not through. I need those.' And they'll pick them back up and walk off with them. And sometimes they'll say, 'No I don't need them anymore, you can have them.' It's really fun to see how they can put their world away for just a few minutes."

Question: Why should a young person become a music teacher?

"I loved music since I was a child because of the way it made me feel. There are times when I'm teaching my children and they're all sitting around me and we're sharing a book or a song, that the feeling is almost overpowering. If you can convey the love that you have for music to others it just deepens the love that you have, and it is just he most rewarding thing. I guess it would be really a lot of fun to be on stage, but I feel like I'm on stage every day with people that really need me."

Question: How has music education changed since you began teaching?

Karen Bryan says, "I've just finished my twenty-fifth year of teaching, and music education has changed tremendously because children have changed tremendously. When I first started teaching, my biggest challenge was to keep them quiet. And their biggest challenges were not to chew gum in class and to be quiet. Children come to me today with all kinds of stuff on their plates that, in my opinion, they have no business knowing about."

"My children that I see know entirely too much, they have seen entirely too much, they have to deal with entirely too much. So, the music education has to change to be able to relate to what they need. It is no longer as important as to what a quarter note looks like—it is how music can help you heal."

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