“If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.” -Isaac Newton
Education is in my blood. My grandpa, Herb Toups, was a teacher, a coach, and an administrator his entire life. My Aunt Lynne is also a kindergarten teacher. As children, my older sister Ashley and I spent the last few weeks of every summer vacation helping my grandpa move textbooks and clean chalkboards or helping my aunt hang bulletin board displays and wipe off laminated die-cuts with fingernail polish remover. 🙂 We grew up around adults who selflessly dedicated their lives to educating young people. It is no surprise that we both decided to become teachers. Ashley is now an amazing first grade teacher. I decided to teach music.
Why I chose to be a music teacher…
I remember my “audition” lesson with Mrs. Kay. I remember waiting outside her piano studio on the back porch swing. I could hear the student before me playing something I recognized but couldn’t name. When it was my turn, I sat on her bench and opened my favorite piano book- Beauty and the Beast. I knew every song in that silly book. After I finished playing, I looked over at her to see a big smile of encouragement. She made me feel so special and so smart. She made me feel like I could play anything. From that moment I couldn’t wait to come back. I continued taking lessons with her for 9 years. She always challenged me with advanced music and theory assignments, but she balanced out the difficulty with fun incentives like the Halloween Musical Pumpkin Contest, piano bucks, and trips to play holiday music at the nursing homes.She knew when I didn’t practice, but she never made me feel bad about it. She just found ways to encourage better habits. I loved playing duets with her. It was my favorite part of the lesson. Everything was more fun when she was sharing the bench with me. She became more than a piano teacher. She was a mentor and my role model. She let me help her teach music for vacation bible school in the summers, and eventually encouraged me to lead the music classes myself. She got me my first church gig when I was in 7th grade accompanying the youth choir at St. Thomas Aquinas, then later on subbing at St. Genevieve. Because of her influence, I became our school accompanist for mass and for musicals, took paying gigs for weddings, funerals, and special church services, and even accompanied a musical at the Thibodaux Playhouse. When I was a senior in high school, she entered me into a scholarship contest for the Brevard Music School in North Carolina. She even drove me to Baton Rouge for the auditions. Mrs. Kay went out of her way to help me stay focused in school, in my music studies, and in my Christian faith. I don’t know what it was, but I will always be thankful for whatever she saw in me as a child. She is an amazing woman full of life and love and inspiration. She is the reason that I chose to major in music education.
When I joined the band at my high-school I wanted to compete in honor bands, so I began taking percussion lessons with Mrs. Loretta Andry in addition to my piano lessons. Mrs. Andry is a strict, demanding, and devoutly religious woman. She has no patience for anything less than your absolute best, and she will tell you to your face what you need to hear- whether you want to hear it or not. She sees hidden potential and knows how to get the best out of a child. My lessons were on Thursday nights at 9 pm. I went to lessons after going to Community Band Rehearsals. No matter how tired I was or what excuses I made, she never let me settle for less than perfection. She made me a better person- not just a better musician. She made me expect more out of myself. She pushed me to work harder and longer than I ever had. She was a legend in the southern Louisiana music community. Her students always won the gigs, dominated auditions, aced chair placement tests, and were awarded scholarships. I can remember standing around during honor band rehearsal breaks with my fellow Andry students and joking about how many blow-pops and peppermints we had earned that year. A blow-pop from Loretta Andry was like a hundred bucks. You only got one after winning an audition, scoring a superior at festival, or having an incredible lesson. They were a bragging right. I never ate mine. To me they represented the hours of practice it took to win that audition or superior. I couldn’t just eat it! It was more rewarding just to collect them. Ha! All kidding aside, she has a special gift. She is magic… a teaching legend with a waiting list a mile long. I developed much of my private teaching style from the success I had under her tutelage. I am proud that I can be part of her musical legacy. She is another reason I decided to pursue a career in music education.
How I became the music teacher I am today…
When I began classes at Louisiana State University, I wanted to be a band director and teach private lessons on the side. I wanted to inspire students to work and little harder, play a little better, and to become life-long musicians. It wasn’t until my Elementary Methods class that I found my true calling and passion as a music teacher. I walked in the second day of class and saw all these miniature percussion instruments (Orff instruments) and thought I had died and gone to Heaven. We learned about the Orff-Schulwerk approach and practiced teaching through short practicum lessons at the Baton Rouge Center for Visual and Performing Arts. After about 3 classes, I decided that I was going to become an elementary music teacher, and to this day I have never looked back. Dr. Jane Cassidy was my professor in that class—and in many others after that. She was the driving force behind my success in college and in my current teaching. Her wisdom, patience, and kindness inspired me to find out what I was really made of.I wasn’t afraid to take risks in the classroom because I knew that I had someone to support and guide me. She encouraged me and offered endless support throughout my first difficult years of teaching in both the ghetto of the Scotlandville/Baker area of LA and in the South Bronx of NYC. She was never too busy to answer a question or to find time to comfort me and talk through all the mistakes new teachers make.She shared in my joys and successes and helped me to focus on the positive when I was down and out. She encouraged me to become Orff certified and to join AOSA. She walked me through my first research project- my thesis. She taught me how to organize and share my ideas with other professionals and gave me my first gig as a workshop presenter. Not a single day goes by in my classroom that I don’t think about how lucky I am to have had the opportunity to study with her. She led by outstanding academic example and exemplary moral character. The woman is truly an invaluable asset to the education field. I will always be honored that she gave me so much of her time and energy when I was her student. I am even more honored that she remains a close friend and confidant today. I look forward to the day that I can work with her again.
During my undergraduate and graduate degrees at LSU, I had the pleasure of taking many classes with Dr. Jim Byo. He is the kind of teacher that makes you sit a little straighter, get to class a little earlier, and think twice before you answer. His high expectations continuously inspired me to work harder than I ever thought possible. As soon as I was satisfied with something that I deemed my best, he’d say something or send an email that would send me into yet another frenzy of revisions. I learned what hard work really was, and I began to enjoy the benefits that hard work brought. I started to understand and truly live by the saying- the more you know, the more you realize you don’t know. I realized that I had been only thinking about things on the surface. There was so much more to every conversation, every book, and every assignment. I realized the possibilities of my education. He taught me to read- how to think about what I was reading and to apply it to other circumstances. He taught me to listen- how to hear what people were saying and what they weren’t. He taught me to write- how to have a clear purpose and to find an idea worth exploring. It was in my very first graduate class (with Dr. Byo) that I discovered that you learn more by listening than by talking- cliché I know- but a very important lesson for a person who never shuts up. I actually cried during one of those classes because I was so overwhelmed with the amount of knowledge coming in that I just couldn’t process anymore. When I finally stopped to really listen, it seemed the whole world came flooding in at once. (Thanks to my good friend Mandi I will never live that one down. J ) Most importantly, I discovered that my education never has to stop. As long as I continue to read, to ask questions and seek out answers, to engage in meaningful conversations with intelligent people, I will continue to learn for as long as I live. I am very fortunate to have had the opportunity to be among such dedicated and, quite frankly, genius educators.
I had the pleasure of student-teaching with Dale Ludwig. She explored the magic of the Orff-Shulwerk with such grace and intensity- it was mesmerizing to watch her with her elementary students. She inspired me to let go of my strict by-the-book plans and let music happen. She showed me how to teach children in such an engaging way that they left begging for more. She was gentle and nurturing to both her students and me. She opened up the Orff-Schulwerk world for me and inspired me to become part of something bigger than myself in the classroom. I learned by watching her teach that the children should be the center of the music- not me. Dale is a master teacher of children and adults, and I hope she Never stops sharing her talent and wisdom with the world!
Pam, Mandi, and Liz
These 3 women took me under their wing when I returned to LSU for my graduate work. They let me study with them, ask a million insane questions, and provided me a support system that nourished my thirst for learning. They made life—which was usually exhausting, overwhelming, and scary- enjoyable. They were my partners in crime, and I learned so much from these incredible women. From statistics to practicum duties to Ying Yangs at the Melting Pot, these ladies were a marvelous inspiration to me. I am forever in their debt.
Danai Gagne, Judith Thomas, and Sofia Lopez-Ibor
I have had the absolute pleasure and honor of being mentored by the most creative and genius music educators on this side of the planet over the past 5 years. Danai and Judith have guided me through the incredible process of teacher training and Orff Schulwerk education with unconditional commitment and support. I am incredibly honored to be teaching beside Danai after taking over for Judith in the New York City Orff Certification Program. After spending the summer of 2015 apprenticing with Sofia in San Francisco, I can honestly say that I am absolutely in awe of the depth of these three women and their limitless musicality, unbridled talent, and honest passion for teaching. Every moment of my teaching day is filled with little bits and pieces of their gifts to me. They inspire me to be better every day and to push myself beyond where I once believed I could go.