Skip to content

Kindergarten Teacher Of The Year Essays On Music

Why I Became a Teacher

July 6, 2015

July 6, 2015

By Rebekah Schilperoort

We asked some of our newest Milken Educators “What factors influenced your decision to become a teacher?” For some it was an innate calling at a young age. For others it was a deeply personal experience. But no matter the path, these educators have profound reasons for choosing the teaching profession. Click through this gallery to read their inspiring stories

Tracy Espiritu (NJ '14)

Tracy began her career at an engineering company, then lost her job due to downsizing. But training junior engineers while still at the company, she realized that she had a knack and passion for teaching.

“Looking back, I may have been naïve in my decision to teach, thinking, as what the general public may think also, ‘how hard can it be?’ To my surprise, it is the hardest, thankless job I ever ended up loving. I am grateful for the turn of events that lead me to become a teacher, otherwise I would not have found my calling.” (STEM Teacher at Dr. Albert Einstein Academy #29 in Elizabeth, NJ)

Bio | Photos | Video
Jana Fukada (HI ’14)

Jana’s experiences as a student—in particular what she learned from her many great teachers over the years—drew her to the teaching profession.

“As a young girl I always dreamed about becoming a teacher because my teachers were able to make learning so much fun. As I got older, school was not as easy for me but my teachers always took the time to help me understand what was being taught. My teachers fostered within me a desire to learn, challenge myself and explore. I wanted to share that same experience with others.” (Curriculum Coach at Mililani Uka Elementary School in Mililani, HI)

Bio | Photos | Video
Ana Gutierrez (AZ ’14)

Ana came to the U.S. with her parents at a very young age. Her experience in the American education system was a significant influence on her choice to become a teacher.

“My decision to enter education is a direct result of having wonderful teachers and education opening the door for growth and opportunity in this country. My parents immigrated to this country when I was 2 years old. They always reminded me that the United States was a place where people came to follow their dreams. At a very young age, it was inculcated that the only way to achieve your dreams and aspirations was through a college education. When I first started school in the U.S. I knew very little English, but with the help of my teachers and aides, I was able to learn and exceed academically. As education opened many doors for me, I decided in college that I wanted to do the same for my community. I decided that through teaching I could affect the lives of many students who experienced similar challenges as I faced. To this day, I know that every student who walks through our doors deserves as excellent an education as any other student in the country does. My love of learning and teaching continues to motivate me to become a better teacher and to help nurture the value of life-long learning in others.” (TAP Master Teacher at Wildflower School in Goodyear, AZ)

Bio | Photos | Video
Angela Harvala (MN ’14)

Angela’s love of learning and passion for teaching was awakened at an early age by equally passionate and dedicated teachers.

“I was lucky to have many passionate, clever teachers as a child that instilled a thirst for knowledge and love for math and books. They made solving problems exciting and literature come alive. But, more importantly, they made a difference in my life. I know from the time I was young that I wanted to help others discover the wonders I had been shown. I found a knack for guiding children in the acquisition of knowledge and skills. I also took pride in the success of others. The way their eyes lit up in response to understanding ignited my excitement for teaching. More importantly, knowing I was making an impact beyond that of academics cemented my decision to become part of this important, evolving and noble profession.” (Teacher at North Elementary School in Princeton, MN)

Bio | Photos | Video
Maggie Hawk (MD ’14)

Maggie’s personal struggles with a learning disability fueled her desire to teach.

“When I was in first grade, my teacher made a profound impact on my life. She taught me how to be excited about learning while challenging me every day to reach my full potential. One of the personal challenges I had to overcome as a student was being dyslexic. From an early age, I was able to overcome challenges through hard work and determination, as well as the support of my teachers and family. Through my personal struggles, I was inspired to become an educator so I could teach kids and challenge them to reach their full potential through hard work and the relentless pursuit to become their best self. My first grade teacher first exposed me to this attitude toward learning and made me realize very early in life that becoming a teacher was not only going to be my future but a lifelong passion!” (First-grade teacher at Yellow Springs Elementary School in Frederick, MD)

Bio | Photos | Video
Michelle Johnson (DC ’14)

Teaching is a “calling” for Michelle.

“Each day I wake up excited to get to school and help our young students reach their potential through fostering a love of learning. I know that instilling a love of learning in students ensures a brighter future for them and all mankind.” (Second-grade teacher at Seaton Elementary School in Washington, DC)

Bio | Photos | Video
Carman McBride (AR ’14)

At a very young age, Carman felt the pull to become an educator and discover new and creative ways to teach for different learning styles.

“A teacher is one of the only jobs that every child gets the opportunity to observe over and over again. I had some extraordinary teachers growing up and always wanted to impact children the way they had impacted me. I’ve always thought in terms of different learning styles and modes of communication. I would evaluate presenters or teachers in my head and think of ways that they could communicate to their audience more effectively. It was fun for me! I looked up to teachers and communicators who taught in unique and creative ways. They had the ability to captivate and inspire me to change. I knew that one day if I became a teacher I, too, could do that.” (EAST Facilitator at Don R. Roberts Elementary School in Little Rock, AR)

Bio | Photos | Video
Desi Nesmith (CT ’14)

Growing up in a family of educators, teaching is a profession that Desi has always revered.

“I knew at a very young age that I wanted to be a teacher. My father was a fifth-grade teacher in Hartford, Connecticut. My brothers and I would go up in the summer to help set up his classroom. My grandmother was a paraprofessional in the same school. I come from a long line of educators, including aunts, uncles and cousins.” (Principal of Metacomet School in Bloomfield, CT)

Bio | Photos | Video
Lindsey Parker (LA ’14)

As a fourth generation teacher, Lindsey knew first-hand the rewards and challenges that would accompany the profession.

“In the end, I looked to two of the most influential teachers in my life; my gifted teacher Mrs. Thompson and my mother, who taught me middle school English language arts. I wanted to make a difference in my community by making a difference in individual student lives. There’s no regret, no second-guessing of my decision to become a teacher. Each day I recommit to this work and I consider being an educator a lifestyle choice. Teaching fills my entire life with purpose and love that continues to multiply over time.” (TAP Master Teacher at North DeSoto Elementary 3-5 School in Stonewall, LA)

Bio | Photos | Video
Anthony Petrelis (MA ’14)

Anthony’s “love for helping others” influenced his decision to become a teacher.

“I get a lot of gratification in helping people and students achieve their goals. I know that I sometimes struggled in school and had difficulty with concepts, so I want to be there for the children like my teachers were there for me.” (Fifth-grade teacher at McGlynn Elementary School in Medford, MA)

Bio | Photos | Video | Related Story: Milken Educator Shaves Head for Kids with Cancer
LeeAnna Rabine (SD ’14)

Seeing the lives her parents positively impacted as educators was incredibly inspiring to LeeAnna.

“I love working with children and making a positive difference in their lives. I appreciate that I can utilize all of my passions in my classroom on a daily basis (music, dancing, American Sign Language). The challenge that comes with identifying the ‘trigger’ that will jump start a student’s learning is exciting to me! So many of my teachers inspired me and it made me want to be just like them!” (Kindergarten teacher at Hawthorne Elementary School in Sioux Falls, SD)

Bio | Photos | Video
Nardi Routten (FL ’14)

After working in the insurance industry for several years, Nardi decided to follow a lifelong dream of becoming a teacher.

“I remember I always wanted to become a teacher. However, in college I decided to pursue a degree in finance. Since I was a teenager, I worked with children at my church—a passion that has continued into adulthood. Seeing the spark and the desire to learn in the eyes of children led me finally to pursue my love of teaching. Being a catalyst for change in a child’s life helped influence by decision to become a teacher.” (Fourth-grade teacher at Frances K. Sweet Elementary School in Fort Pierce, FL)

Bio | Photos | Video | Related Story: What Do Your Students See?
Kelly Wilber (IN ’14)

Through her brother’s struggles and determination to overcome his mental handicap, Kelly became motivated to dedicate her career to helping students learn.

“My first inspiration was my brother, David. David was born with Down syndrome. We are seven years apart, but when we were children we learned together. I realized at an early age that everyone has the ability to learn, but the process may look different. My brother taught me the importance of hard work and perseverance. I wanted to become a teacher in order to work with kids like David who face learning challenges.

"As an elementary student, I was inspired by my third-grade teacher, Mrs. Mary Kegebein. She had a magical way of making learning meaningful and fun. She made every student in her class believe they could accomplish any dream if they worked hard enough. I hope that I help my students create memories that will inspire them to become future educators.” (TAP Mentor Teacher at Southport Elementary School in Indianapolis, IN)

Bio | Photos | Video

Follow us on Facebook
Follow us on Twitter
Subscribe to our YouTube channel
Follow us on Instagram

Whether your child is the next Beyonce or more likely to sing her solos in the shower, she is bound to benefit from some form of music education. Research shows that learning the do-re-mis can help children excel in ways beyond the basic ABCs.

More Than Just Music
Research has found that learning music facilitates learning other subjects and enhances skills that children inevitably use in other areas. “A music-rich experience for children of singing, listening and moving is really bringing a very serious benefit to children as they progress into more formal learning,” says Mary Luehrisen, executive director of the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) Foundation, a not-for-profit association that promotes the benefits of making music.

Making music involves more than the voice or fingers playing an instrument; a child learning about music has to tap into multiple skill sets, often simultaneously. For instance, people use their ears and eyes, as well as large and small muscles, says Kenneth Guilmartin, cofounder of Music Together, an early childhood music development program for infants through kindergarteners that involves parents or caregivers in the classes.

“Music learning supports all learning. Not that Mozart makes you smarter, but it’s a very integrating, stimulating pastime or activity,” Guilmartin says.

Language Development
“When you look at children ages two to nine, one of the breakthroughs in that area is music’s benefit for language development, which is so important at that stage,” says Luehrisen. While children come into the world ready to decode sounds and words, music education helps enhance those natural abilities. “Growing up in a musically rich environment is often advantageous for children’s language development,” she says. But Luehrisen adds that those inborn capacities need to be “reinforced, practiced, celebrated,” which can be done at home or in a more formal music education setting.

According to the Children’s Music Workshop, the effect of music education on language development can be seen in the brain. “Recent studies have clearly indicated that musical training physically develops the part of the left side of the brain known to be involved with processing language, and can actually wire the brain’s circuits in specific ways. Linking familiar songs to new information can also help imprint information on young minds,” the group claims.

This relationship between music and language development is also socially advantageous to young children. “The development of language over time tends to enhance parts of the brain that help process music,” says Dr. Kyle Pruett, clinical professor of child psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine and a practicing musician. “Language competence is at the root of social competence. Musical experience strengthens the capacity to be verbally competent.”

Increased IQ
A study by E. Glenn Schellenberg at the University of Toronto at Mississauga, as published in a 2004 issue of Psychological Science, found a small increase in the IQs of six-year-olds who were given weekly voice and piano lessons. Schellenberg provided nine months of piano and voice lessons to a dozen six-year-olds, drama lessons (to see if exposure to arts in general versus just music had an effect) to a second group of six-year-olds, and no lessons to a third group. The children’s IQs were tested before entering the first grade, then again before entering the second grade.

Surprisingly, the children who were given music lessons over the school year tested on average three IQ points higher than the other groups. The drama group didn’t have the same increase in IQ, but did experience increased social behavior benefits not seen in the music-only group.

The Brain Works Harder
Research indicates the brain of a musician, even a young one, works differently than that of a nonmusician. “There’s some good neuroscience research that children involved in music have larger growth of neural activity than people not in music training. When you’re a musician and you’re playing an instrument, you have to be using more of your brain,” says Dr. Eric Rasmussen, chair of the Early Childhood Music Department at the Peabody Preparatory of The Johns Hopkins University, where he teaches a specialized music curriculum for children aged two months to nine years.

In fact, a study led by Ellen Winner, professor of psychology at Boston College, and Gottfried Schlaug, professor of neurology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School, found changes in the brain images of children who underwent 15 months of weekly music instruction and practice. The students in the study who received music instruction had improved sound discrimination and fine motor tasks, and brain imaging showed changes to the networks in the brain associated with those abilities, according to the Dana Foundation, a private philanthropic organization that supports brain research.

Spatial-Temporal Skills
Research has also found a causal link between music and spatial intelligence, which means that understanding music can help children visualize various elements that should go together, like they would do when solving a math problem.

“We have some pretty good data that music instruction does reliably improve spatial-temporal skills in children over time,” explains Pruett, who helped found the Performing Arts Medicine Association. These skills come into play in solving multistep problems one would encounter in architecture, engineering, math, art, gaming, and especially working with computers.

Improved Test Scores
A study published in 2007 by Christopher Johnson, professor of music education and music therapy at the University of Kansas, revealed that students in elementary schools with superior music education programs scored around 22 percent higher in English and 20 percent higher in math scores on standardized tests, compared to schools with low-quality music programs, regardless of socioeconomic disparities among the schools or school districts. Johnson compares the concentration that music training requires to the focus needed to perform well on a standardized test.

Aside from test score results, Johnson’s study highlights the positive effects that a quality music education can have on a young child’s success. Luehrisen explains this psychological phenomenon in two sentences: “Schools that have rigorous programs and high-quality music and arts teachers probably have high-quality teachers in other areas. If you have an environment where there are a lot of people doing creative, smart, great things, joyful things, even people who aren’t doing that have a tendency to go up and do better.”

And it doesn’t end there: along with better performance results on concentration-based tasks, music training can help with basic memory recall. “Formal training in music is also associated with other cognitive strengths such as verbal recall proficiency,” Pruett says. “People who have had formal musical training tend to be pretty good at remembering verbal information stored in memory.”

Being Musical
Music can improve your child’ abilities in learning and other nonmusic tasks, but it’s important to understand that music does not make one smarter. As Pruett explains, the many intrinsic benefits to music education include being disciplined, learning a skill, being part of the music world, managing performance, being part of something you can be proud of, and even struggling with a less than perfect teacher.

“It’s important not to oversell how smart music can make you,” Pruett says. “Music makes your kid interesting and happy, and smart will come later. It enriches his or her appetite for things that bring you pleasure and for the friends you meet.”
While parents may hope that enrolling their child in a music program will make her a better student, the primary reasons to provide your child with a musical education should be to help them become more musical, to appreciate all aspects of music, and to respect the process of learning an instrument or learning to sing, which is valuable on its own merit.

“There is a massive benefit from being musical that we don’t understand, but it’s individual. Music is for music’s sake,” Rasmussen says. “The benefit of music education for me is about being musical. It gives you have a better understanding of yourself. The horizons are higher when you are involved in music,” he adds. “Your understanding of art and the world, and how you can think and express yourself, are enhanced.”

Laura Lewis Brown caught the writing bug as soon as she could hold a pen. For several years, she wrote a national online column on relationships, and she now teaches writing as an adjunct professor. She lives in Baltimore with her husband and three young children, who give her a lot of material for her blog,