Educators are an invaluable resource, particularly in more rural communities. Whether it be arithmetic, history, science, literature or assorted other subject matter, local communities count on teachers and instructors to provide their youth with the knowledge and life skills they’ll need to prosper.
So that this esteemed position might be better recognized, the Messenger has approached the local schools to run a series highlighting the instructors they employ. These interviews aim both to explore and learn from the passion each teacher brings to their subject.
For over a decade, Jennifer VanReese has been providing music instruction at Onamia School. Whether it’s on-stage at the school’s gym or in the classroom, VanReese is committed to giving her students opportunities to explore the musical art forms with academic rigor.
Q: How long have you been teaching your subject?
A: I have taught 6-12th grade band and general music in Onamia for the past 16 years.
Currently, my day includes 6-12 grade concert band, a jazz band, a 7th-grade general music course that explores different genres of music and a beginning piano elective for upperclassmen.
Q: Was there a point in your life you realized you were passionate about this subject or inspired to pursue further learning on it?
A: Growing up, making music was a big part of my life. I valued the ability to communicate my thoughts and feelings through music and also the connections that playing music helped me make with other people.
I started college with the intention to study either music, English or some type of pre-law program. I quickly realized that I enjoyed my time spent in the practice rooms and rehearsal halls much more than I enjoyed my time working on those other things.
I decided to pursue work that not only would allow me to continue to make music but would also give me the ability to share this art form with others.
Q: What was your own experience with school growing up? Did you have an interest in the subject when you were younger?
A: I always really enjoyed school. I am a person who genuinely enjoys learning new things about a wide variety of subjects. If I won the lottery, I would perhaps go back to college and try to study everything.
As a high school teacher, I frequently walk by classrooms in which my colleagues are teaching fascinating things that I myself don’t know how to do. I always wish I had time to wander in and see what the students are up to.
Of all of the courses that I took in school, music was my favorite, however. It gave me the opportunity to create something beautiful, every day.
Q: What benefits do you see in having an educated understanding of your subject in our present day society?
A: Our present day society needs art. We are inundated all day long with frustrating and sometimes terrible news stories from around the globe. Both adults and kids are dealing with all kinds of stress creators, some old and some newly created by the technology we use daily. Many of us deal with mental health issues, anxiety and depression.
Music, like the other arts, gives humans a powerful medium for processing our thoughts and feelings, and then it helps us to communicate those things to others. It helps us understand a little bit better the lives and thoughts of diverse groups of people. When we listen to their music, we can understand better what others are thinking, what they feel and what they value.
The most rewarding part of my job is watching kids walk into my classroom somewhat frazzled and stressed and then giving them the opportunity to create beauty, every day, right here in Onamia.
Q: Is there any obscure or commonly misunderstood concept related to your subject that you wish was better understood? What’s the one lesson or concept you wish you could teach to the public at large?
A: Music is an academic subject, with curricula and state and national standards, just like any other subject that is taught in school.
I love the fact that people come to our concerts, are entertained, and even feel comfortable enough requesting that we play their favorite songs, the ones closest to their hearts.
That having been said, it is my job as a music teacher to introduce my students to wide variety of genres, topics and skills.
If we just played the kids’ (or their parents’) favorite popular hits all of time, then I would be seriously neglecting my students’ music education.
It is an important part of my job to show them the wide variety of musical ideas that exist in our world.