The Journey from Student to Teacher

Student teachers in the music department share their experiences at Stuyvesant.

Reading Time: 4 minutes

The concept of the student teacher is perhaps a contradiction in and of itself. Neither the master nor the apprentice, a student teacher seeks to balance both sides of learning, from the recipient to the giver. Stuyvesant’s music department has heavily relied on student teachers to foster not only student learning but also growth among teachers and colleagues.

The music department at Stuyvesant is unique in part due to its vast size and variety of music class offerings, ranging from a multitude of performing ensembles to an Advanced Placement (AP) Music Theory class and Music Appreciation classes. Though there are currently only four teachers involved in the music department, the tasks covered are far and wide-ranging. Student teachers are thus involved in a variety of settings—some familiar and others foreign.

Student teacher Matt Beland primarily specializes in teaching string instruments. “Of course, being a violinist, conducting orchestra is comfortable. However, my favorite class to teach was the Music Appreciation class,” he stated. Beland has taken many music history courses in the past that served to enrich both his style of playing and broaden his knowledge to explore deeper interpretations of music. Sharing this experience with students, however, was a different experience entirely. “I feel like I have all this knowledge inside my head [and] never the opportunity to share it. It was, in a way, cathartic that I could share my favorite pieces with my students,” he explained.

Former student teacher Oliver Hagen is a conductor and a pianist. Hagen is currently on faculty at the Juilliard Preparatory Division, Special Music School, and School for Strings, and he has played piano on the Third Coast Percussion 2017 Grammy-winning album. After Hofstra University placed him at Stuyvesant to observe its music classes, he voluntarily returned to Stuyvesant for student teaching. “I really liked Stuyvesant for its multifaceted music program and the fact that all music classes [meet] every day,” he recalled. To Hagen, the processes behind teaching or learning are distinctly connected. “Beginner band was a particularly fun challenge in that I'm still learning all the fingerings for various wind instruments. It was invigorating to test my newly developing skills in that department. It was also fun to come up with experimental beginner exercises,” he described.

Stuyvesant’s chorus and orchestra have typically collaborated together to perform a piece of music. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the chorus and orchestra had been working on a piece by Christopher Tin titled “Calling All Dawns.” Unlike many traditional works for chorus and orchestra, “Calling All Dawns” is written in 12 movements, with each section drawing inspiration from a different language. Beland coached the chamber orchestra in weekly sectionals. “In many ways, the ‘Calling All Dawns’ chamber orchestra was the most professionally rewarding [class to teach],” he stated. Instead of focusing on purely technical issues, Beland was able to center on musicality and sound-sculpting. “[The chamber orchestra] has a sunny, almost amber timbre. It’s rare to be part of that type of ensemble, and I truly enjoyed it,” he explained.

Prior to teaching at Stuyvesant, Beland had observed music classes at P.S. 116 and NEST+m but never at the high school level. Because different age groups learn and benefit differently, teaching at Stuyvesant was a very different experience. “High school students have a much stronger identity than the younger grades,” Beland explained. While many elementary students are exploring music for the first time and making learning teacher-centered, specialization in high schools incurs a sense of student and community learning rather than a student to teacher approach.

The connection between the student teacher and the faculty, however, is perhaps the most important aspect of the student teacher’s integration into teaching. Though both Hagen and Beland have taught at other institutions—some more prestigious and established, others smaller and less known—teaching at Stuyvesant was distinctly rewarding due to the students and teachers involved. “It’s a question of specific chemistry with other teachers and students. I was greeted with a great sense of open-mindedness and plenty of leeway at Stuyvesant to try new things,” Hagen explained.

Music coordinator Liliya Shamazov works closely with student teachers to operate the music department: “The student teachers are a great help to us if they are willing to take risks [and] not be afraid in front of the class,” Shamazov explained. When a student teacher steps onto the podium, Shamazov is free to help individual sections and provide more feedback by listening as an audience member rather than a conductor.

Though Stuyvesant is primarily a STEM-dominated school, many students look to expand their musical knowledge through musical performance, theory, or history. “Perhaps unexpectedly, we have many exceptionally-talented music students in this specialized science school,” band director Gregor Winkel said. Student teachers help to nurture and develop these skills by aiding the faculty in teaching the student body.

The role of the student teacher, however, is not limited to simply teaching the students. The addition of a fresh personality and teaching style often helps an ensemble progress. “With a new face, students are often curious and snoopy; they ask personal questions,” Winkel stated. “It is always fun to have something fresh and new in the classroom once in a while.”

At the end of each semester, Stuyvesant’s music department hosts a concert showcasing the band, chorus, and orchestra. Student teachers traditionally conduct a major portion of these concerts. This experience often displays the culmination of a student teacher’s work during their semester at Stuyvesant. “Conducting an ensemble,” Shamazov explained, “is both a celebration of hard work and a very valuable learning experience.” The experience of conducting at a concert is one that many student teachers seek, but it is more than just a learning experience. The opportunity to do so is also a sign of gratitude. “Usually, they are contributing something important to our student’s music education. We signal to them that they were not just standing on the sidelines, observing,” Winkel voiced. “We are acknowledging their accomplishments with this gesture.”

This perspective is not limited to the student teachers, however. The process of learning, whether through teaching or through study, catalyzes a common sentiment through all levels of mastery. To Shamazov, the process of teaching music serves as a special, almost rare connection: “Working with students [and] teachers alike is a joy,” she explained. “Teaching young people, seeing how they grow and mature, and helping them present a performance [that] they are proud of is a joy.”

From student to teacher, learner to master, and all student teachers alike, the learning never stops.