Master Teacher Interview With Bruce Clawson
by Will Janssen, WMEA Vice President, South Central District
Bruce Clawson is a long-time elementary general music teacher in the Baraboo School District. He is also a member of the Comprehensive Musicianship Through Performance (CMP) Committee. He recently answered some questions about his involvement in music education.
Describe your professional background.
I am a public school elementary general music teacher in Baraboo. This is my 29th year of teaching, all in the same district. My home school is Al Behrman Elementary, formerly South Elementary, in Baraboo.
What is your current job assignment?
K-5 general music.
What drew you to teaching elementary general music?
It was a natural fit. I decided at five years old that I never wanted to do anything other than sing with people for the rest of my life. I got a teaching certificate from UW-Madison after graduating from Luther College. At first I intended to become a high school choir director, but fell in love with elementary general music. I like being a part of a young person’s life, and hopefully setting them up for a lifetime of music making.
What is the best part of your job?
When a student who has never matched pitch with their singing voice, but didn’t give up trying, finally is able to do it. It can often take years of work for them to develop the muscular coordination and tone to be able to sing in tune, and it is a joyous moment when the find their voice. Nothing makes me happier.
Do you have certain units you look forward to teaching each year? What do you look forward to in these? I really like using the First Steps in Music and Conversational Solfege methods developed by John Feierabend. The First Steps curriculum is designed to strengthen a new student’s ways of music making in a number of different areas. The lessons are fast-paced, culturally relevant, and highly varied. We get quite a workout during the lesson. I’ve grown to really like working with younger students.
You’ve been a long-serving member of the CMP Committee. Describe the connection you see between elementary general music instruction and the CMP model.
The connection is strong, in fact you might think of the model as helping middle school and high school band, choir, and orchestra teachers to be a little more like general music teachers. All classrooms benefit from making connections to the wider world, within us, or with others through studying a work of art. This is true regardless of a student’s (or teacher’s) age. I’ve found that using the model has helped me make more meaningful choices about which music we devote our time in class to, always trying to find songs that will last a child a lifetime, not just for the duration of a concert or two.
How do you stay motivated to grow professionally during your career?
I try to put my energy into learning meaningful methodologies, and incorporating them into the curriculum I deliver. I am a Level II Orff-trained teacher, and a Level III Kodaly-trained teacher, too. Both of these fold nicely into my overall CMP mindset. They each offer a set of complimentary tools. One thing that I’m motivated by is to help as many children as possible have music in their life, for the rest of their life. This is what John Feierabend calls “The 30-year plan.” Any tools I can use that help me achieve that are worth having.
What do you look forward to in your work?
Frankly, retirement. I’ve been in school since I was four years old, with a couple of years off for bad behavior in my early 20s. I love teaching and watching kids grow, but I’m ready to move on to other experiences. I’ve recently become an Emergency Medical Technician, and am looking forward to working in that field during my retirement. It’s amazing how many teaching skills directly correlate to working with patients. I feel a bit like a traitor to the profession to admit this, but in truth, I’m really excited to begin this new phase of my life.
Have you found ways to integrate technology into your instruction at the elementary level?
I used to quip that the only technology I needed in the classroom was hundreds or thousands of years old, namely a voice and a recorder. That has changed in the last decade or so as technology has become more transparent and flexible. I’m lucky to work in a school district that has put resources into having first-rate technology in every classroom. Our technology department has great vision for using technology in the educational setting. When I talk to teachers from other districts, they are usually envious of what we have. That being said, what I’d really like in my room are Chromebooks or iPads for each student in a class, and I think those are finally coming, but it will be too late since I’ll be gone soon. So, right now my use of technology is pretty basic: I have a Smartboard, and a laptop, and six old iPads. But…
What trends do you see coming in music education, good or bad?
One of the trends that I see happening is away from older methodologies such as Kodaly and Orff, and more toward using technology to have students create, restructure, and manipulate sounds while making their own compositions. This is discussed in the book Remixing the Classroom – Toward an Open Philosophy of Music Education by Randall Everett Allsup, where the music classroom becomes less of a museum, and more of a laboratory where students are still exposed to a wide variety of music, but use the elements found therein to create new works. If I had more time, and the technological resources, this is the direction I’d head.