Master Teacher Interview With Pat Pollock
by Christine Hulmer, WMEA Vice President, Northwest District
Pat Pollock is band director at Chequamegon School District, where he has held the position since 1987. Throughout the years, Pollock has pursued many opportunities with his students, including the middle school band performing at the Wisconsin State Music Conference and taking the high school band to numerous festivals throughout the U.S.
How has teaching changed in Wisconsin since you began teaching?
As I think about the students that sit in the band room, they’ve changed quite a bit. Kids have many opportunities to participate in activities in and out of school. They seem to dabble in various activities without mastering one. I try to instill in the students that it takes time and effort to be good at something. It’s dedicating oneself to mastering a skill is where many of today’s kids fall short.
There is one thing that I’ve noticed with kids recently. With education becoming more personalized, many kids enjoy participating in a large group. They enjoy working together to strive towards the goals that we’ve set for all. It’s a refreshing change from the, “me, me, me…” attitude from the past.
The educational institution is consistently changing. An emphasis on high stakes testing, individualized instruction, and flexible scheduling can jeopardize the availability of students. If the arts are going to thrive in this educational atmosphere, we must work together and educate the decision makers on how the arts dovetail with other curricular areas.
I have noticed a true commitment to success for all in your classroom. Talk about how you perceive the band experience to be valuable for students.
My philosophy in the classroom has changed over the years. As a young teacher, I was a taskmaster. The kids would work very hard for me with great success. Following a very fine performance at a state convention, the kids asked, “Mr. Pollock, how’d we do?” That was the turning point for me. I changed from a director to a facilitator. I help guide the students to achieve their goals. This gives them a greater feeling of ownership in the ensemble. The atmosphere in the band room is that everyone has an important role in the ensemble. This approach has increased the musical quality for all.
Do you prefer to teach at the middle or high school? Why?
I love making music with all ages of kids, and they love making it!! My first 19 years in this business was at the middle school level. During these years, we shared our music with audiences from around the state. These years have produced some of the most memorable musical experiences of my career.
Currently I work with students in grade five and nine through twelve. Experiencing the musical energy from high school students is a feeling that is indescribable. I love guiding beginners to their first musical experience. It is extremely rewarding and enjoyable to work with students of these different ages and musical abilities.
You are in your 31st year of teaching, and have had a positive impact on literally thousands of children. Looking back, who was the most influential teacher YOU ever had?
If I had to pick one, it would have to be my parents. Even today they continue to be a huge influence in my teaching. My father was in education for his entire career; he could work with anyone. It is my parents’ compassion for humanity that helps keep me focused on the students. After all of these years, I continue to have mentors. I enjoy being active in professional organizations. This gives me the opportunity to interact with master educators that are passionate about music education and hopefully be a mentor to them.
Your list of honors and accomplishments are many. Please list a few: Is it possible to tell the readers which of these are you the most proud of?
I used to be a trophy chaser, but after the cases were full my professional satisfaction was still empty. I found this satisfaction when the students that I work with would share their feelings about a particular piece or performance. Watching them continue to play following graduation and keeping music in their lives is something that I’m extremely proud of.
Has the current political climate in Wisconsin changed your educational philosophy/purpose?
No, but it is a distraction. Music programs are under fire during this current political climate. We, as music educators, must reach out and band together to make sure that our students continue to have musical experiences. I would hate to see a society without music!
You have taught in a small town and had the entire band program for the majority of your career; please tell us about the benefits of this experience?
Working in a small town has been an incredible experience over the years. I’ve been through staff and budget reductions, district consolidation, administrative changes, etc. Any little change can disrupt the educational progress. The glue that has kept this program together has been the parents. Administrators and school boards may not always hear us as teachers, but they hear parents loud and clear.
All of us in education would like to think that we have had a positive impact on our students and community…what sort of impact have you had?
Hopefully, a positive one. A few years ago I was asked to write an article for a music journal for their February issue. Well, that’s about the time that many of us ask ourselves, “Why do I do this?” Instead of writing about motivational methods on how to survive the winter doldrums, I asked the kids. Being from a small school, the kids in the band room are extremely busy. I was curious to hear why they choose to put another thing on their plate. After the writing assignment was given and handed in, I expected to read answers about how they enjoyed the music, or playing in pep band, or the trips that we take. To my surprise, students wrote about how making music made them feel. We all know of the positive impact music can have. I feel very fortunate that I had the opportunity to share musical experiences with many students over the years.
Also, strong community support is shown through concert attendance, monetary donations, and a convincing voice supporting the effort of these kids at school board meetings. This is all the evidence that I need to know that the community supports the efforts of the kids.
In closing, do you have any “words of wisdom” you’d like to share with teachers just beginning their careers?
Mentorship is so important. I never would have made it in this business without the wonderful mentors who have helped me over the years. Also, become an active member of a professional organization in your field. Organizations such as NAfME, NBA-WC and others consist of some of the top educators in our state. There’s no better place to connect with people who are compassionate about our business!