Master Teacher Interview With Douglas Syme
By Cheryl Miracle
Dr. Douglas Syme has been the director of the Milwaukee High School of the Arts jazz program since 2001. Dr. Syme had been the band director and department chair at Vincent High School, taught jazz studies and classical guitar at UW-Stevens Point, and worked with the MYSO jazz studies program from 2004-2012. Dr. Syme holds a B.M. from Northern Illinois University, an M.M.E from UW-Stevens Point, completed his teacher licensure at Alverno College and received his D.M.A. from Boston University. Dr. Syme is currently serving as the WMEA state chair for jazz education.
What is the best part of being a music teacher? Why do you wake up and do what you do each day?
“I think just the fact that I still get to go to work with a guitar in my bag… nothing is perfect, but I don’t think a musician can complain about making a living with music. I still spend a good part of my day talking about guitars and amplifiers and picks with really smart kids who are as much into it as I am… you still get a chance to share your craft.”
What misconceptions do educators sometimes have about teaching in an urban school district that you would like to speak to?
“Maybe the misconception that it’s just so downright dangerous every day. I think the frustration of fighting the day-to-day battle with apathy and things like attendance is more challenging than any fear I have. A lot of these students are coming from a culture that doesn’t value education so I fight that, too… In an urban setting you have to be more realistic about what you’re going to accomplish. It’s more important to take a kid from point A to point B no matter where they’re at.”
How can we attract highly qualified music teachers to our profession?
“I think part of it is you better look at your high school and realize you need to recruit a bit. I didn’t play a traditional “band” instrument. I played percussion in the Wind Ensemble only because my director wanted me on guitar in the Jazz Band once a week. Why don’t you find those musicians, too? There are many musicians that are not in band, choir or orchestra. Go get them and make them feel welcome.”