“I want to show my students how music can offer unique perspectives”: Q & A with Debbie Doyle, MEd ‘18
When Debbie decided to pursue her master’s degree, Concordia’s STEAM concentration seemed to fit perfectly with what she was already doing in the classroom. Read on to learn how earning her MEd revamped her curriculum and allowed her to advance as an educator.
What made you choose the STEAM concentration for your MEd?
I’m a music educator and I chose Concordia Portland’s STEAM concentration so I could continue to cross curriculum and give my students the best chance to learn everything that’s out there.
What most people don’t realize is music can be integrated into every other discipline. It’s one of the few things in this world that activates both sides of the brain at the same time. I wanted to show my students that there’s science in music and there’s history in music. I wanted to make sure that I used STEAM because the arts are just as important as technology, science, engineering, and math.
My students may never become musicians, but I may have sparked that potential to find out more about waves, or find out how the ear works, or how I can set up an instrument and why it is the way it is. In my classroom, we discuss the physics of how instruments and sound work. I think that’s where it fits — these little sparks that music places can allow our students to unlock any potential they have. I want to show them how music education can support their lives and can offer unique perspectives.
How do you think your degree has benefitted you professionally?
This degree has made me grow leaps and bounds within my own classroom. I love Concordia Portland because their coursework is so relevant to what’s going on in education right now. The thing I took away the most was a way to revamp my current curriculum and add in different methodologies like interactive notebooks or project-based learning. I’ve been teaching for seven years now and every year I always try to change something around to make sure my students are getting the best education possible. I’ve been able to reach my students on a different level than I have in the past.
I’ve also grown by talking to colleagues all around the world, getting different ideas I would have never thought of before. I’ve watched my own students grow from my growth as an educator and it’s been amazing.
What kinds of obstacles do you face and how do you overcome those challenges?
We have a lot of students that come from very poor households. I think my school sits at about 85% free and reduced lunch. It’s a Title 1 charter school and it’s often a last-chance school for a lot of our students. So we have a lot of disciplinary problems, gang problems, and problems where students just don’t want to learn.
In order to combat that, I really try to make my lessons fun. I’ve made a lot of changes to my curriculum to match the kind of music they like and that really helps keep their focus and get those discipline problems down. I’ve also implemented other things like free seating or allowing them to choose who they work with or where they work. I try to get on my students’ level and relate with them as best as I can professionally, while still being friendly with them.
I also think that my experience of being a foster parent and eventually adopting my daughter has changed how I see my students and the whole child. Oftentimes my daughter would act out when she was first with me because she just didn’t understand what was going on. She was frustrated, she was angry, she was sad — and I had to take a step back and realize that she’s acting out because she just can’t comprehend what’s going on.
It’s taught me to be a much more patient person and that has gone into my classroom immensely. I am much more patient as a teacher, especially when students are acting out. I understand that they might just be having a bad day, or they’re frustrated with another class, or they don’t understand what I’m trying to teach them. I take a step back and look at what’s going on and try to reach them at that personal level. Just like I’ve done and still do with my daughter.
What do you think is one of the biggest misconceptions about teaching?
I think the biggest misconception that people have about teachers is that we just don’t care about our students and we’re only there for a paycheck. I’ve heard several times, “You get summers off so you shouldn’t be complaining about how much you get paid.” Or, “You get weekends off. You’re done by 3pm. You should be fine with what you have.” And that is completely false. I’m at school until 4pm every day and then I usually bring home stacks of work.
If my students are having a really bad day, they know they can come to talk to me because I’m able to give them tips to help them. That takes away from my lunch time and prep time, but it’s worth it for my students. The other day I spent 20 minutes combing through a trash can to find a kindergartener’s tooth. And even though it was absolutely grotesque, the look on her face when I brought her the tooth made it all better. So to say that teachers don’t care about their students is completely wrong. I do little things like that for my students every day.
Who or what inspired you to work in education?
It was actually my high school band director that influenced me to become a music teacher and a teacher in general. I went to a very small school and high school was eighth through twelfth grade. I had him all five years and he was the one who took his time with me to make sure I knew everything I needed to know. In turn, I wanted to do that for other students.
My mother was also another factor in my life. She has been a SPED aide for as long as I can remember and that’s brought her a lot of joy in life. I’ve always been told that I’m a natural teacher and I do it with my own daughter. I do it with kids in my neighborhood, my boyfriend’s kids, and I just want to continue helping and educating students wherever I am.