“I knew my heart had found a home”: Q&A with Andrew Holtz, MEd ’17
Music teachers can bring so much joy to students’ lives, but to effectively teach it, one must be passionate, dedicated, and highly skilled. Enter Andrew Holtz—a 6th-12th grade instrumental and 9th-12th-grade vocal teacher from Saugatuck, Michigan, and the latest alum in our Featured Cavalier series; Andrew earned his MEd in Curriculum & Instruction: Leadership from Concordia in 2017.
Read on to find out about his innovative approaches to teaching (flash mob, anyone?) and what keeps him motivated.
What inspired you to become an educator?
I was that kid who grew up wanting to be a teacher. My poor younger sister had to spend summers playing school with me when I was an elementary student. I always knew I wanted to teach, but my subject of interest changed frequently. When I was old enough to join the band, though, I knew my heart had found a home. Not one who could articulate well what I felt with words, music allowed me to express my feelings and creativity in a positive way that contributed to a team.
What made you choose Concordia for your MEd?
I was actually earning my master’s degree from a different school when God’s plan involved a couple big curveballs. First was the birth of premature twins, followed by my wife and son being hospitalized as a result of an accident. I dropped out of that program to care for my family (who are all doing well now, thankfully).
I then started looking for a program that would be applicable to my content area (this is rather difficult as a music teacher) and that I’d be able to finish quickly and stumbled across Concordia. While the MEd in Curriculum & Instruction with a Leadership concentration looked intimidating, I felt it was going to be an achievable challenge.
What skills or methods did you gain as a result of the program, and how do you think they’ve benefitted your students?
Some of the most interesting things I learned were in EDGR535 (Theories of Teaching & Learning). Content on how the brain works, how memories are formed, and how best to study to deepen understanding and retention intrigued me. Taking some of those strategies, I put them to work with my students in music rehearsals. They worked! Rather than repetition and rote drills, (something that can happen often during technical passages of a piece of music), I had students work on the passage for a short period of time and then had their brain work on something else for a while. This allows the brain to ‘hardwire’ the new information, which upped the pace of my rehearsals and kept more students engaged.
As teachers, we know it is important for our students to understand the course’s content, but we cannot focus on content at the expense of our students’ more basic, human needs. Courses like EDGR502 (Developing Character through Curriculum) and EDGR595 (Community of Learners) helped me focus on the needs of my students—more than just their immediate musical development needs but also their need to be cared for and to belong.
Do you have a favorite experience from the program?
The final project of my first class was rather open-ended and encouraged creativity. I ended up writing a parody of the Billy Joel song Piano Man to teach my students about the course’s content in a fun way. It was great to flex my creative muscle in that way, and wonderful that the professor was able to let us as students demonstrate our understanding of the course content in ways that were meaningful to us as individuals.
What, if anything, did you appreciate about Concordia’s faith-based values?
Although I have been a believer since the age of seven, this was my first experience with Christian education. My parents were adamant that my sister and I were to be salt and light in the public school. All my college classes heretofore had been at a secular institution, and I have worked in public schools for 15 years. I didn’t really know what to expect.
That said, I think Concordia being faith-based is what got me through the program. There were times when I felt burned out—especially when my work obligations like football games, marching band, or concert and parade seasons were not leaving a lot of time to read and write papers. It was at those times that I appreciated being able to read the weekly scriptures posted in Blackboard, or I would see a post from a fellow student that helped energize me to make it to the next day.
Have you done anything interesting recently in class that you can share with fellow educators?
A music program tradition from my predecessor was the annual playing of “Sleigh Ride” at our Holiday Concert. Not one for mindless repetition, I’ve made it a point to do something new and creative with the performance each year. Last year, I invited my colleagues who had been in band “back in the day” to dust off their old instruments and join us on stage. It was amazing to see how much like riding a bicycle playing a musical instrument was for them, and really brought back fond memories for my coworkers. This year, we surprised the student body with a flash mob performance of “Sleigh Ride” in the school’s main hallway on the day before break.
What keeps you motivated and passionate about education?
I am so fortunate in my position to be able to work with my students longitudinally. I start them on their instruments in 6th grade, when they don’t know which end of the horn to blow in or how to read music at all, then I conduct them at their high school graduation. It is so rewarding to see that growth and development over the seven years I get to work with them. My students keep me motivated. I want to push them just as much as they push me.
What advice or insights would you give other busy professionals considering a graduate degree from Concordia?
Don’t be so naive as to think the program will be easy—because it is not. At the same time, it is a mountain that is so worth climbing! Develop a support system with those around you so that they can encourage you when your energy and resolve are depleted. Know that others have gone before you, successfully navigated the waters you are about to enter and go with the strength of God at your back!
I’m glad I chose Concordia. The program gave me a real-world application while learning educational theory and methodology. And the balance was just right for me—being able to use what I was learning immediately with my students helped reinforce course content.
These are challenging times for those in education and the nation as a whole. As the educational leaders of today finish their careers and retire, the youth must rise up to carry the torch forward. I feel that my Concordia education has prepared me for that. The content and strategies I learned via coursework coupled with the values instilled by the faculty and community will help continue to instill the importance and promise of our country’s young people.
What do you still hope to achieve as an educator?
I want my students to leave my classroom knowing they were cared for, how to express themselves creatively through music, and how to share that love for music and humanity with others. If at my retirement party (many years from now) former students can say I achieved that, I will have had a career well run.
Kara Wyman has a BA in literature and a MEd from the University of California-Santa Barbara. She spent a decade working with adolescents as an English teacher, the founder, and director of a drama program, a curriculum designer, and a project manager for a teen-centered nonprofit organization. She is now the Alumni and Community Manager for Concordia University-Portland.