Interview: What It’s Like to Be a K-12 Music Teacher
K–12 Music Teacher
Liberty Christian School
Huntington Beach, CA
Music teacher David Whitmire has his dream job. As a K-12 music teacher, he teaches a range of music classes to almost every student in the school, from general music education to choir to instrument performance.
A Music Teacher Finding His Pitch
When Whitmire ended up taking a music class as part of his bachelor’s degree curriculum, he found himself more excited for his music class than he was for any other classes, so he followed a professor’s advice and changed his major to music.
Then, as soon as he completed his first assignment in a required introduction to teaching class, he was hooked. “I felt a passion welling up within me to make sure the students understood what I was teaching,” he said. He’s been pursuing that passion ever since.
Once he graduated, he went through an international placement agency to find a teaching job. “I looked at jobs all around the country and the world,” he says. He chose Liberty because it gave him the chance to work with all grade levels and it provided the rare opportunity to develop a brand new program for the school.
A Day in the Life of a Music Teacher
Whitmire typically begins a day by offering lessons in singing, playing instruments and sight reading to elementary students in a general music education class. Then he teaches a more in-depth music appreciation class to high school students, which includes sections on music history and theory.
He also has regular administrative duties such as recess monitoring and arranging weekly student assemblies, after which he teaches choir, voice and other music lessons, including his specialty: handbells.
After 20 years at Liberty, he is still excited about teaching music, interacting with his students and seeing them grow. “I felt strongly that this was the career path I should take,” he says. “And I feel lucky to be here.”
Making Music Fresh and Relevant
Instead of skimming the surface of music comprehension with his students, Whitmire stresses the importance of sight reading to ensure they leave his class with the ability to apply what they’ve learned for the rest of their lives. Of course, it isn’t always a popular notion with new students.
“My students are taught kicking and screaming the whole way,” he jokes. But the pay-off is well worth it. “A seventh grade student recently told me she tried out for a theater production in another area and was one of the only people there that could read music,” he says. “That is incredibly satisfying for me.”
With former students going on to perform in successful bands, study at prestigious musical academies and become teachers, leaders and musical therapists themselves, Whitmire is set to continue making this kind of difference in the lives of his students.
Though he came into the profession in a round about way, the success of his program and the inspiration he’s kindled in many of their hearts is proof that he chose a great path.
Secrets to Success
“One characteristic that any music teacher must have is initiative,” says Whitmire. “You can’t be the kind of person that needs to be told what to do.”
He suggests getting a bachelor’s degree in music and becoming proficient in singing, conducting and playing several instruments if you are interested in pursuing a career in music education. He stresses the importance of being prepared for all of the types of music lessons and genres you might encounter as a music teacher.
Performances are always emotional and bonding experiences for everyone, when parents see—and hear—what their children have learned. Parents beam with delight at their kids, children feel proud of what they have accomplished, and teachers enjoy watching the fruits of their labor.
Getting a Standing Ovation
One of his favorite aspects of teaching music is getting to see students start out with little to no musical knowledge and grow to the point where they can read music easily and perform confidently. And when students and parents come to him and thank him, he knows he could never have chosen another profession.
For more information about the music teacher profession, including education, training, salary and work environment, please see our music teacher career snapshot.