Teacher Appreciation Week feature: Chris Lee-Rodriguez, Online Music Ed Student
2022 Teacher Appreciation Week
When you think about your dream job, favorite subject, or ultimate passion, who comes to mind? Who helped you discover that interest? We’ll give you a hint. It starts with a “t” and ends with “r.” That’s right, a teacher! For many of us, we often think back to a particular teacher who empowered us to go for our dreams, who taught us about a topic we found surprisingly captivating, and who took an interest in our well-being.
It’s Teacher Appreciation Week, and we’re celebrating at CFA by recognizing CFA students who are also educators! Every day this week (May 2-May 6), we will feature a teacher who’ll speak about their experience as a teacher, how the CFA program they’re currently studying is helping them advance in their careers, and what Teacher Appreciation Week means to them.
Meet Chris Lee-Rodriguez, CFA Online Music Education Student
Originally from Bergen County, New Jersey, and now living in East Boston, Chris Lee-Rodriguez is a student in CFA’s online Master of Music in Music Education program. He’s also a Traveling Conservatory Teacher in the Brookline School District and a Teaching Artist at the nonprofit organization, Zumik. Chris shares with CFA what he enjoys most about teaching and how the online MM Music Ed program has opened the doors for him as a researcher.
CFA: What inspired you to become a teacher?
Chris: When I was 11, I saw the movie School of Rock, which inspired me to learn how to play the guitar. Now that I’m older, I realize that the film was also the spark for me to pursue teaching as a career. In college, I had the opportunity to work with young people as a volunteer, including teaching ensembles with Berklee City Music, interning at the National Guitar Workshop, and facilitating writing workshops with local schools and community centers. This experience gave me a purpose to serve that I still hold today.
What do you enjoy most about teaching?
I enjoy being with people, engaging in dialogue with students and creating something new and transformative through music.
Can you share some of your career highlights/proudest moments?
The proudest moments of my career were both small and big in scope. I currently teach a beginning and advanced ukulele orchestra at Zumix, and our first concerts we ever had both in person and virtually was a proud moment. The community came together and was able to celebrate our young people in their achievements in music learning and making. There were also small moments, where students in my class and I had conversations where they were able to express themselves and share how they felt seen and connected in my curriculum. For example, I currently teach a guitar/ukulele and music production class in the Brookline School District. In my guitar/ukulele class, I teach folkloric and popular music from around the world. Our current unit is on Puerto Rican music, specifically the song “Que Bonita Bandera.” After a class, my student came up to me and said she likes the song because she is half Haitian and Chinese, similar to my own ethnic background of Puerto Rican and Chinese, and felt connected to the music. In my music production class, students learn how to make beats and study the history of hip-hop and electronic music. Many students in that class have expressed to me how they love that music from their lives is being included in the classroom.
Have you faced any challenges as an educator and if so, how did you overcome them?
To be an educator is to struggle with an array of challenges, both inside and outside of the classroom. The work of an educator is to not only work with young people but to engage with the multitude of personalities of each group. There are classes that are very easy and others that are very difficult. When I face these challenges, I remind myself of my purpose, which is to be with students, develop positive, professional relationships with them, and ultimately cultivate a transformative experience for them. Outside of the classroom are challenges with administration, town politics, resources, and scheduling. These challenges I’m still learning how to deal with.
What does Teacher Appreciation Week mean to you?
I never really think about it, but what I hope is that people recognize the necessity, difficulty, and artistry of teaching and how important this profession is.
If someone were to tell you at this moment, “I want to be a teacher,” what advice would you give them?
I would tell them to remind themselves of their purpose. Why do they want to do this job? It is a profession that is difficult, often under-appreciated, and the most rewarding experience. As they search for their purpose, I would share with them this bell hooks quote that I still carry with me in my work: “To be a teacher is to be with people.”
What do you hope to get out of the online MM Music Education program and how will it help you in your career as an educator?
I hoped to advance my practice as an educator and develop my knowledge of the theory and practice of music education. This program has opened the doors for me as a researcher, as I am interested in pursuing a Ph.D. in either music education or education.
Doing any interesting research?
Not at the moment, but I would like to pursue my Ph.D. and research the effect of nonprofit music organizations, popular and nontraditional music and music classes, and culturally relevant/critical pedagogies on young people and their musical lives.
What other passions/hobbies do you have outside of teaching?
I’m in an indie-jazz band called Really From that released our critically acclaimed self-titled album last year, and I occasionally gig as a solo guitarist for private events. I’m also an amateur cosplayer and enjoy going to New York Comic-Con every year.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Education and our students are under assault by bigoted politicians who target and marginalize the most vulnerable of our communities. If you are reading this and live in a state that is banning “Critical Race Theory” or persecuting transgender students, please call your local representative or senator and tell them that our schools are not centers for their own propaganda or political campaign but independent, inclusive communities of critical thinkers, learners, and musicians.
Learn more on CFA’s MM Music Education Online Program