This week we had the pleasure of interviewing Jack Yonce, a teacher with extensive experience as a band director who now works as a substitute teacher in his retirement (along with running concert clinics/judging competitions/doing private lessons/playing in several groups before COVID shook everything up).
Mr. Yonce described his experience working with students this past fall as being mostly in-person, while the other teacher taught the students who had elected to stay on Zoom. Mr. Yonce went in four days a week, but usually there would only be two or three students who had elected to come in person which made it a bit tough to teach music. After Thanksgiving they went fully remote, which meant that he switched gears and started teaching on Zoom; he made the effort to ensure that students played their instruments every class period by shutting off their microphones and playing along in their rooms at home.
Mr. Yonce described the greatest challenge of teaching in a remote environment/a small in-person environment as trying to keep kids engaged. He saw different cohorts throughout the week which meant that many kids weren’t practicing at home on the days he didn’t see them, and due to the loss of social aspect of the band many non-serious musicians fell through the cracks, which was hard to navigate.
He relies on using Microsoft Teams (very similar to Zoom) and SmartMusic as his key resources for teaching in this type of environment—SmartMusic especially was helpful since students could print music from it at home, record themselves individually and send it in for a grade, and learn music theory at the same time.
Mr. Yonce is extremely passionate about music, teaching, and students, and some of his favorite experiences in the field involve the moments when he has been able to push students to help them achieve things that they never thought they could do. One of his favorite moments was playing a concert in Carnegie Hall with Cheyenne Mountain students—they had worked so hard, the performance was incredible, and everyone felt so proud of their work. He also loved helping students perform at the state music convention in front of hundreds of appreciative audience members. Seeing former students go out into the world and become great musicians or teachers and has made teaching such a great experience for Mr. Yonce.
When asked what advice he would give to newer teachers (or anyone, really), he immediately responded with this statement: never be afraid to ask for help. He commented on how sometimes when you’re fresh out of college and going into teaching you don’t really understand the magnitude of what you don’t know, and consequently you might be afraid to ask for help. Instead, he advises that you utilize the collective knowledge of the other expert educators in your department and grow as a teacher yourself while building relationships with others. He also noted how sometimes you might feel really overwhelmed, but maybe you don’t have anyone else in your department who could help (i.e. if you’re the band director and there is not anyone else to mentor you), and in that case you may have to reach out to other educators outside of your school for assistance. Above all else, Mr. Yonce would encourage everyone to never stop learning and to always seek growth and improvement in your craft. He had a fantastic mentor himself for fifteen years that he met around his fourth year of teaching, and he could not be more grateful for how his mentor was consistently honest with him, stopped by his rehearsals, and invested in his growth as a band director.
We absolutely loved speaking to Mr. Yonce, and we hope you gained as much from his experience as we did!