Monday, August 29, 2016

Activate! Asks: Mari Schay

What inspired you to become an elementary music educator?  
After graduate school, I moved to Austin, TX, to play in a new music ensemble. With crowds of two or three people at our performances, it was clear the rent was not going to be paid, so I got a job teaching middle school band. It was a bad fit and I barely made it through that first year. The next year, I got a job teaching elementary school and got hooked right away.  

If you could have only one item in your teaching bag, what it would it be, and why?
My classroom is very well stocked, but as long as I could bring my guitar, I think I could find enough sound sources and songs to make everything else work out. The guitar is great for reinforcing melody, chords, and beat and I have come to rely on it pretty heavily when the kids are singing.

What is your favorite teaching resource?
My absolute favorite resource is Paul Corbiere’s "From BAGS to Riches." I think by the end of this year, we will have played all the ensembles.

What is your favorite publication (that you’ve authored), and why?
"Listen, Sing, Rattle, Ding" is the resource I like the best because the process of writing the book made me focus on using one song for multiple lessons and teaching with great depth and purpose. I find that following the process from the book leads my students to be able to play more sophisticated music at a younger age, in a way that keeps them totally focused and engaged.

What music do you listen to in your free time?
I mostly listen to jazz, but I tend to prefer silence after a day in a sound-filled classroom.

When did you realize that you wanted to be an elementary music educator?
I came to it by accident (or desperation), but I love the job. There is always something new to learn and something new to teach.

What educator most influenced your teaching style or your life?
I have two main influences. First, taking World Music Drumming workshops changed how I thought about teaching elementary music. The entire staff is great, but I especially count on Patty Bourne to answer questions and help me think through new strategies and ideas. She is intelligent and thoughtful about curriculum and music education and I always learn something when I talk to her. 

My other influence is my current principal, Ericka Guynes. I know so many people who feel like their principal is an adversary, but Ericka is an advocate for both teachers and students. She is dedicated to helping every student and realizes that supporting the student means supporting the family and supporting the staff. She is equally dedicated to supporting staff to become the best they can be. Every meeting with her is a positive learning opportunity. She is truly an inspiring person.

What excites you most about the future of music education?
With the ESSA, music is now considered a core subject! Hopefully, colleges that offer music education will take their responsibility more seriously. There are some programs out there that are really doing a great job of preparing students. I hope their best practices are shared with others. (Check out the program at Western Washington University under Patty Bourne for a great example!)

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
Hanging out with family is the most important thing in my life.


Would you like to share your story?

We are looking for Activate! subscribers to share their teaching advice and anecdotes. You can complete the interview at We will share as many responses as we can on our blog, and one lucky subscriber will win a free subscription to Activate! and be featured in the April/May 2017 issue.