MENC on Rural Music Education

Thanks to Cathy Benedict for bringing to my attention MENC”s latest offering on rural, suburban, and urban music teaching.  Here is the rural part with my comments in brackets:

“So, have you thought about where you want to teach? Rural, suburban, urban–how different are they? Janice Smith, Frank Heuser, and Michele Kaschub offer up the rewards and difficulties of teaching in each area.

Rural Teaching


  • You can design your own music program. You will most likely be alone when planning curriculum and concerts. But be prepared to be creative, as limited budgets and resources require you to see things differently.

[Okay, this was indeed my experience in 12 years of teaching in rural schools . . . to a degree. I could scrap the concert band, but influential commmunity members and administrators still expected me to maintain some sort of band–jazz band in this case. I don’t think they would have gone for rock, country, or bluegrass bands. Alone in planning curriculum and concerts? Concerts, yes, although the students were involved here and I could have involved them even more. And, the elementary Christmas operetta was written by the first grade teacher, directed by myself and the sixth grade teacher, the set was painted by the elementary faculty, the PTA made the costumes, and so on and so on–truly a cooperative effort.  Curriculum, yes, although we also spent a lot of curriculum planning and professional development time together as high school and elementary faculties. Still, creativity is a great asset to have and budgets can be a challenge although this isn’t true for all rural schools, some of which have excellent facilities and budgets.]

  • You can observe and contribute to each child’s musical journey because you span multiple grade levels and disciplines.
  • You often become admired and cherished community treasures because you “are the music.”

[Both of these items were very true to my experience. I played organ and piano for weddings, furnerals, church, and the local Elks Lodge. And, I taught students K-12–I even taught a bunch of children of former students.]


  • Isolation – it can be difficult to be the lone music teacher within a school system.

[This is true as far as the music education profession is concerned; rural music teachers are often isolated from the musicings they engaged in at university and from fellow music teachers, although internet communities make it  possible to stay connected. For me, one major connection to the profession was the Mayday Group. On the other hand, rural music teachers do not have to be isolated from colleagues outside of music. Socially? Yes! I spent 6 years living in a small rural community as a single man. That was quite lonely. One other thought . . . many rural schools are quite close to metropolitan areas with all kinds of opportunities for teachers who might feel isolated in rural areas.]

  • Limited funds – responsibilities are plentiful, but you often have small budgets.
  • Limited diversity – you may have limited access to live performances and limited cultural diversity. There may even be complete cultural uniformity.

[Okay. I’ve got to take issue with this a little bit. In the first place, racial sameness does not necessarily connote a lack of cultural diversity. Consider additional forms of diversity–occupation, location (town or farm), gender, age, religion, ability, social class. If we look closely and without an anti-rural bias, we may find substantial diversity in rural areas. Secondly, the author is concerned about limited cultural diversity in terms of musical diversity–opportunities to attend a wide variety of concerts. I wonder how many rural music teachers take the opprotunity to attend local performances of country music, for example. In Missouri we have local Oprys. I know quite a few music teachers in the area who don’t attend these events. Why not? This statement seems to be musically elitist–musically omnivorous tastes are superior.]

  • Social challenges – being one of very few young professionals means having an exceptionally small pool of friends.

[Yes, this was true for my social life being young and single. I did develop some lasting friendships that continue to this day (thanks to Facebook!). However, the social challenges seemed to disappear after I married Kristin. Now, we have four kids and I cherish my time with them but also long for a little alone time.

Overall, I’m glad that MENC is concerned about place. I imagine it was Michele Kaschub who contributed the rural stuff–her bio indicates she taught in southern Maine. I would add a couple of advantages to teaching in rural schools. First, there is a real sense of community where people pull together to support the school. Second, the music teacher along with colleagues has a considerable degree of political clout including ready access to the school board consisting of neighbors and sometimes even relatives. I wrote the high school discipline policy and course schedule, for example. Third, many rural settings are extremely beautiful, clean, and quiet. We spent last week out in the West Desert of Utah. We spent one night sleeping on the salt flats under the stars. No concert can compare to an unobstructed (by city lights, see my first post) view of the stars.

Check out the MENC stuff for yourself at and thanks to MENC for being interested in the topic.


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