Becoming a Music Educator: One Teacher’s Story

The Ensemble seeks to connect and inform all people who are committed to ensemble music education for youth empowerment and social change.

Becoming a Music Educator: One Teacher’s Story

Tareq Jundi, Jordanian composer and music educator


Tareq Jundi leading a Madrasati initiative training for public school music teachers in Jordan. Photo: Madrasati.

In 2010, I started my journey with music education as a full-time teacher at a private school in Amman, Jordan. The immediate result came fast: I resigned after the first week. Luckily, the school’s principal was smart; he knew how to relieve my stress and fear, and he convinced me to give it a semester before making a decision.

Although not fully convinced, I agreed, and I went back to my music room. But I didn’t know how to deal with students who considered music class an optional entertainment—who saw no reason to respect the class since it had no mark on their final certificate.

I called one of my music education professors at the university. I thought he would give me an immediate solution—the way doctors look at symptoms and then propose the proper medicine—but he did not. The most important thing he said was, “Tareq, you need to read; you need to study; and you need to experiment.”

For me, this was an unexpected challenge. I came from a different kind of background in music; my dream was simply to become the best performer and composer in the region, and all my efforts were guided by that dream.

But I decided to try. Specifically, I tried to raise my students’ awareness of why music is as important as math and science—why, in fact, we should appreciate art! And I started to notice their enjoyment as I exposed them to kinds of music that were different from what they heard on TV, and engaged them in fun musical activities for self-expression, removed from punishment or reward.

I too was learning. I discovered that it wouldn’t work for me to teach exactly the way I was taught. I realized that education should be fun for both teachers and kids. And I learned that a well-skilled teacher in an empty room is better than an empty teacher in a well-equipped room.

At the end of the semester, I was enjoying the class, and I stayed on. For the next five years, I worked to develop myself and expand my vision. I became happier and more comfortable.

Then a friend called to say he was starting a new music project under the umbrella of a local Jordanian association, and he wanted me to join him. The project targeted underserved areas of Jordan, some of them very conservative. I accepted. I thought I would continue to implement the strategies and tools I had been developing for the last five years.

Again, I discovered something new: kids in different circumstances are different. Their needs are not everywhere the same. Realizing that the methodology I had used in a private school would not work here, I started a new journey in a new environment, with new content and a new way of teaching.

In this job, the need was to build self-confidence within each kid—to make them believe in themselves by creating role models for them and by staging a whole-group performance at the end, to influence their parents’ point of view about the importance of music. It was not an easy task. But after a year, we were all onstage—kids and teachers, performing together. I was happy that I could help change these kids’ lives for the better. In Jordan, I began to be known as a music educator, not just as a composer and performer.

And then, as luck would have it, I became involved as a music consultant with another new music project—this one a Caritas initiative to provide psychosocial support for Syrian refugees in Jordan.

I was shocked by my first visit to this program. I had learned that kids in different circumstances have different needs. But I had never worked with kids who had trauma in their lives, who could not make eye contact with adults. When I reached out to one child, saying “Excellent job!” and putting a hand on his shoulder, he freaked out—he thought I was going to hit him. I wondered: What have these kids been through? Will music help to provide a safe environment for them? Will we be able to help them overcome what they’ve gone through?

Jordan and Syria are neighbors. We have many mixed families; I myself am from a mixed family between Jordan, Syria, Palestine, and Lebanon (we used to call these the Levant countries). But I have no lived experience of war or trauma. So I had a great deal more learning to do.

I noticed what these children needed most from the music program was to feel safe and equal with others. This meant decreasing the violence and bullying between them (which was understandable, given what they had been through) and helping them discover new ways of expressing themselves.

The big victory for these kids was not the end-of-year appearance onstage, playing and singing for an audience. It was backstage, where they were so exuberant we had to calm them down—they were jumping, running, playing noisy games. They were back to a normal childhood, even if only momentarily. It gave me proof that we were on the right track. Five years later, I still see some of them. The shy kids are no longer shy; the violent kids are calmer. They play music; they crack jokes; some are taller than me. Some have decided to continue with music.

All my experiences as a music educator have convinced me that to be successful in teaching music, we have to truly know and understand the lived experiences of our students. In some ways, kids are the same—but in other ways, they are very different. Being a responsible teacher means finding out who our students are and what they’ve lived. Only then can music be the tool of change in children’s lives that we want it to be.


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