The first thing Guillermo Tejeda does when he visits a new school is to look for the piano. In most schools, the teacher finds an old, dusty, out-of-tune instrument hidden in a dark closet.
The cobwebs tell him everything he needs to know about the little art education these students receive. His favorite technique to make them more enthusiastic about learning is to tickle the ivories, to bring that piano back to life.
“I’m going to take it out, dust it off. I’ll bring the students into the auditorium and teach lessons there,” said Tejeda, a fourth-grade teacher at Wadsworth Elementary School in the tough South Central Los Angeles neighborhood. “I tell you, when I bring song and music and performance into the classroom, students light up in a way that really creates a meaningful experience for them.”
School teacher, also jazz musician and member of the Collective Neighborhood Orchestra, Tejeda uses music in general and the narrative of the Los Angeles jazz scene in particular to teach history, race, and culture, as well as to spark joy in the classroom. A father of three, currently on parental leave with his 11-month-old daughter Maya, Tejeda started playing guitar at the age of 6. His grandfather, a migrant farm worker with a love of mariachi and a gnarled hand from picking in the fields. , taught him to play.
“I’m from East Los Angeles and I became a teacher because I wanted to be the teacher I never had,” he said. “We come from a marginalized community where it is difficult to be a teacher. Many adults are stressed. People don’t feel joy. How can we bring more joy? How can we give more meaning to our life? I think music is that vehicle.
Tejeda takes a broad view of education that integrates the arts across all disciplines to bring children’s learning to life. His teaching nourishes his music, he says, and his music nourishes his teaching.
“I wish I had a teacher like Guillermo when I was in fourth grade,” said Elmo Lovano, founder of Jammcard: The Music Professionals Network, which developed School concert, an app that connects artists to schools. “He’s a passionate guy. He is incredibly talented. It’s important for artists to know that you can still practice your art, but being a teacher could be a wonderful opportunity for you to earn a living, stay home, support your family, give back to children, to the next generation, and also this is still the case.
Music is the prism through which its students absorb the history, politics and culture of their city. He wants his students to be in tune with their heritage.
“I teach on 41st and Central, which is a historic jazz corridor,” he said. “And when I arrived at this school’s website, I was surprised that so few teachers were talking about it. The first thing I did was write a lesson plan about it.
Tejeda, whose students call him “Sir” as a nickname, ensures that his class learns about the rich heritage of jazz in Los Angeles. For example, the historic Central Avenue Jazz Corridor was, for decades, a cultural mecca, the heart of the city’s African-American community. At a time when most of the country was strictly segregated, it was also an oasis of sorts, a place where people of all races and classes came together around music. There, a pantheon of jazz luminaries, including Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday and Jelly Roll Morton, played to packed houses.
“The giants of Central Avenue may be gone, but their imprints still remain on all of American culture,” the basketball great said Kareem Abdul-Jabbar once said it. “Jazz musicians and record promoters also gave birth to rock ‘n’ roll, rhythm and blues, hip-hop and rap.”
Tejeda says immersing themselves in the often-overlooked history of their neighborhood can help children hone their sense of identity, belonging and pride.
“These kids have no idea how special and beautiful their neighborhoods are, because all they see on the news is how messy they are,” said Tejeda, a longtime advocate for a culturally adapted pedagogy. “I want them to know that it’s here, in your neighborhood, that a lot of jazz music was born.”
Music often resonates more deeply with children than other forms of education. Tejeda is moved to tears as he remembers a little boy who struggled to fit in at school due to trauma at home. He only opened up when they started playing piano together during recess. The piano became his sanctuary.
“I’m shaken when I come home because a lot of these kids are facing very difficult things and are very resilient,” Tejeda said, his voice full of emotion.
“Yes, math and science are important, but the whole child is important, that’s what motivates me.”
Music also enhances both mathematics And while reading performance, experts say, perhaps in part because it improves neuroplasticity of the brain. According to experts, music amplifies learning in all subjects.
“Music and movement, in addition to the more common modalities of written and verbal instruction, are essential to including all types of learners in a well-rounded education,” said Jessica Mele, interim executive director of Create CA, a defense group. “This is particularly beneficial for students whose first language is not English. Using art as a window into culture, race, and history can engage students in complex conversations they might not otherwise engage in.
Music can also heal, research suggests. As a child, Tejeda suffered from a stutter that only improved when he sang.
“I stay real with kids because I see myself in them,” he said. “It’s crazy how much of an impact music has had on me.”
It’s also a unique social experience that invites children to collaborate with their peers on projects that both require and reward focus and discipline, qualities that fuel academic success, experts say. Children who practice the arts become accustomed to working collectively to achieve ambitious, long-term goals.
Perhaps most important to Tejeda, children often find their voices through music and the arts. They can gain a sense of confidence, social-emotional well-being, and a passion for lifelong learning.
“The end goals of music and education are not to memorize programs or key terms,” Tejeda said. “It’s really about discovering who you are. It is about self-determination and the development of the full human being. I’m so excited to see this synergy between music and education because they are inextricable.
Tejeda’s ambition is to make school so stimulating that children will want to go there every day because they are deeply engaged in their studies. In an era of chronic absenteeism and plummeting test scores, he has a transformative vision for arts education that invigorates the classroom.
“I feel a deep calling to contribute to change in California classrooms,” he said. “I will never stop teaching, because teaching and education are essential to my soul. “It’s at the core of who I am,” but it’s “a critical time for me to shift my work into high gear and figure out how I’m going to apply my passion and expertise to bring about tangible change, in a way that more urgent.” on a broader scale. »
In the future, he hopes to continue advocating for arts education on a broader level. It is also developing a new arts-focused curriculum, to “unleash the symphony of learning,” as Proposition 28 says: the state’s groundbreaking arts initiative for 2022accelerates.
“It’s like I came out of my dreams and into reality,” he said. “We will create a new world for students. It’s a revolutionary time.
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