Rocky Plains’ mu­si­cal Matt

Teacher uses mu­sic to dis­cuss other sub­ject ar­eas with stu­dents

The Covington News - - School Beat - By Jenny Thompson

Usu­ally a room plas­tered with posters of The Bea­tles, Miles Davis and Ste­vie Ray Vaughn can be found in the in­te­rior in a col­lege dorm, but the scene can also be found in the mu­sic room at Rocky Plains El­e­men­tary School.

Matt Gar­wood, also Rocky Plains 2008 Teacher of the Year, has taught mu­sic in the poster- clad room since the school opened in 2005 and has taught for a to­tal of five years.

While at­tend­ing the Univer­sity of Ge­or­gia, Gar­wood played around the lo­cal Athens mu­sic scene.

“ It’s great when you don’t have a set sched­ule and need ex­tra money,” Gar­wood said.

He also plays in the orches­tra pit dur­ing Arts As­so­ci­a­tion in New­ton County mu­si­cal pro­duc­tions in­clud­ing the up­com­ing pro­duc­tion of “ Oklahoma.”

The first in­stru­ment Gar­wood learned to play was drums. Later he picked up the gui­tar, bass and pi­ano and he sings.

Gar­wood’s in­spi­ra­tion for be­com­ing a teacher came from his re­ally hip fourth- grade teacher, who also in­spired him to take up drum­ming.

“All of his word prob­lems re­lated to stuff like, ‘ Leroy went to play drums at the jazz club and had $ 18 for gas,’” Gar­wood said.

As a teacher, Gar­wood be­gins each class a lit­tle dif­fer­ently than most mu­sic teach­ers.

“ We usu­ally have a ques­tion of the day just to get their brains go­ing,” Gar­wood said.

Some­times he will go around the room and ask each stu­dent to com­plete a phrase such as “ as the crea­ture slowly stood up…”

To keep the stu­dents from be­hav­ing wildly, since many tend to lose con­trol around in­stru­ments they can bang on, he awards let­ters of mu­si­cal words like orches­tra or mu­si­cal­ity to classes for their good be­hav­ior.

When the class earns enough let­ters to com­plete a word, they get a prize.

Gar­wood said what he thought would be one of his big­gest chal­lenges as a mu­sic teacher turned out to be a re­ally great thing for ev­ery­one.

A few years ago Rocky Plains be­gan to in­te­grate their spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion stu­dents as­sisted by a para­pro­fes­sional into reg­u­lar ed­u­ca­tion class­rooms.

Gar­wood won­dered how he

Mu­sic man: was go­ing to teach a se­verely hear­ing im­paired stu­dent with a slight palsy how to read and play mu­sic.

The stu­dent ended up teach­ing Gar­wood a thing or two.

When Gar­wood had the stu­dents write a few bars of a sim­ple melody of their own cre­ation, the stu­dent wrote a beau­ti­ful tune and named it for his mother.

“ It just made you want to gush,” Gar­wood said.

Gar­wood said the stu­dent also taught class­mates a bit of sign lan­guage and taught him not to doubt the abil­i­ties of any stu­dent.

He added he is try­ing to think of some kind of school pro­duc­tion to show­case the stu­dent- gen­er­ated mu­sic he has col­lected.

Not only do stu­dents write their own mu­sic, but Gar­wood in­tro­duces stu­dents to fa­mous mu­si­cians from Beethoven to John Len­non.

“ The best part of my job is I get to make kids en­joy mu­sic they’ve never been ex­posed to,” Gar­wood said.

He said mu­sic is im­por­tant to a well rounded ed­u­ca­tion be­cause it shows how ab­stract math con­cepts are ap­plied in the real world or paints a his­tor­i­cal pic­ture of an era, among other lessons.

“ Mu­sic is an in- road to talk about math or his­tory or char­ac­ter,” Gar­wood said. “ I use it as a spring- board to talk to stu­dents about im­por­tant stuff.”

Jenny Thompson/The Cov­ing­ton News

Rocky Plains El­e­men­tary mu­sic teacher Matt Gar­wood leans against the pi­ano in his class­room be­fore the mid-win­ter break. Gar­wood is Rocky Plains’ 2008 Teacher of the Year.

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