Jessica Glaser, Wines Elementary music teacher

By Jo Mathis/AAPS District News Editor

Jessica Glaser grew up in Rochester Hills.  After graduating from Rochester High School, she earned bachelor’s degrees in music education and in vocal performance at Michigan State University. Glaser completed her student teaching in the Spring of 2016 with Yael Rothfeld at Thurston Elementary School and Steve Lorenz at Pioneer High School. She began her time as a music teacher at Wines the following fall. This 2021-2022 school year is Glaser’s sixth year at Wines. 

Katie Kurilko, music teacher at Bryant Elementary, notes that Glaser was very creative at engaging students in a fun and playful way when her classes were held virtually last year, and that she gets her students involved easily because she treats them with respect and kindness.

“Jess is a mentor for two teachers in the district, myself included,” she says. “She is always a phone call away. Jess approaches her teaching by using the Whole Child ApproachMusic Learning Theory, and centers diversity, equity, and inclusion in all of her instruction. She comes from a place of compassion, love, and empathy. She works overtime to work personally with students, families, and colleagues. We are lucky to have her in the Ann Arbor Public Schools.”

Student-teacher Caitlin Sundquist, a music education major at Michigan State University, says she could write an essay on all she’s learned from Glaser in the past six weeks.

“College prepared me for some things, but she’s prepared me for so much more,” says Sundquist. “She’s one of the most supportive people I’ve ever met in my whole life. If I ever have a bad teaching day, she always tells me, `Well, you met the goal you wanted to meet, and even though I kind of messed up, she’s always like, `Okay, but remember the good things that happened.'”

Glaser says she has spent her busier summers teaching music and earning her master’s degree in music education from MSU, and her calmer summers gardening, paddle boarding, and traveling. She resides in Royal Oak and likes to spend time baking, watching MSU sports—especially football, visiting with friends, and singing.

What will you remember most about the school year 2020-21?

It’s really difficult to pick just one thing to remember from the 2020-2021 school year. I will remember how my teaching colleagues worked so hard to support our students and each other during a year that asked us all to be more flexible, innovative, and imaginative than ever before. I will remember how students adapted to online music class and how good it felt to be able to hear kids musicking even while we were all apart. I will also miss seeing students’ pets on Zoom as well as accidentally activating some students’ Alexas from time to time.

How is this year going so far?

This year feels like such a welcome change. Since elementary music was on Zoom all last year, the moment I heard a roomful of students singing together in the music room for the first time since before quarantine was so overwhelmingly joyful. Even though each student only received roughly 18 hours of music instruction last year, each of them grew as a musician, and it has been so much fun to apply that growth to activities we missed while we were learning over Zoom. 

When you recall your first year of teaching, what memories stand out?

I remember calling my mentor teacher Yael Rothfeld, a lot. I remember being at Balas turning in some paperwork when fifth grade Wines teacher Janet Heaton overheard me say that I was the new Wines music teacher and she gave me a huge hug and welcomed me to the school. I remember the staff at Wines welcoming me and answering all of my newbie questions throughout the year. I remember meeting all the students and trying my best to learn all of their names as quickly as I could. I remember my kindergarteners from that year, and I can’t believe that they’re now in fifth grade!

Why did you go into teaching, and why music education?

I think I went into teaching because of the teachers I had growing up. I knew how much of an influence they had on me, and I wanted to provide that for future students, too. I went into music education for so many reasons! First, I loved music in school; my choir teacher Jolene Plotzke challenged us musically and created a classroom environment where every student felt safe to sing and be themselves. I still strive to emulate that community care in my own classroom. I also know that every student has the potential to make music for their entire lives, and I love helping them find the tools to support that lifelong musicking and learning.

In your six years in AAPS, what’s the most important thing you’ve learned about teaching? About learning?

I’m sure my answer to this question will be different every time I try to answer it. Currently, I think one of the most important things I’ve learned about teaching is that every student is unique, and no student is a monolith. The more you can learn about a student, the better you can challenge students when they are ready to be pushed and remediate where scaffolding will help them find success, respond to their interests and various identities, and ultimately cultivate a relationship where the student knows that they are supported and valued. 

One of the most important things I’ve learned about learning is that when students see themselves reflected in the content, they are not only more likely to develop a skill more quickly, but they are also more likely to develop self-efficacy. This is especially important in music since we know from research that even amongst students who participate in music throughout their entire K-12 education, students tend to leave K-12 music programs without believing that they are musicians. I hope to combat this trend by continuing to prioritize culturally responsive music education that welcomes and values students’ own lived musical experiences.

What was always written on your report card in grade school?

I remember my teachers commenting that I challenged myself and those around me to do the best we could, and I like to think that’s still true.

Describe an average workday.  

I drink coffee on my way to school. When I arrive, I make sure my classroom is set up for the various lesson plans I’m teaching that day (usually four or five different lessons with different grades) and check my email. My student teacher and I review the plans and identify goals for the day. We welcome students into school at the beginning of the school day, teach our morning schedule of classes, eat a quick lunch and get set up for the afternoon, teach our afternoon schedule of classes, and help students to their busses. I check in with teacher friends throughout the day, and by the time I get home I’m usually trying to rest my voice from a full day of singing and talking. 

What’s the happiest part of your day?

Hearing students improvise never gets old!

What’s one of your hidden talents?

I learned how to make really, really good bread over the course of the pandemic.

Do you have a morning routine?

Yep! I wake up and exercise, get dressed for work, make coffee and breakfast, pack my lunch, and listen to podcasts or chat with friends on my commute to Wines. I like to get to school early to settle in for the day while the halls are calm and quiet. 

What song do you know all the lyrics to?

Too many to name! An old favorite is “Hold My Hand” by Hootie and the Blowfish and a new favorite is “Then There Was You” by Trombone Shorty featuring Ledisi.

Favorite podcasts:

Smartless, MFM with Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark, Up First (NPR), Everyday Musicality

Three favorite songs or CDs:  

It is so hard to pick just three! Here are a few current favorites:

“Julie-O” played by Kevin Olusola

Golden Ticket by Brasstracks

Shang-Chi and The Legend of the Ten Rings: The Album (Soundtrack from the Shang-Chi Marvel movie.)

Apps you can’t live without: 

Things (checklist app), iDoceo, Apple Music, YouTube.

If you could know the definitive answer to any one question, what would that question be?

What is the best macaroni and cheese in the world, and can I please have some?

How do you keep students engaged?

I think I keep students engaged by responding to what they bring to class and letting my lesson plans bend to meet where they’re at that day. My favorite lessons are the ones where we go down some nerdy music rabbit hole because, for example, the whole class is having too much fun singing in multiple-part rounds to move on to the next activity. Having to ask students to stop musicking so that we can move on to more musicking is a great problem to have. 

How do you show school spirit?

I think school spirit is built into my job as a teacher who teaches the whole school. I so enjoy our whole-school events, like assemblies, music performances, and traditions like Run-a-Thon. I love to participate in whole-school spirit weeks. (Pajama day is my favorite!) I hope to help cultivate a whole-school spirit of community and inclusion.

What is the most rewarding part of teaching?

Having the privilege to witness students’ growth, musically and as people, whether it be over their entire six or seven years of elementary school as their music teacher, or in the small moments of taking a risk, trying something new, taking responsibility, being a leader in hard moments, and more. 

What do you wish everyone realized about the work of a teacher?

I think something it took me a while to realize is that finding work-life balance as a teacher is very hard and very important. I love my job and my students, and I need to find ways to let my teacher brain turn off when I leave my school to cultivate my own hobbies, take care of my own family and friendships, and prioritize time to rest and recharge so that I can come back to school each day as ready and excited as the last.

How do you spend your summers?

I’m still figuring out how I spend my summers. My first three summers were spent as a full-time master’s student at MSU, and my second two summers were during the COVID-19 pandemic. I hope to find some time in future summers to visit friends and to travel to places I’ve always wanted to go. I’ve also really enjoyed paddle boarding and spending as much time outside as possible.

What’s most exciting about your professional life right now? Your personal life?

Professionally, I am so enjoying getting to see students in person again. Many of our student musicians have been working on improvising and composing recently, and it’s so rewarding to see the music that’s happening in their brains. Personally, I’ve enjoyed being able to safely see friends and family in person after so long. I’m also loving attending concerts again. I’ve missed live music so much! And of course, the  Michigan State Football Team is giving this Spartan plenty to be excited about this fall – GO GREEN!

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