From the Chair of the Alumni Council Conservatory Committee

Some Thoughts on the Music Teacher Shortage

It's autumn, and my family has just been through the annual back-to-school ritual. If you have school-age children, you're aware that getting one's family ready for this incremental rite is both a privilege and a challenge. And if you don't have kids, at least you've been spared the expense--one that's considerable when underwriting tuition bills. For me, with two girls in elementary school, the costs are relatively modest: bookbags and sneakers are more important than laptops and refrigerators--at least for now.

In reality, consumer goods are easy to acquire. What worries me most this fall is finding the right fit in new piano and violin teachers for my girls. Like many of you, I'm sure, I can get real picky about this. With some work, we'll find them because we're lucky to have many fine music teachers in our community. But securing the right teacher will be competitive; it seems there are plenty of parents currently looking to supplement the music instruction their children receive in school with private lessons. We've been told on more than one occasion, "I'm sorry, but my studio is full at the moment. Maybe next year? I'll be happy to put you on my waiting list."

From my vantage point on the music faculty at The Ohio State University, I am equally concerned about the increasing shortage of strong musicians dedicated to the vocation of teaching music in grades K-12. A good part of my job is to help prepare competent, caring music teachers for our schools. And as superintendents and principals call for the names of teachers they might interview, the music teacher shortage has come into sharp relief: we're fresh out of candidates. So is Oberlin.

The music teacher shortage is no myth. This fall, many Ohio youngsters will start school without a qualified band, choir, or orchestra director, without a certified classroom music specialist. Ohio is not alone. While the need for public school music educators varies by state and region, there are hundreds of music teaching positions now vacant across the nation. The needs are primarily in strings and orchestra, secondary choral, middle school general, and elementary classroom music--in that order. This is no laughing matter: imagine sending your child to a school with no music teacher. And without a substantial cadre of talented, savvy, articulate new music teachers entering the profession, the enterprise of school music teaching in particular, and arts education in general, stands only to lose more ground to the competing forces of the back-to-basics and proficiency testing movements.

As chair of the Alumni Council Conservatory Committee, I'm aware that Oberlin remains one of the first places that school administrators call hoping to find a new music teacher. In fact, public school music teachers from Oberlin are one of the hottest commodities in the music education marketplace. The future for job placement looks equally bright for those interested in establishing private studios. Whether in the classroom or in the studio, parents everywhere are justifiably proud to claim their son or daughter "studies with an Oberlin grad."

As we recommend high-school musicians to consider auditioning for Oberlin, it may be wise to encourage them to consider teaching as a vocation. Ultimately, all of us are indebted to exceptional musicians who cared enough to teach.

Timothy Gerber OC '69
Professor of Music,
The Ohio State University;
Chair, Oberlin Alumni Council Conservatory Committee