A Class by Herself

By
Jason Roeder
November 21, 2001
Kidd (center) takes a seat in her Elementary Classroom Methods course while a student teacher presents a lesson.
Photo Kim Grant
Photo Kim Grant

Heard about this kid? She stayed in elementary school 15 years, and now that's she's finally made it to college, hasn't budged from campus for more than two and a half decades. This kid is no underachiever, however. She's Music Education Professor Deanna Kidd. When you've been involved in music education as long as Kidd has, the field isn't how you earn your living—it's your life.

"I think I was a born teacher," she says.

Kidd has been employed as a music educator for more than 40 years, more than 25 of those in Berklee's Music Education Department. These figures only account for professional employment, of course. Unofficially, Kidd has been a pedagogue almost from the start.

"My parents told me that when I was really little that I was always teaching children," says Kidd, who grew up in Malden, Massachusetts. "I'd gather them in circles and teach them things."

If the neighborhood youngsters weren't around, Kidd had plenty to choose from at home. As the second oldest of seven children, she couldn't help but grow up a little faster than usual.

"I knew a lot of things that other kids didn't know how to do," Kidd says. "I could cook a meal for the whole family. I could take care of the little ones. The last two were twins. How's that for a finale?"

Kidd's junior high school also housed two first-grade classes that couldn't be accommodated by the local elementary school. If one of those teachers was late, Kidd was taken out of her seventh-grade class to watch over the tykes until an adult arrived.

"I was very reliable for my age," she says.

Kidd wasn't just precocious in the classroom. She had her first professional vocal performance at the age of three, singing The Star Spangled Banner at a fair. Throughout her childhood and adolescence, Kidd worked all over her community—Masons lodges, Republican clubs, Democrat clubs, churches.

"Not saloons or anything like that," she says.

It wasn't surprising—seemingly inevitable—that Kidd chose to study music education in college. In her junior year at Lowell State College in Lowell, Massachusetts, Kidd, a classical vocalist, discovered jazz.

"My singing teacher was magnificent and showed me how I could use my classical voice one way and my [jazz] singing voice another," she says. "You've got to take the vibrato out of the jazz voice. I was fortunate that I was able to learn both styles without hurting either."

After getting her bachelor's degree in 1961, Kidd began teaching at two Lexington, Massachusetts, elementary schools simultaneously.

"One was a small school, and one was a very large school," Kidd says. "My first year of teaching, I had to deal with two sets of books, two sets of teachers, and two sets of kids because one school was on the rich side of town and one was on the poor side of town. We had two different principals with two different ideas about what music education was. I used to go home crying a lot."

After earning her master's degree from the Boston Conservatory in 1975, Kidd joined Berklee as the college's first full-time female instructor. Kidd says that although she was a newcomer, she never felt like an outsider.

"I was very well accepted here," Kidd says. "I never had any problem with anybody looking down their nose at me because I was a woman. Never. I'm too strong for that to happen, for one thing. If anybody had tried to say anything inappropriate to me, they'd get it right back. But I was respected for what I did, and being a gigging musician helped, too. I wasn't just a teacher coming out of elementary school."

Of course, Kidd had some adjusting to do—a classroom of 9-year-olds is different than one filled with 19-year-olds. But Kidd says that quality teachers adapt to their environment.

"I think if you're a good teacher at any level, you're a good teacher," she says. "It was just an adjustment as far as the materials I would use."

Kidd not only had to adjust her teaching style for her new audience—more lectures, fewer sing-alongs—she's had to keep up with technology over the years. If her classroom isn't up-to-date, then what will her students do when they try to run classrooms of their own?

"The technology has gotten progressively much more exciting," Kidd says. "Some things are obsolete from last week. If you're a good teacher, you should be keeping up with what's going on. Some people are afraid to do that ... but you have to teach your students what to expect out in the field. That's what I do here.

Though the gizmos can enrich an educational experience, they'll offer no cover for teachers who don't know what to do in front of 25 fidgety children. Nobody realizes this more than Kidd, which is why so much of her Elementary Classroom Methods course is dedicated to role-playing. In preparation for the student-teacher fieldwork her students will be undertaking for the music education curriculum, Kidd puts her students through a simulation of an elementary school classroom. Everyone has a part.

"The reason we do this," says Kidd, "is because a lot of them are not used to getting up in front of people and having to think on their feet. We want them to get used to the personality bit."

Brian, for example, is the first-grade teacher, Angela is the full-time music teacher, and Gerad is the student-teacher. In this case, everyone else in the room, including Kidd, is a first-grader. The scenario begins with a chain of introductions—Brian introduces the class to Angela, who introduces the class to Gerad. Then, the lesson begins.

"All right, boys and girls," says Brian. "Looks like it's time for music, so here's Miss Angela."

"Hi, Miss Angela," the class drones.

"Oh, you all sound so ... nonanimated today," she says, with a chuckle. "But that's okay, because I brought in a helper. This is Mr. Gerad. He's going to make my life a lot easier. So, here's Mr. Gerad. Yay!"

Mr. Gerad spells out his name on a marker board. He tells the class he's heard a lot of good things about them from Miss Angela. He sings them a very special song.

"This old man, he played one. He played knick-knack on my thumb, with a knick-knack paddywhack. Give a dog a bone. This old man came rolling home."

Everything is going as planned. He gets the class clapping with the beat. They answer his questions about the lyrics.

"What animal is this song about?"

A hand shoots up: "A dog."

"Yes, a dog. And what was the thing the man gives to the dog?"

"A bone."

"Exactly."

Mr. Gerad has his students repeat the ditty line by line. Adults can accept the intrinsic absurdity of a song like "This Old Man." But kids have questions, and the ones in this class start waving for attention.

"What's a knick-knack?

"What's a paddywhack?"

"They're just silly words someone made up because they rhyme with each other," says Mr. Gerad. "I'll ask somebody, and have Miss Angela tell you next week."

But for a first-grader, next week might as well be next year or never, and the questions keep coming.

"Why was the guy rolling home?"

"How do you play one?"

Mr. Gerad is squirming—just a bit. But it's enough to prompt yet another question.

"Do you have to go to the bathroom?"

"Actually, I do," Mr. Gerad says, momentarily lapsing from character, "but in a teaching situation, I'd say I was just a little nervous."

He recovers, however, and has the class singing in unison minutes later. Mr. Gerad can take his seat again as just "Gerad." But Kidd reminds her class that, in real life, education really begins where the exercise left off.

"Any babysitter, any turkey on the street can come in and just teach a song," she says. "But it's the music teacher who teaches music by using the song."