Who knew that a few tunes about fruit, mammals, and a stinky diaper would change my life?! Several years ago, my persuasive four-year-old nephew Zak asked me to write some songs for him. Writing and performing children's music planted the seed that inspired me to undertake my most thrilling adventure yet... enrolling in graduate school to become an elementary school teacher! In December 2012, I completed my student teaching practicum in an awesome third-grade class at North Beverly Elementary School – the final step to receive my Master of Education degree in Elementary Education from Salem State University. I possess a Massachusetts Initial License in Elementary (1-6), Early Childhood (PreK-2), and Music: General/Vocal/Instrumental (All Levels). In 2013, I began my teaching career as the new K-5 music teacher at Carlton Innovation School in Salem! I also teach 5th grade math.
I have released three Parents' Choice Award-winning children's music CDs – “Be Nice” by Leeny and Steve (2008), “Sharing the Same Stars” by Leeny and Tamara (2009), and “Dance to the Weather” (2012), which I co-produced with meteorologist Mish Michaels. The music is fun and educational, featuring many songs that could be integrated into the curriculum across grade levels (i.e. social skills songs for PreK-2, science-related songs, etc.). You can check out the tunes and find out more info at our websites: leenyandtamara.com, leenyandsteve.com, and leenytunes.bandcamp.com.
PHILOSOPHY OF EDUCATION
What do students want out of school? They want to learn how to be successful in the “real world,” and it is the role of teachers to prepare students for subsequent grades, college, and ultimately to become productive, responsible citizens. I come to the classroom with the perspective of more than 20 years of experience in this “real world.” I understand the essential life skills that we need to teach our students, and the importance of making everything at school relevant and meaningful to their lives. Teachers must always be able to answer students’ age-old question, “Why do I need to learn this?”
Through my Salem State graduate studies, I have found the most consonance with John Dewey’s Progressivism philosophy, which allows for an integrated curriculum and flexible grouping in the classroom. Students learn through experience, collaboration, and experimentation. With the teacher as facilitator, this cooperative environment stimulates problem solving and creativity, and promotes inquiry – skills stressed across the Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks. It also addresses students’ different learning styles (David Kolb) and intelligences (Howard Gardner), supporting differentiated instruction. Moreover, I plan to incorporate aspects from several philosophies in my classroom, depending on the situation. For instance, the Existentialism philosophy (A. S. Neill) would further allow students to learn and express their understandings in the ways that make the most sense to them. By adopting elements of the Perennialism philosophy (Hutchins/Adler), I would spur students to learn through reasoning and analysis. This would ensure that students are grasping the “Big Ideas” across all curriculum units and obtaining deep understanding that they can build on as they progress through school.
This inclusive educational philosophy will encourage students to become responsible for creating projects on their own from inception to completion, and presenting and sharing their work with others – to take on the role of teacher. When students have the ability to teach the material, they will show the greatest understanding and retention of it. The teaching methodologies that I use will inspire creativity at the highest level of Bloom’s Taxonomy, involve technology in a productive way to help students create content, encourage reflection and self- and peer-assessment, and allow for real-life application and transfer of knowledge. By creating tailored activities that spark and maintain the interest of a diverse student body, I will take advantage of students’ strengths while also focusing on areas for improvement.
We can create projects that will tie in content across the entire curriculum! This will truly prepare students for successive grade levels, and for life in general. They will put themselves in the shoes of people in different careers – to determine what skills are needed across various content areas of the curriculum. We will look at real problems in the world and how others came up with solutions, and products that have changed the world. Performance tasks will be authentic and translatable to real-life situations.
As my classroom takes on a multi-philosophy approach to education, so it will likewise combine both traditional and integrated curriculum organization, leaning toward integrated. Integrated curriculum also provides time for those all-important “teachable moments” to unfold naturally. In designing my classroom, I have taken into account this combined curriculum organization approach and various philosophies to allow flexibility for instruction. Overall, the emphasis is on cooperative learning. Through grouping activities – heterogeneous or homogenous, based on whatever is appropriate for the lesson – all students will benefit. Ideally, every student should interact with one another for the most complete experience and embracing of different learning styles, intelligences, cultures, interests, and personalities. Teamwork will be nurtured and celebrated. Being able to work together with diverse individuals is part of growing up, and an indispensable ability to have as adults in the workforce.
I envision myself as an orchestra conductor in the classroom, with each student playing a different instrument – and having different strengths – within that orchestra. Of great value is making sure that each student tries to play all of the instruments in that orchestra throughout the year. Indeed, music will play a prominent role in my classroom in many forms. A number of research studies over the past 20 years have shown the positive effects of music on students of all ages – academically, socially, and emotionally. A few years ago, I started writing, recording, and performing children’s music, which is what set me on the path to pursue a career as an elementary school teacher.
Music reaches children across all cultures, at various socioeconomic levels, and with different learning styles and intelligences. It can be used in the classroom to teach content across the curriculum, to communicate acceptable behaviors and improve social skills, to cultivate a strong sense of community, and for classroom management and transitions. Music touches people in a special way – connecting learning with an emotional experience is powerful. I also think it would be a tremendous experience for my students to produce a class CD with all the educational songs that we write throughout the year. In addition, the research on the positive link between exercise and learning/memory is clear. The more I can get students to move around, the better. Therefore, we will play games that incorporate exercise into learning.
All students need to be empowered to learn and to achieve at their own pace. We are working together in this pursuit, not in competition. Helping one another is also part of the learning process. I will have high, but reasonable, expectations for every student. In turn, I will expect that every student respects him/herself and his/her classmates, teacher(s), classroom, school, and community, and the learning process in general. One of the most important ways that I will communicate my expectations and help students find ways to improve is by providing consistent, detailed feedback on their work. This feedback will be a significant component of all assessments, both formal and informal, before, during, and after lessons and units. Additionally, involving students in the grading process will foster ownership and responsibility for their work and that of peers.
This is not just the teacher’s classroom. The classroom would not exist without the students. We all need to share responsibility in the learning process and have pride in our classroom environment. Similarly, it is crucial that I involve parents/guardians as partners in their children’s education. When partnerships are created among parents, teachers, administrators, and the students, an ideal community exists that will help students reach their full potential in school and throughout their lives.
Finding a way to reach all students is the key – to give them belief in their abilities and the knowledge that there are opportunities available if they work hard, face challenges, and take risks. It is vital that teachers find out what is most interesting to each of their students. I look back on my favorite teachers as the ones who made learning fun and fascinating – allowing us to “play” in order to learn, injecting humor into lessons, and taking a personal interest in each student’s success. When a teacher is proud of your efforts, not only your accomplishments, it strengthens your motivation. You understand that you don’t have to be perfect at everything, but that you do need to try.
Students will be expected and prepared to take on leadership roles in our classroom and beyond. They will feel safe here to step out of their comfort zones, and will dare to be different! My students will not accept an environment of intolerance or bullying, and we will discuss any issues that ever arise. We will see ourselves as a small part of the larger global society that has the power to make a difference and create positive change when we take ourselves seriously and apply our best efforts to our studies and everything we do in life. Throughout our journey, we are going to have a lot of fun!
In the Post-School World:
- ASCAP Plus Songwriting Award recipient for the last five consecutive years.
- “Dance to the Weather” CD: (2013) Parents’ Choice Award Silver Honor.
- “Sharing the Same Stars” CD: (2010) Parents’ Choice Recommended Award. National Parenting Publications Awards (NAPPA) Rising Star honoree. Independent Music Awards Song of the Year nominee for “Ladybug, Ladybug, Ladybu-u-ug.” (2009) Creative Child Magazine Preferred Choice Award.
- “Be Nice” CD: (2009) Just Plain Folks Music Awards Song of the Year nominee for “What Have You Done With All the Penguins?!” (2008) Parents’ Choice Approved Award. Children’s Music Web Award: Best Recording for Preschoolers. Creative Child Magazine Preferred Choice Award. Named to Common Sense Media’s Best Music of 2008 Recommended List for Your Family.
In the School World:
- At Salem State University: Featured student in Salem State Preschool annual newsletter (2012) and Salem State School of Graduate Studies Master of Education promotional piece (2013). Selected to present a lesson to peers and faculty at Student Teacher Wrap-Up Celebration (2012). Pi Lambda Theta Honor Society (2013).
- At Berklee: SESAC Publishing Scholarship. Berklee Professional Music Scholarship. Singer/Songwriter and Songwriters Showcases. Dean’s List.
- At Cornell: Teaching Assistant, Business and Professional Speaking. College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Honor Society. Carl E. Ladd Memorial Scholarship. Dean’s List.
In the Pre-School World:
- Excels at Duck-Duck-Goose.
- Naps like a champ.
- Plays well with others.
Salem State University, Salem, MA.
- Master of Education in Elementary Education with initial licensure, Jan. 2013. GPA 4.00/4.00.
- Graduate Assistantship, Salem State Preschool, full-tuition scholarship (Fall 2011-Spring 2012).
Berklee College of Music, Boston, MA.
- Bachelor of Music, cum laude, December 1991.
- Major in Songwriting. Piano principal.
Cornell University, Ithaca, NY.
- Bachelor of Science, with distinction, June 1989.
- Major in Communication. Minor in Human Development & Family Studies.
ARTIST PROFILE: Leeny Tunes (aka Ilene Altman)
Proud to be born and raised in the great state of New Jersey, but even happier to now call Cape Ann, MA her home, Leeny has rapidly become a fixture in the children’s music industry. Her 2008 debut CD, “Be Nice” by Leeny and Steve, garnered several honors including a Parents’ Choice Award and a Children’s Music Web Award as Best Recording for Preschoolers, and was named to the Best Music of 2008 Recommended List for Your Family from Common Sense Media. More accolades ensued for her 2009 sophomore release, “Sharing the Same Stars” by Leeny and Tamara, which was dubbed by parents as “the new ‘Free to Be You and Me’ for the next generation.” The album received a Parents’ Choice Award and special recognition as a NAPPA (National Parenting Publications Awards) Rising Star honoree, as well as an Independent Music Awards Song of the Year nomination for “Ladybug, Ladybug, Ladybu-u-ug.” For the last five consecutive years, Leeny has earned the ASCAP Plus Award for Songwriting.
Writing and performing children’s music planted a seed that inspired Leeny to undertake her most thrilling adventure yet... enrolling in graduate school to become an elementary school teacher! In December 2012, Leeny completed her student teaching practicum in an awesome third-grade class at North Beverly Elementary School – the final step to receive her M.Ed. with licensure from Salem State University. In 2013, she began her teaching career as the new music teacher/classroom support teacher at Carlton Innovation School in Salem!
Be sure to catch a concert with Leeny in a solo performance or with her band, The Eeny Meenys, which features a group of 9-12 year old singers. She performs in the greater Boston area and around the Northeast at schools, libraries, fundraisers, community events, museums, festivals, and private parties. Shows are high energy, interactive and geared toward audience participation. Leeny’s songs cover topics like ladybugs and penguins and dogs (oh my!), good behavior, growing up, family, and seat belt safety.
Leeny and her husband Nick live in beautiful Gloucester, MA, America’s oldest seaport. When she’s not writing songs about animals or stinky diapers, Leeny likes to mountain bike, play Frisbee, or drive her Jeep. Check out new Leeny and Steve music on the recently released, “Dance to the Weather” CD, a compilation of weather songs that Leeny co-produced with meteorologist Mish Michaels. The album won a 2013 Parents’ Choice Award Silver Honor!