IOWA CITY — She isn’t a music teacher, but Melanie Hester incorporates song and dance into many of her fifth-graders’ lessons.
“I enjoy making connections with my kids and inspiring them — not only academically, but also socially and politically,” Hester said. “I am especially invested in creating a classroom community that acknowledges cultural diversity.”
Hester always has been interested in music, and she said incorporating it into her teaching felt natural.
And at Alexander Elementary in Iowa City — where about half of the student population is African-American — adding music and dance to lessons has been culturally relevant for her students, she said.
“As far as making a classroom community, I want to make sure that the way I teach things, and the information the kids are getting, are things they can use within their own culture,” Hester, 29, said.
To keep her students engaged — especially during math lessons, when students are tasked with rote memorization — Hester writes new lyrics to rap and pop songs.
Her students remember how to multiply a three-digit number by a two-digit number by singing a tune set to Justin Timberlake’s “Can’t Stop the Feeling,” how to divide decimals to “Side to Side” by Ariana Grande and the process for turning a mixed number into an improper fraction to “Rolex” by rappers Ayo & Teo.
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“Research has shown music helps you remember things, and gestures and movement help you remember things, so really I just tried it out one day and it worked,” she said, noting she was inspired by educators at Ron Clark Academy in Georgia. “ ... I have never had a group of kids say ‘this is stupid’ when it came to songs and the learning.”
Hester has an associate degree from Kirkwood Community College and a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Iowa.
“I truly think she is superhuman,” said Greg Ludwig, another Alexander teacher, in Hester’s nomination. “Because I am a new teacher, she is always willing to guide me, and help me succeed. She is the teacher I hope to be some day.”
Q: What made you decide to become a teacher?
A: As a daughter of two teachers, I saw the importance of teaching. I wanted to have influence on children and help them realize their full potential in and outside of the classroom, and find joy in learning.
Q: Name a few things you always have on your desk.
A: Motivational quotes, student work to grade, to-do lists.
Q: What are some of your favorite lessons to teach?
A: Grit and perseverance, multiplication and fractions, writing.
Q: What’s one of the hardest conversations you’ve had at school?
A: Conversation about student dialogue, and student behavior that may have preconceived notions related to race and culture.
Q: What keeps you motivated at work?
A: Thinking about how my work impacts the bigger picture. The staff and the kids’ energy and positivity. And coffee. Shout out to those who bring me Starbucks!
Q: What would you be if you weren’t a teacher?
A: A music producer.
Q: What’s something students probably don’t know about you?
A: Things that they are facing in their lives can be similar to things that I am facing in my life. I am very sensitive.
Q: Best way to get students to pay attention?
A: Being energetic, positive and a little rap music. Song and dance that is integrated into instruction helps with engagement.
Q: Who was your favorite teacher when you were a kid?
A: Mrs. Lien from fourth grade (at Harrison Elementary in Davenport).
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The Gazette is featuring Hester as part of an ongoing series spotlighting educators in the Corridor. To nominate someone to be featured, send an email to Molly Duffy, K-12 education reporter, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
l Comments: (319) 398-8330; email@example.com