You might not think that one teacher’s reach from an elementary music classroom at Rural Point Elementary in Hanover County, Virginia would extend very far. But Paul Bakeman has touched a lot of lives — in Virginia and around the world.
Bakeman earned his Bachelor’s degree from VCU in 1994 and as a trombonist and self-declared marching band kid, he planned to become a high school band director until a decisive summer job opportunity turned his heart to elementary music education.
A fellow trombonist had already lined up a cruise ship job for Bakeman for the summer between his junior and senior year. But then Bakeman received a phone call from music education professor Dr. Sandy Guerard letting him know about a day care center in need of a music teacher for the summer.
“It wasn’t the age group I saw myself teaching,” Bakeman said, “but I thought, if I want to be a teacher, then this is something I should do. So I turned down the cruise ship gig and became the music teacher at this day care center for elementary age kids.
“And I knew nothing. I hadn’t student-taught yet; I hadn’t done a practicum. They had no materials and they had no instruments. I basically had two sticks that the kids could bang together. I had to create everything and it really was a trial-by-fire. But I absolutely fell in love with those kids and the age group.
“The next year, when I student-taught, I taught in both an elementary setting and a high school band and that really sealed the deal for me. I knew that the elementary age group was right up my alley and that’s what I wanted to do.”
Bakeman began teaching at Rural Point Elementary right after graduation and in his 18 years of teaching since then he has continued to excel in and beyond the classroom. In 2001, he was recognized as the Rural Point Elementary Teacher of the Year and was also a recipient of the R.E.B. Award for Teaching Excellence.
Along with the recognition for his stellar work, the R.E.B. Award provided grant money for travel and further study. Having seen the power of drumming in both his classroom and the community, Bakeman chose to pursue a month of drumming study in Ghana in 2002, followed by a week-long workshop on community-focused drumming in Hawaii.
Around that same time, Bakeman’s work in recorder curriculum began to gain traction. As with most elementary music educators, Bakeman had been teaching the recorder to his students, but was dissatisfied with the method books that were available. So he began to write his own pieces along with accompaniment that the kids could play along to. Over the course of a few years he collected his pieces into a book that he passed around to teachers in Hanover and surrounding school districts. “The response was overwhelming that the kids loved it,” Bakeman said.
Bakeman earned his Master’s degree in Music Education from VCU in 2004 and as part of his coursework, he turned the recorder content into a formal method book, Recorder Connections, which he began to self-publish. Sold through West Music, the book is now in the hands of music educators around the globe. Two years ago, Bakeman also published Cooking with Marimbas, which has also been well-received.
Bakeman is also an instructor in the Masters in Music Education program at VCU. Each summer he teaches recorder for the Orff-Schulwerk level courses. In 2006, he achieved National Board Certification in early and middle childhood music and in 2009 was recognized as a Yale Distinguished Music Educator.
He hasn’t let his performing chops become idle, either. Bakeman gigs regularly as the guitarist for the classic rock band Sons of Zebedee and as guitarist and singer for acoustic trio Pavlov’s Dog.
With such extensive experience and seemingly boundless energy, Bakeman has certainly made his mark on music education in Virginia and beyond. He graciously agreed to give some words of advice to music education students, beginning teachers, and experienced teachers.
“If you think you’re going to be a teacher, you really have to be passionate about kids and the calling to be a teacher. It really is a vocation in the truest sense of the word. It’s a challenge every day and there are days where you think you’re just going to give up on it, but if you have the vocation, the calling, then that is what sees you through the tough times.
“A music ed degree is not something to fall back on. You really have to be there because you love it and you care about the kids — that has to be your primary focus.”
For Beginning Teachers:
“My number one piece of advice for teachers that are starting out is this: Find a mentor. Find a really excellent teacher who you can latch on to; who can help see you through the first five years and more.
“My own mentor was a man named Jimmy Hicks who taught at Cold Harbor Elementary. He just took me under his wing and was just so helpful with the little details that you wouldn’t even think of, and he did it in such a kind way. We’re still best of friends 20 years later and I still go to him for advice.”
For Experienced Teachers:
“For people like me who have been in it for awhile, we can start to feel like we’re stuck in a rut and the lessons start to all look the same. My advice would be not to lock into any one particular mold of doing things.
“I’m definitely an Orff practicioner through and through, which can sometimes close my eyes to other possibilities. But the best thing I did a few years ago was go to the National Kodaly Conference. And that really opened my eyes to the whole Kodaly world — I haven’t gotten a chance to dive into that yet, but whenever I think that I’m getting stuck in a rut, I remember that there’s this whole other thing I haven’t done yet. So keep your options open, go to conferences you don’t usually go to, try some new material and see how it goes!”