Melanie Wheeler ’15 wants to help students succeed.
She plans to do just that as a music teacher in an elementary school where the students are socioeconomically disenfranchised.
“My drive to be a music teacher is more about the music being the medium for education,” she says. “Music provides a special place to empower people, and it works especially well with young students.
“There are students who don’t think they belong in the other classrooms, and they so look forward to music.”
Three semester-long classroom experiences confirmed her ambitions.
She spent a semester observing and teaching in a Richmond classroom, then spent a semester each in schools in the affluent Dayton area of Oakwood and in inner-city Cincinnati.
Comparing students in the two schools, Wheeler saw equal potential. “There were just as many talented children in Cincinnati as there were in the Oakwood,” she explains.
“I want to be a teacher who has had access to a good education and then makes the choice to work in an inner city school. I want to see them succeed, and when enough teachers feel that way, we can build a great education for children.”
Wheeler came to Earlham thinking about majoring in music but investigated other options, including auditioning for and gaining acceptance into conservatories between her second and third year at Earlham.
“After staying up practicing until 10 p.m. and waking at 4 a.m. for an audition, I realized that this was not what fuels me,” she says. “This is not the way I want to earn my bread.”
Working with Associate Professor of Music Bill Culverhouse helped Wheeler discern her path. Culverhouse taught music at an elementary school before pursuing his doctorate.
“Bill is one of the reasons I am at Earlham,” explains Wheeler, who completed one- or two-credit independent study courses with Culverhouse each semester. “Bill is incredibly willing to do all he can and more to help you. He is one of the main reasons I want to be a music teacher, and the reason I work so hard is because he pushes me.”
Wheeler has been active in ensembles, including playing and conducting, which Culverhouse encouraged.
“I am a more confident teacher because of my conducting skills,” she says. “And Bill knew this.”
Wheeler also has served as a naturalist in outdoor education for four years at a summer camp and spent a semester in Madagascar working for a non-profit in sustainable development.
“Madagascar was a huge influence in the way I think about poverty and people in poverty and my role in it,” she says. “I travelled halfway around the world to talk to people and to learn that we are all the same. It was a humbling experience.”