Even though Christopher Toomey is a quarter-finalist for the 2021 Recording Academy Music Educator Award, he doesn’t see it as an award for him. He wants it to be recognition for the entire school district and the music department at Mineola High School, which he said does “a lot of special things.”
Toomey, who teaches band, saw the application and decided to apply. The first round requires the application and a short essay. He was excited to see he was a quarter-finalist. To continue in the running for the award, Toomey had to submit a second set of materials, another application and a series of videos of students and peers attesting to his teaching excellence.
“I tried to think of students who really targeted the mission at Mineola,” Toomey said. “I know of a few students who wanted to quit band and then joined my program in eighth grade and stuck with it. I said ‘hey, don’t give up, join my band.’”
Toomey knows of one such student, who at one point wanted to quit music altogether before joining his band, who now wants to be a music teacher himself.
It took about a month for Toomey to put together the videos and submit them. He will hear in September if he is a semi-finalist.
One thing that Toomey said the music department at Mineola does differently is allowing older students to start playing new instruments. At some schools on Long Island, a student who wants to join the marching band as a teenager having no experience might be turned down.
This is an unusual year to go for an award in education because the COVID-19 pandemic has caused schools to go partly or purely with online classes. Toomey said one part of the application was about innovation in virtual teaching.
A program called Smart Music came in handy for Toomey when the challenge of teaching music virtually first came up. As he describes it, a teacher can assign a piece of music to students. They can record themselves playing it and submit it. All students have Smart Music on tablets that the district distributes. It lets students hear their part as they go along in the piece, click on notes and see the fingerings and bring the tempo up or down.
In the fall, Toomey wants to put together a video of his students playing together as he has seen others do.
Toomey sees music as a release for students, a break from the monotony of an average school day. Toomey tries to break from that so the day isn’t “click, click, done with English, click, click, done with math, click, click done with music.”
Toomey’s primary instrument is trumpet, which he has played for years, but he can play most of the instruments involved in the school band “pretty well.” He’s better at some than others, but said when he teaches through demonstration, it’s beneficial and that once you learn one instrument, it’s easier to pick up others.