The Beat Goes On: Brittany Jacocks brings her musicianship to special ed teaching
Published in Convocation
Brittany Jacocks calls herself a “career changer.” When she enrolled at Teachers College two years ago, she thought she was turning the page on her past life as a classical vocalist and pianist, and on a career in arts management in New York City. She was excited to embark on a new career – she’d always had a passion for teaching – but it seemed as though she might be leaving music behind.
At TC, “I learned a lot about what education is, who the philosophers are,” says Jacocks, 27, who this spring received a dual master’s degree in Early Childhood Education and Early Childhood Special Education.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the classroom. As Jacocks moved deeper into special education teaching, she began to see opportunities to incorporate music into her methods. For example, while student-teaching in a self-contained classroom of eight children on the autism spectrum, Jacocks had a song for every transition throughout the day. She also used music-therapy techniques and rhythmic patterns to teach sequencing concepts. And she uses elements of opera to help the children tell musical “stories.” (Dvorak’s “Rusulka” is one of her favorites.)
It was four semesters of student teaching “that have made me feel really prepared,” Jacocks says. “I feel like I’ve learned not just how to teach, but how learners learn – why children process learning the way they do.”
That understanding makes Jacocks an ideal teacher to bring special needs students into the general education curriculum.
“I am a fan of inclusive classrooms,” she says, “but I think it’s important to have a qualified person in the classroom to deal with it. It can be good, though, especially for the general-education children. A classroom should reflect more of what’s outside.”
Jacocks would like to stay in New York to teach, at least for a while. “There is a very unique blend of kids in classrooms in New York City,” she says. “I really value that.”