Rachel Walter masters teaching and music on two continents


Rachel Walter was presented with this photo collage on her last day of teaching at Brisbane Girls Grammar School this semester. The students and staff treated her to a going-away party during morning tea.

Music may be a universal language, but the terminology used to create it is not, as Rachel Walter discovered with her student teaching assignment in music classes at Brisbane Girls Grammar School in Queensland, Australia.

The honors music education major has had the unique opportunity this semester to divide her required 16 weeks of student teaching between the private school in Australia and Glen Oak High School in Plain Township, near Canton. In fact, "Miss Walter" bid her Australian students goodbye on March 28, and greeted her Glen Oak students on April 8.

"There were some language barriers, and it took a week or so to get used to the accent I was hearing all around me," recalls a smiling Walter. The biggest barrier, to the amusement of her students, was learning to translate the American system of numerically named music notes into the British system, where, for example, an eighth-note is a quaver, a quarter-note is a crotchet and a whole note is a semibreve.

Rachel Walter with some of her music students at Brisbane Girls Grammar School.

"Rachel is our first 'international' student teacher," says Dr. Laurie Lafferty, professor and coordinator of the School of Music's music education program. "Sending a music student teacher to Australia was uncharted territory, and the success of the placement was largely due to Rachel's persistence and positive attitude."

Time to learn and teach

"I've always loved travel, and I had hoped to do a study abroad trip during college, but with music education, it didn't seem plausible," says Walter, who graduates in May and plans to teach and pursue graduate school. While the clarinet is her instrument of choice, her degree is focused on teaching instrumental music, so she had to follow a structured series of classes to learn, in depth, how to play every instrument in a band and orchestra.

But once her classwork was finished, Walter saw an opportunity to get a bit of the study abroad experience through student teaching.

"I was in a meeting for student teachers and learned that we could be assigned to an American military base," explains Walter. "So, I thought perhaps I could do my assignment in another country."

During a visit to the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary in Brisbane, Rachel Walter makes a new friend.

On short notice, Lafferty, with the help of Dr. Ralph Hultgren at Griffith University in Brisbane, helped Walter accomplish her goal. Hultgren, a composer and conductor, has been a guest conductor at UA and he and Lafferty would like to establish an exchange program for their music students.

Home away from home

So Walter's eight weeks of student teaching in Brisbane came in the middle of two four-week assignments at Glen Oak. While down under, the UA student lived with the Hultgren family and often traveled with them on weekends to see more of the country.

This was not Walter's first trip abroad.

The Canton resident, a graduate of Jackson High School, says she got her love of travel during her nine years as a member of the Summit Choral Society. With the group, Walter performed around the United States and in several countries, including Italy, Germany, China and Austria.

Once in Brisbane, Walter was struck by the differences in how music education is valued in Australia and the United States.

Rachel Walter had the chance to meet two of Zippy's distant cousins at the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary in Brisbane.

"Here, we make it part of the school day and students are graded on it, but at the same time, we have to almost justify its importance by showing how it helps students perform better academically," notes Walter.

"In Australia, the students aren't graded, and music is just appreciated as part of what makes a well-rounded person," adds Walter. "But it is a co-curricular activity. At the school where I taught, the students come two hours early or stay two hours late for band practice. They want to be there, and for me, that was a really good feeling. It's why I went into music."

While she wishes they would practice more on their own, as any good music teacher would, Walter says she was very proud of their efforts at a concert on March 15.

"I helped three bands each prepare a piece to perform, and it was my very first time conducting before an audience," says Walter. "It was a learning experience for them and for me, but we had a good result."