About Becky Stewart
Becky Stewart (@ygtreble) is starting her sixth year as director of music at Yuba Gardens Intermediate School in Olivehurst, California. She graduated with honours from California State University, Sacramento with bachelor’s degrees in Flute Performance, studying with Laurel Zucker, and Music Education.
Becky is a recipient of the 2015 CTA Outstanding First Year Teacher Award, the 2019 Outstanding New Educator award for her district and the 2020 winner of the California Music Educator Association’s Middle School Music Specialist Award. Becky has presented at both California Activity Directors Association and CASMEC state conferences as well as regional student and adult CADA conferences on how to create a positive culture for music at schools.
In 2021, Becky has also had the privilege of being selected to be on the K-8 Music Curriculum Review Team for the Department of Education for the State of California and is on the music faculty for Sugarloaf Fine Arts Camp and Cazadero Performing Arts Camp.
This year, Becky will also be taking on an advocacy role on the Capitol Section Board of the California Music Educator’s Association. Becky is also starting her third year as a mentor through the Tri-County Induction Program for beginning music teachers. In her spare time, Becky enjoys Spartan Racing and cruising around in her 1965 Mustang.
**Please note that all of our transcriptions come from rev.com and are 80% accurate. We’re grateful for the robots that make this possible and realize that it’s not a perfect process.
Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the high performing educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s guest is Becky Stewart. Becky is starting her sixth year as the director of music at Yuba garden’s intermediate school in California. She graduated with honors from California state university Sacramento with a bachelor’s degree in flute performance, studying with Laurel Zucker and music education.
Sam Demma (01:04):
Becky is a recipient of the 2015 CTA outstanding first year teacher award and 2019 outstanding new educator award for her district and the 2020 winner of the California music educator. Association’s middle school music specialist award. She has performed and spoken at dozens of state conferences and associations. And in her spare time, Becky enjoys Spartan racing and cruising around in her 1965 Mustang. I hope you enjoy this amazing high energy conversation with Becky Stewart, and I will see you on the other side.
Sam Demma (01:44):
Becky, welcome to the high performing educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you virtually all the way from the states, on the podcast here today. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit about, you know, what you do with the educator audience?
Becky Stewart (02:00):
Awesome. So hi, I’m Becky’s Stewart. I am honored to be the music director at Yuba gardens intermediate school in Northern California. And I teach seventh and eighth graders music all the way from beginning band to wind ensemble and choir too.
Sam Demma (02:17):
That’s amazing. And what got you into the arts and music?
Becky Stewart (02:23):
I, my, my story with getting involved involved in band is kind of lame, but I always, my parents, you know, would put on different different shows and, you know, there’s like the public access television, you see different concerts being put on and I saw a flute on stage and it was really shiny and I knew I wanted to play because it was shiny. So, so that’s, and I got, I, my parents were nice enough to buy me a used flute for my next birthday. That’s awesome. So I got, hrivate lessons, hor my 10th birthday, ho get ready for band in middle school. So starting in sixth grade and, h got to be in band in sixth grade, which was a total blast and I went to a private Catholic school growing up and, heah, and that year the band director retired.
Becky Stewart (03:14):
So I only got one year with him. And then after that went through a couple different of, of band directors, but I, I loved band. I loved playing my flute. And then when I got to high school, I ended up switching to a different high school, my, my sophomore year because my middle school ended up closing due to low enrollment. My high school ended up closing due to low enrollment. So I ended up going to a public school in beginning of my junior year. So it closed sophomore year. And then I was able to experience marching band and show choir and jazz band and all these super fun things, got to have the opportunity to play saxophone and some ensembles, and really just had a great time and then decided to major in it in college.
Sam Demma (03:53):
That is so cool. And then when you were growing up, did you think you were gonna play in like an orchestra? Did you end up playing in any groups or did you know while you were going through it that one day you would use that to springboard you back into education?
Becky Stewart (04:08):
Oh yeah, not at all. I knew I enjoyed it a lot. I actually wanted to like switch to electric base my eighth grade year. I don’t no idea why. I think like some other girl was playing it and I was like, that is so cool. And my mom’s like, I bought you this thing, like no way. So I was glad you did that. But I, I just had such a blast with all of my friends in high school. I, my goal when I, cause I originally wanted to be a Marine biologist and that really interested me oceanography really interested me until I got to honors chemistry and my junior year of high school. And I went, oh no, this, this math and science is super, super, super hard. And I was like, I was not having a good time. Yeah. And the one class that I kept coming back to that I kept wanting to the subject that I was excelling at and really found myself wanting to work hard in that class wa was band was instrument. So I like broke the news to my parents saying, Hey, I wanna, you know, major in music in college and mixed reviews. Lots of concerns happen there.
Sam Demma (05:11):
Tell me more about that for a second because I don’t think only students, but also educators sometimes make difficult decisions and following your passion is one of the
Becky Stewart (05:22):
Oh definitely. Definitely. I it was definitely tough because you know, the whole family is like, oh, maybe you should have a plan B you know, and cause nobody else in my, and my family plays music. So it was kind of hard to hard to forge that path. But I knew that I wanted to do it. I knew that it was right thing for me. So I, I kept on going and,uit’s kind of hard, like when your parents don’t fully support you at the beginning, but you know, later on they’re like, oh, I’m glad you did that. You’re like, yeah, I know
Sam Demma (05:52):
And you all along
Becky Stewart (05:54):
So it was, it was definitely tough. And I came from a household where neither of my parents had graduated college. So they, I think they were just happy that I was going to college at, you know, they came to that realization. But yeah, it was definitely, definitely not easy. But when you know that like you were made to do something that this is your passion, then you have to follow it. But at the beginning I was a performance major for the first years of college. Like the, the dream goal for me was to play in a studio orchestra and a studio band to be hired, to play for movies and to do soundtracks. And,uthe farther I got in my college career, I, I was playing in all kinds of ensembles, all kinds of bands and having the best time, our major in the marching band and,uhad some conducting experience.
Becky Stewart (06:40):
And I ended up with a couple of injuries , which I think is go, is just like your story. I think, from what I saw and I, cause being a performance major requires so much practice time. And,uwhile like my mind was willing and able my body really wasn’t and I didn’t want to, you know, facing like, you know, perspective surgeries in the future and all these. And I was like, Ugh, I don’t think I wanna deal with that. Like so early in life. Yeah. Uso I was, you know, approached by some of my mentors, my junior year of college. And I mean, not, not because the injuries or whatever, but, you know,uI was like, I, I was going for, I was like, I’ll still do it. I’ll still do it. And then they were like, you know, we really think you should look into education. And I was like, oh, okay. You know, I, that, as a, as a second major, there aren’t very many, like many more units to take on top of music performance to get into music education. So I was like, okay, you know, graduate with two degrees. That sounds great. But it ended up being a really, really great move for me. And I wanna have changed it for the world.
Sam Demma (07:40):
That’s so amazing. Music fascinates me because it’s like all in your head, it’s like, you, you, you envision something and then you bring it to life. And it’s, it’s something to start as just an idea. Now it’s a thing that people can relate to and enjoy hearing and listening to. And I’m just really fascinated by aspir artists. I don’t care if you paint or write or sing or make music. It’s like, it’s such an inspiring field to watch someone pursue. And I’m sure you get so inspired by seeing kids passionate about it as well. Like what is, what is, tell me more about the experience of being in the classroom teaching band to grade sevens and eights and why you wouldn’t trade it for the world.
Becky Stewart (08:20):
It’s and it’s so cool. Cuz we just had our first concert last night after two years away so it was crazy. Cause our last concert was December of 2019. So last night we, we had our first show, which was the such a cool experience. Uso the kids that performed, they all learned their instrument over distance learning, which wow. Had its own challenges. You know, I couldn’t see them. I couldn’t, I, I think the hardest part about teaching online was like, here’s your, here’s how we’re putting our mouthpiece together. Here’s how we’re putting our read on. And it’s like, cuz usually I would be able to make small adjustments for them cuz it’s so hard even when you’re still developing those fine motor skills and you cuz it has to go a very certain way for it to be successful. And I wasn’t able to do that at all.
Becky Stewart (09:06):
Yeah. And you know, and then the cameras were all off and I’m like, I don’t, I don’t know what your arm looks like, but it sounds okay. Like I can kind of like hear what you’re doing and know what adjustments you need to make. So it was like a really big test in my ear, but it was amazing last night seeing the kids cuz before that you know, you get kids like, oh I don’t, I’m not sure if band was for me and I don’t know. And I’m like, okay, you, you haven’t even had a concert yet. Like you scratched the surface of what band is like we’ve gone through these first sounds together, which is my favorite thing. I love seeing their faces light up when they’re successful at something, the whole class is clapping for them. I’m screaming their name.
Becky Stewart (09:40):
Like we’re having a good time and yeah. Then just cheering each other on and, and bonding together as an ensemble. And as a class is just the coolest thing to see. They’re truly a family unit like a month into school, like they’re, they’re already bonded. And last night we, like I said, we finally got our concert and the band kids got to really see what being in band is all about. Like they were all so nervous before the show and and then they, they thought they were gonna die. And they’re like, what if I faint? What if I fall over? You’ll be, it’ll be okay. And then they, you know, they, that common experience of like being so nervous, but really, really preparing for that moment and then performing and then everybody clapping for you at the end is so cute. The kids are high fiving each other and looking at like, we did it. So those, those moments like that are really what really, what makes it so special.
Sam Demma (10:30):
I love that. I think the journey of seeing a kid progress from a nervous and uncomfortable situation into a space of confidence and self belief is what fuels every teacher, whether you’re teaching music, whether you’re teaching math, it doesn’t matter what the subject is. It’s like that journey from not knowing to knowing is just so cool to watch. That’s so amazing to hear. And did you always, when, when you started teaching, did you always teach band to great sevens and eighth? Or did you start at a different grade or has this always been where you’ve been so far?
Becky Stewart (11:01):
It’s so funny because when I like, cuz I, I, like I said, I didn’t, I, the education field was not like in the cards for me, I thought at the beginning. And then when I got my student teaching assignment, I was like, all right, you know, everybody’s in college coming off this hot high school program, like I’m gonna go to high school, we’re gonna have three jazz bands and we’re gonna have the best marching band ever and blah, blah. And so when you get your student teaching assignment, everybody’s like crossing their fingers and toes for like the big high schools that are around and like, all right, I’m ready for it. And I got a middle school placement and I was like, are you kidding me? I was, I was like, I was mad. I was like, I was like, I want middle school.
Becky Stewart (11:39):
What the heck? This is dumb. Cause I, I did not have a good, like a great middle school experience. Like my, our band was like I said, private school, super bare bones. Like non-competitive like, yeah, one period of band a day, like it was super small. And so I was like, like, this is dumb. So, and then come to find out where, you know, it’s just, I got place, this amazing middle school program totally fell in love with the age group. I fell in love with teaching them right from the beginning. Mm. I thought that was so cool where you can teach them exactly the way that you want them to be taught. Whereas in high school, you know, you have kids coming from all over of different ability levels. And I feel like that that level of that achievement gap just grows as soon as you get to high school. But it’s great having them for those two years saying, okay, I know I started you I know why you’re having these issues and how to fix it. And then we can, you know, along our two year journey, but,uyeah, it’s always been seventh and eighth grade. I got,umy current position I interviewed for it. Ubefore I graduated from the credential program. So the credential program, I did middle school and as my student teaching and then I went right into the middle school position right after that. And it’s been awesome.
Sam Demma (12:50):
Nice. That’s awesome. And let’s go back to the time in your life where you felt as a student going out on stage and performing your first time. Not actually in the musical sense, like metaphorically, that feeling of not knowing how something’s gonna go. I think every teacher went through that experience when COVID initially hit. And it sounds like you did too with being a music teacher virtually which,
Becky Stewart (13:14):
Oh yeah. Everybody kept asking me, how are you gonna do it? I’m like, I dunno, but we’re figuring it out as we go.
Sam Demma (13:20):
So how did that experience go? And like, how did you overcome that difficult situation and continue teaching and figure it out along the way?
Becky Stewart (13:28):
Oh yeah, it was crazy because I was used to seeing, seeing, actually seeing my, of kids in front of me every, every day. Cuz that that’s how our schedule is. I get to see them for, for 43, 48 minutes every day. And uthey’re like, okay, it’s gonna be distance. Like, okay, that’s, that’s hard, but you know, we’ll, we can do it, you know, we’ll, we’ll do our best. And I’m like, okay. And then,uMondays, we are only gonna meet with one class for 30 minutes and then it’s all meetings all. Okay. So now I see them four days a week, right? Nope. Now I got two days where you see them for an hour each day and I’m like, oh my gosh. I’m like, that’s, that’s like two days regularly. That’s crazy. So if a kid missed like one day of class, I don’t see them.
Becky Stewart (14:08):
So if they miss like a Wednesday, I don’t see them until the next Monday. Mm. It was crazy. So I did a lot of like being really purposeful about what exactly we were going over that day. So we really slowed everything down. And I tried to have as many cameras on as possible where it really wasn’t very many, but we worked a lot with Flipgrid like where kids recorded their own video and then posted on a page where everybody could see each other video. And I was like, oh, that’ll be fun. And they’re like, Nope, hate this. I don’t want everybody to see it. And I was like, okay, I will make it. So it’s only me. That’s use it. That’s fine. And then, you know, that went well for a little while and giving them feedback because I didn’t wanna make them play in the zoom.
Becky Stewart (14:51):
And then I realized the parents didn’t want, didn’t sign up to have an instrument in their home. Playing like at 8:00 AM twice a week. Like like, I’ve got a meeting with this trumped blaring behind me trying to learn how to play. And I was like, I know, like I know like it’s fine. Uho dealing with that too, cause not everybody could play their instrument at 8:00 AM. Okay. Just get your mouth piece out. And uhust buzz while you’re doing the valve combinations. Umo a lot of videos with that feedback, I, hodified like my band karate system to, so the kids could have a, an end goal at the end that they could see and have like different levels to achieve. And, me incorporated a lot of fee cuz I wasn’t sure when we were coming back, like there were some spots like maybe we’ll come back in November.
Becky Stewart (15:36):
Nope. Maybe we’ll come back in December. Nope. So we really got purposeful about what exactly the kids were doing. I incorporate a lot of different softwares, like smart music to assess the kids so they could record at home, use Flipgrid a lot. We got, like I said, we got to incorporate a lot of theory that we wouldn’t normally do in the classroom. We got to incorporate a lot of music history, which I really loved. And we got to collaborate with the history department with what they were doing. Like they were working on like seventh grade history does world history. So they’re working on the medieval times and the prehistoric era while we’re learning about the music from the Renaissance and the medieval times and the prehistoric and it was, it was just really cool being able to do those cross-curricular things.
Becky Stewart (16:15):
But I’ve made our program so performance heavy, like we just got our shirts and I do tour dates on the back and the whole back of the shirt is all the concerts for the year. So it is it’s amazing full. So it was really odd coming to terms with like that’s the whole identity of our program is being so performance based and like I can have zero performances this year. So it was, it was interesting take completely taking away the performance expectation and making sure that every kid was able to like do exercise number one. Okay. You’re good. Do exercise number five without like, okay, in a month we have a concert and you gotta go. But even so my, my students become performers and it’s, it was kind of weird not having that last year, but but I think they, they all got better as the year went on. They all stuck. Most of them stuck with their instrument, which was really what we were going for. And as long as they had fun last year, it was, that was, that was the main goal. Like as long as I still like band at the end, then we’re good.
Sam Demma (17:13):
That’s awesome. And I’m sure that, you know, there are some kids that realize band’s not for me. And there’s some kids that realize this is fun. I’m gonna try it again. And there’s a certain select few that are probably like, this is my life. Like they fall in love with it. Right. Yeah. Like, and you’re one of those kids when you were in school. But tell me a story of a student who maybe in grade seven to be beginning of the year, you know, was nervous, shy. And by the time they left to school in grade eight, we’re just like totally different human being. And like, you know, sometimes educators forget their purpose of their work and it’s to, you know, put belief in kids. And then sometimes you don’t hear about the impact your work has until like 10 years down the road when the kid is like in their mid thirties and has a family or something. Oh, for sure. But uyeah. Tell me like about a student like that who..
Becky Stewart (18:01):
Oh Yeah. One of my, one of my favorite kids is in the high school band right now, I saw him perform last night. He was like in this, in this group that kind of moved along together. And my school in particular has a lot of really rough families. They have great, great, great families. But there are some, like, it’s a very high socioeconomic scale. Like it’s 95% free, reduced lunch, 95, like lots of family below the property rate. I’ve had students where at least one parent isn’t prison it’s, you know, very bleak outlook on the future. So when they come to me, music and band sometimes does not seem like a priority at all. So this one student in particular, every single day and he, he sat front, playing clarinet, sat in front every single day. He’d look me dead in the eyes and be like, I hate band I’m quitting.
Becky Stewart (18:56):
And I was like, Nope, like I believe in you please say you’re doing so well. Cause I could tell he was, he was a great player. Like, no you’re doing great. And you know, when I would compliment him, he would just kind of look and be like, yeah, whatever. And every single day I hate band I’m changing electives. I hate band I’m changing electives. And I was like, oh my God. You know, at the end you’re just like, fine. Like if this isn’t for you, like whatever. But he had his first concert and I knew this is always like the biggest moment of buyin for them is because, like I said, they have this, this joint experience together where, where they’re all nervous and they all perform and they realize everybody’s doing great. And sometimes this is the first time their parents are, have come to watch them or tell them good job or say that I’m proud of you, which is really, really cool.
Becky Stewart (19:35):
And so after this performance, we always do our little reflection and he, he was like a completely different person afterwards. And he, you know, always brought his in home cause I made him. But after that was, you know, totally by choice. And uthe end of his seventh grade year, he’s just P playing and playing and working through the book and doing so well and excelling above everybody just because he is, he’s working so hard. And then the next,uhis eighth grade year,uhe ended up getting into honor band, which was amazing. So we went to the section honor band and he did fantastic on clarinet and he’s playing this music. That’s like high school music for, for junior high. And he’s,uright now auditioning for,uthe Western international band conference honor band as a sophomore in high school. And he’s yeah, he’s just absolutely killing it. He got the director’s award from me with the rest of his clarinet section as an eighth grader. Yeah. He was in two honor bands that year as an eighth grader, actually he was in the district honor band and yeah, so that was, that was very, very cool to see. He’s, he’s one of my, my favorite stories cuz he started off as definitely like, you know, the thorns on the rose and then, and then completely bloomed afterwards.
Sam Demma (20:41):
Sometimes those things that seem like an annoyance, like end up being a kid’s greatest strength, you know, maybe, maybe his stubbornness is what made him. So, you know, committed to playing the clarinet afterwards, you know, it’s true. True. Oh, that’s such a cool story. And if you could like transport back in time and speak to younger Becky, when you in your first year of teaching, like knowing what you know now what advice would you give younger self?
Becky Stewart (21:06):
Oh, oh gosh. I would say it’s going to be great because you are involved in it. Mm. Like to like know like no self doubt cuz like I, like, I feel like I pretty high self-confidence but like just, just not, not doubting. You’ll be like, what you’re doing is great. Keep going. What you’re doing is great. Keep going. Like it will be great because, because it’s you mm
Sam Demma (21:36):
That’s a really good piece of advice for everyone. So thanks for sharing but uhhank you so much again for coming on the show today and just sharing some of your stories. Umf someone’s listening and it’s been inspired by it or maybe teaches me music in their school and are, hnterested in hearing more about how you did it virtually, if they’re still teaching virtually or just curious to hear more about your program, what would be the best way for them to reach out or just get in touch?
Becky Stewart (22:01):
My email for sure. I’m also on Instagram. Our school has our Yuba gardens music, Instagram @Yubagardensmusic. And then I have my personal Instagram as well. I don’t know if it’s okay to say it or if it’ll be linked on the podcast. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org. So it’s my real name is Rebecca, but nobody calls me Rebecca.
Sam Demma (22:30):
Nice. Love it. Becky, thank you so much for coming on the show here today.
Becky Stewart (22:35):
Thank you for having me!
Sam Demma (22:36):
Yeah, this is awesome. Keep up the great work and we’ll talk soon. Awesome.
Becky Stewart (22:40):
Thank you so much.
Sam Demma (22:41):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the high performing educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please is consider leaving a rating in review. So other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show. If you wanna meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network, you’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.
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