Author: Allyson Wainright
Pablo Salamanca’s teaching philosophy is simple: "I believe in diversity, equality, and inclusion. I think that all children deserve a well-rounded education, so my philosophy is teaching my kids the necessary skills to be successful inside and outside the room as citizens."
On November 19, 2022, Salamanca received the 2022 North Carolina Symphony Musicians Award, which honors a music educator with less than 10 years of experience who has had a lasting impact on students' music education journey.
The North Carolina Symphony (NCS) is dedicated to music education. It provides course materials and virtual concerts and forms partnerships with different entities to deliver an exceptional musical experience across the state. Its annual Music Educator Awards are part of this work.
An exchange teacher from Chile, Salamanca (or Mr.S as his students call him), is in his fifth and final year teaching at Eastlawn Elementary School. His philosophy shapes every lesson plan, breathing exercise, and listening activity that he creates. Many of his lessons can be applied outside the classroom, for example, a breathing exercise that helps calm oneself down, or listening skills that help resolve conflicts and improve everyday conversation.
Salamanca explains that challenges outside the classroom often impact student learning. "Reality is so hard for some families, for our community. And as a teacher, you face that with a six-year-old kid who doesn't understand, but they know that something is not right," he says. Committed to never giving up on his students, Salamanca created an additional space to promote good behavior and student leadership while addressing inappropriate behavior and outbursts: a basketball club. Playing basketball is only half the benefit; it's a space for students to lower their energy, start listening, and become more conscious of their decisions. As a result, he's noticed a difference in the classroom, especially with some rowdier students.
Salamanca keeps his young students calm during the school day, but music can help older folks dealing with stress as well. Here’s a resource for when you need a second to collect yourself. The NCS and sponsor UNC Health partnered with North Carolina State Parks and the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources to provide a series of brief musical excerpts combined with scenic visuals from North Carolina landscapes. Listen below.
Salamanca says he has learned a lot from his American colleagues, as they take advantage of every resource to help students grow, and he cites resource availability as the most noticeable difference between Chile and the U.S. in the classroom. For example, he praises the accessibility of NCS online materials, and he uses the student book, "What Makes Music Music?" regularly.
The NCS Music Education booklet teaches basic music concepts outlined in the North Carolina state curriculum and helps teachers prepare their students to attend an NCS Education Concert. NCS Education Concerts in turn bring music to life in an interactive setting while exposing students to music they might not have heard before. Salamanca recalls his students enjoying a Virtual Interactive Stage concert featuring NCS Composer in Residence, Dr. Anthony Kelley. He remembers that Kelley started naming rap artists as some of his own musical influences and that his students were shocked to encounter a classical composer with musical taste to match their own.
"In Chile, you have to sit for 90 minutes to learn music; in here, we dance, we play, and we do so many different things," Salamanca said. "There's a variety of activities here."
As a music educator of Latin American origins, Salamanca often incorporates Latin American music cultures into his teaching. For example, during Hispanic Heritage month, he presented students with Bolivian musical instruments and Chilean lullabies and put on a parade featuring traditional Chilean clothing and masks with lots of dancing. For the holidays, he taught his students a Chilean Christmas song to perform for the community. He is happy to note that NCS Associate Conductor Michelle Di Russo is Argentinian and expressed gratitude for the Symphony's representation of Latin American composers in its repertoire.
When asked about the NCS Music Educator Award, Salamanca expressed shock at being nominated, exclaiming, "Whoa, they notice us!" The nomination came from Kimberly Griffis, a fellow Alamance County teacher he admires, which made it particularly special. "It feels great to have recognition, and I feel proud of the work we put on," Salamanca added. "I feel like I'm a part of the school and the vision of the school.” A part of the school's vision includes being a model for its teaching, learning, and student engagement. Salamanca's innovative thinking, never-ending dedication, and thoughtful lessons prove his impact.