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Doctoral graduate's excitement for teaching music spans international borders

Soyeon "Sally" Kang

December 09, 2020

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable fall 2020 graduates.

Doctoral graduate Soyeon “Sally” Kang always understood that for a performance, practice makes perfect. But after a decade of teaching music, she realized she didn’t understand how that translated to her teaching career.

“As a music teacher, I was still looking for an answer to the question ‘What makes good teaching?’” said Kang, who graduates this month with her PhD in music learning and teaching. “With this question in mind, the following year I started a new chapter of my life as a music educator and scholar in a new cultural environment.”

She decided the best way to answer that question was to further her own education. She relocated to the United States in 2013 from South Korea to pursue her graduate degree in music learning and teaching at the School of Music, Dance and Theatre in Arizona State University's Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts.

“At the time, I was in the middle of my 11th year of teaching music in South Korean elementary schools,” she said.

Born in Seoul, South Korea, Kang was raised in Gwangju, South Korea, where she continued her education and began a successful K–6 teaching career in music education.

Kang earned a Bachelor of Education in music education (2003) and a Master of Education in culture and arts education (2013) with a specialization in general music at Gwangju National University of Education. She then pursued a Master of Music in music education at ASU (2014). 

“While completing my ASU master's and doctoral degrees, I was inspired by every moment of learning, growing and thriving through the challenges,” Kang said.  “While attending conferences and professional development around the United States as a graduate student, I realized how grateful I was to be a member of ASU and encounter outstanding ASU alumni who contribute to music education and impact our professional communities and music educators.”

Kang’s teaching experience includes grades K–12, college courses, student teaching supervision and private piano studio lessons in different countries.

“Through my experience of working with diverse students, I became interested in what inspires music teachers, like myself, to make changes in their teaching practice,” Kang said.

She received the 2017 ASU Graduate and Professional Student Association’s Teaching Excellence Award for her innovative perspectives and commitment to creating learning environments focused on student mutual engagement.

Kang has served on the board of the Arizona Orff and Arizona Kodály Teachers Society, presented professional development workshops for music teachers in Arizona and South Korea, was a master’s thesis committee member, a research grant reviewer for the Graduate and Professional Student Association, supervised student teachers and served as summer curriculum coordinator for the School of Music, Dance and Theatre (formerly the School of Music).

She is also active in the Phoenix community teaching private piano lessons, serving as an accompanist and working with the music education program at her church.

Question: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?

Answer: Studying in a master’s and then a doctoral degree program at ASU became an opportunity for me to see how my professional knowledge and experience played a role in my teaching practice. My formal and informal learning in this academic community helped me develop new perspectives as a teacher/scholar.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: When my husband and I were looking for universities to attend in the United States, he was guaranteed funding from the Physical Education Department (later Teachers College) at ASU, so we both applied to the university. While applying, I researched ASU music education professors and their research interests. Their varied interests inspired me to be open to various issues in music education. I had completed my master's degree in South Korea but looked forward to having more opportunities to explore music education in the United States and decided to pursue a master's degree at ASU.

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: Near the beginning of my second semester in the doctoral program in music learning and teaching, my adviser Dr. Sandra Stauffer asked me if I would be interested in teaching a course entitled “Music for Children and Youth” the next semester. I was still adjusting to the new learning and living environment so teaching a college-level music course seemed like tossing up a third ball while I was already juggling two. Even with my prior teaching experiences, I thought that it would take a lot of nerve to teach in this new environment. Throughout my life, however, I had discovered that there was no job more exciting to me than teaching music. I believed that it was pure luck for me, an evolving educator who grew up in a different cultural and educational context, to get to teach American college students. I said “yes,” and it was the best decision that I ever made.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: My advice for music education majors would be to work with your fellow music educators and become a mutually supportive community of practice where artist/teachers inspire one another’s growth creatively, artistically and professionally.

Q:What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?

A: I don’t have a favorite place on campus, but rather a favorite course. I taught “Music for Children and Youth,” an elective music course for all majors, for seven consecutive semesters from spring of 2015 to spring of 2018. Every semester while teaching this course, I was astonished to discover new ideas about how I could improve my practice and each time I implemented these ideas into my practice.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I will continue teaching approximately 20 piano students aged 4 to 60, and working as a music director at Grace Korean Presbyterian Church. I am also currently applying for music learning and teaching faculty positions.

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