Bringing joy to children through song has long been a career for Thomas Michalek of Hastings, which makes him well positioned to lead a national organization promoting music education.
Michalek, a music teacher at Watson Elementary School, will soon become president of the Kodály Organization of American Educators (OAKE), a group that supports music education in schools.
Dave Barrett, acting principal at Watson Elementary, said Michalek deserved the job.
“He’s an amazing music teacher,” Barrett said. “Kids love going to his class. It is one of those hidden gems.
Michalek is the former president of the Plains States Kodály Organization, which mainly covers Nebraska, and the former regional representative on the OAKE National Council.
He was elected chairman of the national council earlier this year. Starting in March 2022, he will serve two years as president-elect, followed by two years as president. Upon expiration of his term, he will complete two additional years as Past President to help with the transition to a new President.
Although the time commitment and the additional responsibilities gave him pause for thought, Michalek said he was at some point in his life to be able to take it on. His wife has offered her support and their daughter is going to college.
He said that OAKE had provided him with a lot of professional development over the course of his career and that as President he would allow him to pass this on to younger teachers.
“I felt this was my opportunity to give back,” he said. “I am fortunate to have developed leadership skills during my career. I can put my organizational skills and my empathy at the service of the organization.
Throughout his high school education Michalek knew he wanted to get involved in a career in music.
He graduated from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 1991 with a bachelor’s degree in music education and received his master’s degree in music from UNL in 1997.
He initially thought his career would focus on instrumental music, but an insightful teacher suggested he try his hand at elementary school students. She encouraged him to apply for his first teaching position, teaching general music to K-6 students at Bellevue.
“My love has been elementary music,” he said.
He taught at Bellevue for 12 years and then at Millard for three years before moving to Hastings. He has worked in Hastings Public Schools for 16 years. He also taught instrumental music in parallel to keep in touch with this part of his musical interest.
Michalek received his Kodály certificate from Nebraska Wesleyan University in 2001. Certification required two weeks of training each summer for three years.
Zoltán Kodály was an early 19th century Hungarian composer, ethnomusicologist, educator, linguist and philosopher.
Michalek said Kodály was not happy with the quality of the musicians at the time and started researching how children learned music. His research inspired a new way of teaching music to children through folk songs.
In the 1960s, several Americans went abroad to learn about the Kodály Method. They returned to the United States and began to broadcast what they had learned.
The Kodály Organization of American Educators was founded in 1975 to promote Kodály’s concept of “Music for All” through the improvement of music education in schools. Today, the group’s mission is to support the highest quality musical education, to promote universal musical literacy and lifelong musical creation, and to preserve the musical heritage of the people of the United States. America through education, artistic performance, advocacy and research.
In practice, Michalek said, the Kodály Method uses folk songs from around the world to gradually introduce musical concepts to students. Instead of just teaching music, the goal is to foster a deep appreciation for the art form by providing positive experiences.
“It’s based on song and joy,” he said. “The children have fun as we gradually and subtly explore musical concepts. The main emphasis should be joy.
To this end, OAKE offers professional development through four workshops each year. Michalek has taught such certified programs across the organization in the past.
As the future chairman of the group, he sees his role as one of advocacy and dissemination of information as well as connecting sections across the country to each other. He said he previously thought he would like the opportunity to be the national president, but didn’t think it would be at this point in his life.
“It seems overwhelming due to the strong tradition of this organization and the artists who have held this position in the past,” he said. “I think it will be richly rewarding. This can hopefully help me influence children’s educators in a much bigger way. “
Michalek said he was grateful to his colleagues and Hastings Public Schools for allowing him to serve in this capacity as the duties will require time off from work.
“The Hastings Kindergarten to Grade 12 program is extremely strong and has a rich tradition of success,” he said. “I am fortunate to be part of such a strong team here. I love teaching here and being part of this community.