Lincoln teacher reaches Grammy semifinals

Michelle Droe, a music educator in her 13th year at Lincoln Elementary, was faced with a tough question from her student after the news was released that she was a semifinalist for the Grammy Award for Music Educator.

“A student of mine heard that I was nominated and said, ‘Mrs. Droe, if you win the Grammy, will you ever come back?’ She was worried that I was going to leave. I had to immediately comfort her any way to let her know that nothing would change. Every day my students ask me if I have won. It’s really fun in elementary school,” Droe said.

According to the Recording Academy, “For every performer who makes it to the Grammy stage, there was a teacher who played a critical role in getting them there.” Every year the Recording Academy honors one music education teacher with a Grammy Award to represent all of the behind-the-scenes work that goes into a musician, and now Droe is on their short list.

Out of the 2,300 nominees for this award, 197 quarterfinalists were selected, and they were pared down to  the semifinalists, the top 25. The final list of the top 10 nominees will be released in December.

“I found out a few weeks ago that I was in the top 25, and I was really shocked,” Droe said.

It took one student to nominate Droe and put the spotlight on a teacher.

“There is a student and her family, Eliana Davidson, who is a seventh grader at Holmes this year and her sister is a ninth grader. Her family nominated me, and I hadn’t really heard of the award before, so it was really great that they did that,” Droe said.

“I found out in April that I was a quarterfinalist, so that was about 200 people, and so then came the work of having an eight-minute video of my teaching, and four-minute video of an obstacle that I have overcome, my proudest moments, how I advocate for music education, some student testimonials, a principal testimonial. We acquired footage and then my husband did all of the editing. He is great at that stuff.”

Droe hasn’t always been a teacher at Cedar Falls schools. Her dedication to being a music teacher was shown early on as Droe drove two hours round trip every day to her job from Tallahassee, Fla., to Perry, Fla.

“My husband [UNI Associate Professor of Music Kevin Droe] was getting his Ph.D at FSU [Florida State University], and so at the time I lived in Tallahassee and drove an hour to Perry every day to teach at the one elementary school in that county to 800 kids in that school only grades third to fifth. It was really different. So I would drive two hours a day, but I was so happy to have a job in that area, in music education, so it was worth it,” Droe said.

Droe’s teaching reflects the importance of music in young students’ lives. “I think in the area that I am in at the elementary school is so important that I am teaching every single student, and that it is now at this age that is the last time that they will be required to take music because that is not a requirement in junior high anymore,” Droe said. “I feel like it is still very important that I make sure that I teach what I think is the best quality stuff possible and I listen to the kid’s feedback and I try to teach them things that they are interested in, but also things that are high quality level,” she said.

As a teacher, her approach is to make learning music fun. “The way I teach is through games. The students might not know it. For example, through a certain games, it might include rhythmically a half note, which is what I might introduce to them that day so they are learning games, singing songs, having fun and I might be able to extract that half note out and teach them what it is. It is called a Kodaly method. He was a Hungarian composer. Kodaly didn’t develop this method, he just knows that music is important, so he found the people best in the field and sent them around the world to find important tools. They came up with that singing is your natural instrument and music is for everybody, and kids learn through games,” she said.

The Grammy Award for Music Educator recognizes the teachers behind the accomplished musicians. For Droe, the teacher who inspired her success was her father.

“My dad was my band director and influenced me a lot,” she said.

“I think that I have just always connected to music — it is my way to shine. Everyone has their thing, and music is something that really speaks to me, and I know it can speak to a lot of people,” she said.

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