Courtney Ihnen’s own personal struggles as a youth, and the help she got from teachers, moved her to be an educator.
Ihnen is the general music educator at Hanawalt Elementary School in Des Moines, working with students in kindergarten through fifth grade. She grew up with learning disabilities and found help through many school resources and her teachers.
“Those teachers made the biggest difference in my life during my youthful struggles,” Ihnen says.
Using her passion for music, she went into teaching to give back to all students, including those like herself. Ihnen has a bachelor’s in music education from Wartburg College and is also a board certified music therapist.
“I really like working with kids, and when I found such a profession using music to help people, it drew me in right away,” she says. “I always saw myself working with students, working with children. They are so much fun. They make me smile every day.”
People may be surprised to learn that the scope of music education involves more than just tinkering with instruments. In kindergarten, students study beat and the “four voices,” Ihnen says: speaking, loud, singing and whisper. They go on to learn about movement, note-naming and music theory. They are introduced to, and have the opportunity to play, a variety of instruments.
“I like to use the Orff approach, which combines music with movement, drama and speech in lessons similar to the child’s world of play,” Ihnen says.
She also incorporates her scientific and therapeutic skills as a music therapist in her teaching. This knowledge enables her to have a better understanding of the psychological and physical challenges kids are facing, Ihnen says, and she can make the appropriate adaptations for them.
The impact of music on students covers a wide breadth of subjects, Ihnen explains. Note-naming and musical theory use math, while reading music and reading about it encourage literacy. Children also receive lessons in social studies when they discuss different countries and the origins of music.
“There are so many benefits of music,” Ihnen says. “It’s just imperative to have a music education.”