As Joe Tomkins, Assistant Choir Director at McKinney Boyd High School, led his choir of freshman girls through rehearsals for their upcoming UIL competition, he stepped away from the piano and moved about the room, listening and evaluating. He guided his students as they sang, correcting and encouraging, sometimes with words — more often with a quick gesture or facial expression. The girls reached the end of the passage and silence settled for a beat before Tomkins began praising improvements and correcting minor errors. He hurried back to the piano, directed their attention to the next section and they were off again. It was a whirlwind of determined artistry marked by smiles and laughter. Throughout the class, Tomkins’ students were intent and purposeful. And they were having fun.
When Melissa Peden, Boyd Choir Director, pointed out that Tomkins had been named SMU’s 2012 Meadows School of the Arts Young Music Educator of the Year, Tomkins’ students cheered, but none of them seemed surprised.
Since 2010, SMU’s Meadows School of the Arts has presented its Young Music Educator of the Year Award to a recent SMU graduate who has shown evidence of successful teaching, service and professional development. Candidates must have 3-8 years of teaching experience, and each candidate must submit an application, letters of recommendation and a teaching video for consideration. The winner is chosen by a panel of distinguished SMU music education alumni.
Tomkins was notified of his selection on January 31 and was honored at an SMU reception held February 9 during the Texas Music Educators Association Convention in San Antonio. Receiving the award held special meaning for him. “It was great. It meant a lot coming from people who are mentors to me at SMU. It was nice to be recognized,” said Tomkins.
Tomkins began his career teaching middle school choir in Houston. Three years ago, he joined the faculty at McKinney High School and then moved to Boyd High School where has spent the last two years.
Peden said Tomkins is passionate about being a great educator. Tomkins credited much of his success to the support he has received from Peden and the McKinney ISD Fine Arts Department. “Melissa Peden’s a great encourager, and Roy Renzenbrink [Director of Fine Arts] and Trish Rissman [Fine Arts Office Manager] have been great. They’re wonderful. I couldn’t do my job without them,” he said.
“Mr. Tomkins is doing great work as the assistant choir director at McKinney Boyd High School,” Renzenbrink said. “He has high expectations for his students but motivates them to learn by planning engaging lessons that prepare all his students for success. He is very deserving of this recognition by SMU and we are very proud to call him our colleague.”
Tomkins has an ear for music and an eye for talent. Like so many gifted musicians, Tomkins hears things that many of us don’t — a section that’s slightly off-pitch or a passage that needs more energy. And, like so many gifted teachers, he sees talent and leadership potential in his students and then provides opportunities for them to develop those qualities.
As rehearsal time neared its conclusion, Tomkins placed the class in the hands of his section leaders. Small groups coalesced around the room and immediately went to work on passages that needed extra attention. “It really means a lot to them, and we take section leaders seriously here,” Tomkins said. “We recognize them throughout the year. We give them a lot of responsibility.” Tomkins said that participation in choir helped him develop confidence and leadership skills that he draws upon today. He knows that he is making a difference for the future by providing the same kind of leadership opportunities for his students.
As the end of class sounded, Tomkins had a final word for his choir, “Thank you for being my students today!”
The response was enthusiastic and — appropriately — in unison, “Thank you for being our teacher today!”