Barbara Bell


Barbara Bell

School & School System Where You Work

Forsyth Country Day School, (Independent)

Number of Years Teaching


Teaching Area(s)


Grade Level

Middle School & High School

What do you love most about teaching music?

Inspiring children to become lifelong lovers of orchestral music.

Who inspired you to be a music educator and how did they inspire you?

Roger Harrington was my orchestra teacher at Armstrong Middle School in Bucks County. As an 8th grade violin student he selected a solo violin piece for me to perform in 3 concerts and for my peers. The middle school orchestra was my accompaniment. Never in a million years would I have thought about doing something like it. It was a great learning experience and I began to discover that music was the kind of challenge and distraction I needed.

One day we were practicing in a small group and we were playing quartet music. I thought to myself, this is greatest thing I have ever done in my life. I asked, Mr. Harrington if he thought I could be an orchestra teacher. He said, absolutely. I was 13 and I remember the exact moment when I decided I wanted to be an orchestra teacher. I never once thought about going to college for anything else.

Over 30 years later and I am just as passionate, if not more so, about teaching music as I was when I began teaching elementary general music for Glassboro Public Schools in 1990.

What did you need the most when you started teaching?

I constantly asked every possible teacher that I respected for ideas. My supervisor for student teaching said she never had anyone ask so many questions about teaching. We would go to lunch so she could answer all of my questions. I always picked the brain of any human I respected in education and then took their ideas and incorporated them into my teaching. I depended on the support and knowledge of my veteran colleagues.

Describe the biggest challenge to teaching music education and how you have worked to overcome this challenge?

For me the biggest challenge was traveling to multiple schools each year. One year I taught at North Forsyth High School, I hopped in my car and drove to Carver High School and ended my day at East Forsyth High. For years I taught middle and high school.

I tried my best to coordinate as much of what I was teaching to be some portion of what I was teaching at each school. The programs were often at very different levels. At some point I would select as much common material so I wasn’t constantly planning for 3 completely separate programs. I combined the schools to make larger ensembles and it was helpful and enjoyable for everyone.

I had to get a cart with wheels to lug everything everywhere. I had a back strap for my violin and I always felt like by the time I got settled into the school and caught up it was time for me to move to the next school.

I learned to accept that there were many things that were going to come up that I had no knowledge of because I was in a different location when the information was shared. I found a teacher at each school that knew exactly what was happening at every moment in their building and constantly touched base with them to see what I missed.

FUNDRAISING! So much time is spent on trying to get money to get what the students need. I did pie sales, cookie sales, fruit sales, donations during a concert.

How do you advocate for your program?

I spend my time always advocating for children. My students know that I love and care about them as humans. I always greet each student and have a very quick check in. The more time you take to focus on acknowledging their struggles the more they work hard to want to be successful in my classroom.

Even when things fell apart in COVID I always managed to maintain and grow orchestra programs. There are children that walk in our doors that have had a rough night. By acknowledging their struggle and offering a moment of support the students pay me back in multiple ways. The parents know that I care about their children.

I teach at a very quick speed. I have a lot I want them to learn. I always want to improve my teaching and playing for my students. The students thrive and the time I take to check in with them. That makes them willing to do whatever is necessary to make a program successful.

I like to travel with my ensembles.It gives the students more exposure to performing. It gives them the bonding time that unifies the ensemble. I am taking my upper school orchestra on a music festival cruise.

What is one piece of advice you would give to beginning teachers?

Look to your veteran teachers for support or advice. Some lessons will not go well. You scrap that idea and try something new. Spend time making connections with your students. If they know you care about them and you are excited about what you teach they will learn anything you want to teach them. Always strive to grow as a teacher. Never stop learning. The more that you continue seeking out new information you will come up with even more of your own ideas that might be even better. Love what you do. Pick music that you love that you are sure they will relate to as well.

How do you build relationships with students and parents?

I greet each student individually every day. I ask them how they are doing. I listen if they have something bothering them. I have had students tell me some of the most tragic stories in the first five minutes of class. Look them right in the eyes and tell them you are sorry. Ask them if they need help. Acknowledge their struggles. Notify guidance and other teachers when I child is struggling. It does NOT take up that much time. As the student learns that they can count on you it is a brief conversation. Then I tell them I am sorry and tell them we are going to focus on making music to forget about it.

Children know whether or not a teacher really cares about them. The more you show them respect the more respect they will show you.

I was in a meeting for a new school that I would be working with that year. The assistant principal told us if the students like us and a fight brakes out they will defend us like their mother. If they do not like a teacher and a fight starts you are on your own. This was a very challenging school that had multiple teachers in one year.

I walked in a picked a simplified beautiful classical piece. I poured my heart into teaching them the music and I watched them melt. From that moment on when a new student showed up someone always made a point to look at the new student and say, Don’t mess with her! We like her!! They were extremely scary about it. I taught in that school for 4 years and never once had a problem or felt unsafe. It is what is considered to be a very challenging place to teach.

Email parents about how well their children are doing. Make suggestions about what they can do to support their children’s musical journey.

Most parents don’t know but it doesn’t mean that they don’t want to know. Take the time to let parents know what you enjoy about teaching their child.