When Derrick Fox accepted the position of assistant professor of music education at Ithaca College, he realized he had just joined a wealth of faculty whose members have achieved highly commendable feats. Now that he has become part of the campus community, Fox is ready to bring his expertise to the James J. Whalen School of Music.
Staff Writer Nathan Rafalowski spoke with Fox about his career in music education, his experience in earning his doctoral degree at Michigan State University and his favorite part about teaching.
Nathan Rafalowski: What have your first few weeks on campus been like?
Derrick Fox: I haven’t really had a lot of time to explore the campus, because we were in auditions for 10 hours a day. So far, the students have been fantastic. My colleague Janet Galvan has been great at introducing me to the music faculty, and so far, so good. I’m looking forward to knowing more about the area and the school.
NR: What made the college stand out in your mind?
DF: It has a great reputation as a school … there were not a lot of job openings for people who do what I do this year, and the quality of the jobs that were open were not great, except for Ithaca. When you’re going through your job search, and you realize that there are only 15 jobs that are coming open and then you see a job like Ithaca come open, you jump on it … Jobs like this don’t come open often, and for it to come open in a year when a lot of people are looking for jobs, it was just really great.
NR: The past few years you were taking courses at Michigan State for your doctorate. How was the experience?
DF: It was the best school to prepare me to come into a job like this. This is a high-profile job. People know what is happening in Ithaca. When a position [of] this caliber opens up, I would think that the people here would want to find a really high-caliber person. Sometimes, those of us who are coming right out of doctoral programs don’t get the opportunity to … show our stuff. I really didn’t have a track record of university experience. That’s a big deal to have your first full-time collegiate job at a school like this, following people who have been in these positions for 30 years. So it was a phenomenal opportunity and experience.
NR: What motivated you to choose this occupation?
DF: I actually started out as an instrumental music education major to be a band director, to teach instrumental music. The short story is when I was an undergrad, I did some work at one of the local junior highs doing some band work. The choir director knew that I sang, and she asked me to come in and work with some of her junior high boys, and all of a sudden that led to being a substitute teacher when this lady was out and then all of a sudden when I was ready to graduate, her job came open and she asked me if I wanted to take her job, and reluctantly I said, “You know, I’ll think about it.” [The principal] sent me to an interview with the superintendent on Friday … and I had the job on Monday. I said, “OK, I guess this is what I’m doing.”
NR: What would you say is the most rewarding thing about teaching?
DF: Watching a student make progress they thought they couldn’t do, or watching a student when they realized they have grasped a concept, watching that excitement — that is what I love. Watching students learn and in the process become better people and watching them develop their love for teaching other people. It’s amazing. It’s intangible.