When Heather Rosner was asked to prepare her students to perform for the Alexandria City Public Schools’ teacher appreciation event last spring, organizers knew she would get the job done. Her music students skillfully performed Tina Turner’s classic cover of “The Best.” Since becoming the band teacher at Alexandria’s George Mason Elementary School 12 years ago, Rosner has grown the program to include every student in fourth and fifth grade.
“What’s cooler than a bunch of kids making music together?” she says. “No matter what, I want to help them find success in it.”
The pandemic threw a wrench into music education everywhere, and Rosner pulled out all the stops to make the beat go on for the 120 students in her concert, symphonic, and jazz bands. She adapted immediately to virtual instruction in March 2020, providing instruments for students at home, visiting them to tune and repair instruments, and meeting with students virtually, one-on-one.
COVID guidelines didn’t allow for wind instruments at the start of the 2021–2022 school year. Students were also required to wear masks at all times in the classroom. So Rosner got creative. “I totally changed what music looked like at our school,” the NVM Teacher of the Year finalist says, switching students to bass guitar, drums, and ukuleles.
Parents can’t praise Rosner enough. “My son told me one time, ‘Do you think Ms. Rosner knows that she changed my life?’” says parent Anne Reynolds. “Heather Rosner is the type of teacher that goes above and beyond for her students every day.”
Earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music education from Ithaca College in New York, the Rockville, Maryland, native also studied with a drum and gyil ensemble in Ghana. Now, she offers West African xylophones for students to play.
When third graders consider what instrument they want to play in fourth grade, Rosner holds what she calls an instrument petting zoo. “It’s loud; it’s exciting,” she says of the hands-on opportunity. “It’s when they get to be like, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m in love with this one — this is the instrument I want to play!’”
Rosner’s influence goes far beyond the classroom. “My children still benefit to this day from what they learned from her — including her positive attitude and her joy in teaching,” says parent Meredith Cantrell. “She is one of those teachers that they remember forever.”