Every March, I attend the Music Teachers National Association (MTNA) Conference to refuel, recharge and reinvigorate my studio and my teaching. After a particularly brutal winter, I found myself frazzled, stressed and on the brink of Teacher Burnout!! Thankfully, I had scheduled time off to attend this year’s conference in the “windy city” of Chicago. The trip was just what I needed to replenish my energy, giving me a fresh perspective as well as gratitude for all that I do have!
So, how does one plan to attend a conference? And why should one attend a conference? Isn’t it too much money, how can you afford it? These are all questions that came to my mind in 1996 when I considered attending my first MTNA Conference in Kansas City, Missouri. What sealed the deal for me was the slate of guest artists and featured clinicians. That year, Nelita True and Daniel Pollack were performing, two artists that I admire and wanted to see in person. Kansas City was close enough to drive so I gathered up some colleagues and we shared travel expenses and a fun road trip.
I feel that the conference experience is crucial to my professional development so the cost is figured into my yearly budget. The city of upcoming MTNA conferences is always given at least two years in advance so it is easy to plan ahead. A suggestion from a colleague is to figure out the total conference cost, divide by twelve and set aside that amount each month. In addition, find a roommate and share hotel costs; this is not only less expensive but also more fun! This year, my travel buddy and I took the MegaBus and saved a ton of money – $24.25 round trip to Chicago!
The Chicago trip was my 10th MTNA conference, so as a veteran conference attendee, I have developed an individualized plan for my personal conference experience. First of all, I give myself permission to take this time off! We teachers must take time for ourselves to revitalize and regroup, or else the consequences are grave. Secondly, I decide on the areas in which I need improvement, inspiration and ideas, or assistance before heading to the conference. With a wealth of wonderful sessions, it can get tricky to choose a plan of action.
The MTNA Conference offers a “Pedagogy Saturday,” in which there are generally three to five different tracks. This year featured five tracks on Improvisation, Wellness, Recreational Music Making, Teaching Artistry and Technique, and Young Professionals. In addition, during the conference there are several National Competitions in the Junior, Senior and Young Artist categories of Woodwind, String, Piano, Brass, Piano Duet, and Voice. One of my absolute favorite things to do is to listen to the Junior Young Artist Finalists! I am so inspired by their mature technique and artistry at such young ages – they are phenomenal. Conferences are also a wonderful way to find out about new products and most importantly, to network with other teachers from around the country.
Next year’s MTNA Conference is in Las Vegas! I am already making plans! What conferences do you attend, and how do you as well as your studio benefit?