The Love of Music: Teacher has award-winning gift for drawing out passion

The Love of Music: Teacher has award-winning gift for drawing out passion

CHAMPAIGN — As best as she can remember, Amber Owens was singing at about the same time she was speaking her first words as a small child.

"My parents couldn't get me to be quiet, even when I was a kid," she said.

That love for music led Owens to a career in teaching music, which she's been doing for 16 years, including the past 13 at Bottenfield Elementary. At Bottenfield, Owens teaches general music and choir to kindergartners up to fifth-graders.

"We do a lot of singing, playing instruments, drums, percussion, mallets, guitar, recorder," Owens said.

She's good at it, too. This week it was announced that Owens was selected as a fellow with the Teach Plus Illinois Teaching Policy Fellowship, one of just 15 teachers across the state in the highly selective leadership program. With that comes some additional classes and training a couple hours per week. And as a part of the program, Owens will get to choose an issue about which she's passionate and then collaborate with others to further make an impact in that area.

She'll choose music, of course.

"I like to focus on keeping the arts in schools and maintaining funding for the arts. But one of the things I'm really passionate about is educating the whole child," she said.

In her classes at Bottenfield, Owens relays stories of her experiences at a similar age in her own music classes. She had some good music teachers and some really bad ones along the way.

"It makes a difference when you're inspired to do the right thing," she said.

In fourth and fifth grade, Owens was playing the flute but couldn't read music, and her teacher didn't know how to help her.

"So I dropped out, joined the choir and found where I fit in," she said.

"I share those stories with students and emphasize the persistence that you have to have," Owens said.

Years later, she picked the instruments back up, and today she can play the piano and the guitar, and she even took a semester of harp in college. She might pick up the cello soon.

"I like to learn, I'm interested in learning a bunch of different things," she said. "The cello is just a beautiful instrument."

In her role teaching young kids, Owens said, it's not hard to identify musically talented kids. In fact, so many, she said, have shown her they can have futures in music based on how they pick things up in classes.

"You see it right away, and you just want to nurture it," she said.

A good chunk of her students end up in the band and choir at Edison Middle School, and they oftentimes come back to visit to share their experiences with her when they earn a spot on the top band or one of those coveted vocalist spots.

She's had some success stories, but none have gone on to worldwide fame and fortune — yet.

"Hopefully, one day I'll get a Grammy nod where one of my kids is up there and says 'Shout-out to Mrs. Owens!' " she said.

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