Musical influences remain center stage for alumnus

Dior Dunmire, Staff

For alumnus Jennifer (Garrett) Gorham, music has always played a role in her life, ever since elementary school. This love of music combined later in her life with her passion for working with others.  

“I have been in choir since the fourth grade. Since then, I have never not belonged to a choir. I love to sing, I love singing with others and I love learning new music, Gorham said. 

Gorham says that one powerful force in her life, one of her music teachers, provided just the push she needed toward a future career that built off her love for music.  

“My junior high choir director, Peggy Burrough inspired me to be a music teacher,” Gorham said. “I wanted to make music with students the way she did. 

A few years later, Gorham says she got her chance to do just that, working in a community music production. 

As a high school senior, I had a chance to co-direct a children’s musical at my church. That experience convinced me that working with younger children was fun and rewarding,” Gorham said. 

With this experience and the inspiration of Burroughs in her back pocket, Gorham traveled to the east side of Washington State to continue her education. She attended Whitworth University where she double majored in Choral Music Education and Vocal Performance. 

It took me four-and-a-half years to finish that degree. For a half a year I was a substitute teacher in Spokane, and I worked a part-time music teaching job in Spangle, WA,” Gorham said. “Then I moved back to Puyallup and began teaching elementary music. 

People in education often say that the concept of being a life-long learner is a large part of their teaching philosophy. Gorham, too, demonstrates this because part-way through her first year of teaching she enrolled in a master’s program through Lesley University in Cambridge, MA. 

In 18 months (about one and a half years), I earned a Master of Education in Curriculum Instruction with specialization in the Creative Arts in Learning,” Gorham said. “I took a few years off when my children were born, but I couldn’t stay away long. For the last six years, I was a parttime teacher and now I am privileged to be at Fruitland Elementary full-time.  

Teachers often hear that they are making an impact on the lives of their students; however, Gorham says she hopes that the students she’s had over the years learn a little about music but more about themselves. 

Even though I have had thousands of students during my career so far, I won’t pretend that I’ve had a huge impact on their lives; I’m only with the students for a short time. I hope they learn a little about music and a little about themselves, I hope they leave me knowing that music has a place in their lives,” Gorham said. 

While she says she feels as though the impact she’s had on her students has been minimal, Gorham admits that her students have impacted her life every day, through every interaction. 

I’d say that the students impact my life very much. They bring me joy, they teach me what it is to be human, they show me how to look at things with new eyes and they remind me that I’m really getting old. But mostly they bring me joy,” Gorham said. 

Many have twisted, long paths to follow until they find out what career they’d like to do, with Gorham not so much, but this doesn’t mean there hasn’t been challenges. 

I think I’m only one of the fortunate few who knew at a young age what I wanted to be when I grew up and who actually ended up in that career. My road hasn’t had a lot of twists and turns, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have more to learn. There are so many exciting ideas to try out with my students. My struggle is to step out of my comfortable box and try new things,” Gorham said. 

Being a teacher taught her that not everything can be figured out immediately, but you keep on learning something new every year. 

I thought I had everything figured out; I had this teaching thing under control. And then I had kids of my own. They taught me so much and given me a much better understanding of why kids do the things they do. I’m so grateful for my boys,” Gorham said.