St. James teacher named
a district Elementary Music
Teacher of the Year

Jordan Smith, music teacher at St. James School in Elizabethtown, showed a student how to play a new song on the steel drum on April 21. Earlier this year, Smith was named the Fourth District Kentucky Music Educators Association’s 2021 Elementary Music Teacher of the Year. (Record Photo by Kayla Bennett)

ELIZABETHTOWN, Ky. — Teaching at a Catholic grade school long-term wasn’t Jordan Smith’s plan. But after eight years as the music teacher at St. James School, she really likes where she is, she said during an interview last week.

She’s spent her time at St. James building the music program, even personally purchasing a set of steel drums to use in her classroom. Smith leads two ensembles at the school, heads the choir and has started offering Modern Band (think of Paramount Pictures Studios’ 2003 comedy “School of Rock”).
She’s also the founder of Etown Beats, a community music ensemble, and she’s a percussionist who gives private lessons.

And she’s part of two local indie rock bands.

In recognition of her commitment to her students, she was named the Fourth District Kentucky Music Educators Association’s 2021 Elementary Music Teacher of the Year. It’s an honor that no Archdiocese of Louisville educator before her has received.

The award “is designed to honor an individual in the field of music education who has given continuous and exceptional service to KMEA,” according to a news release from the school. Recipients are nominated by their peers.

Smith is quick to turn the spotlight on her students.

“All I’m doing is giving (the students) the instructions they need,” Smith said. “The award shows the history of what the kids have accomplished in the last eight years. I’m just a face for it.”

Smith follows the Orff Schulwerk teaching method, which teaches children about music that engages their mind and body through singing, dancing, acting and the use of percussion instruments, she said.

“ ‘Tell me, I forget. Show me, I remember. Involve me, I understand,’ ” Smith said, quoting Carl Orff. “I’m not just talking at the kids, I’m having an open-concept classroom. I become a coach.”

She doesn’t teach by rote — instruction based on imitation and repetition. Instead, she wants to give her students the tools to understand how creating music works.

“My goal for them is to make them better than I was at that age,” Smith said. “Teach them to make their own music. … People don’t give kids enough credit. They’re little geniuses.”

Jordan Smith, music teacher at St. James School in Elizabethtown, played a song on the steel drum alongside her students April 21. Earlier this year, Smith was named the Fourth District Kentucky Music Educators Association’s 2021 Elementary Music Teacher of the Year. (Record Photo by Kayla Bennett)

She’s created a strong foundation for her students so that even when she needs a substitute teacher, the children still learn.

“I was able to give my sub plans in a way that the kids knew what to do,” she said. “I’m not teaching them all the time, I’m coaching them.”

St. James principal, Sister Marie Hannah Seiler, said that although the Elementary Music Teacher of the Year Award was peer-nominated at the state level, she suggested KMEA elevate Smith’s nomination to the national level because the teacher is that good.

“She’s very deserving,” Sister Seiler said. “Always goes the extra mile, always wanting to better herself to support the kids better. Always kids first in mind.”

Smith said teaching at St. James is “one of the best jobs ever” and that she loves working with the sisters.

“It’s really exposed me to the different parts of being a whole person,” she said. “I’ve come to appreciate Catholicism.

“You get to see examples of people living out a good life and having good hearts. You can keep everything God-centered by being a decent human being and being moral. You can pray and stop everybody in a moment and think about the same thing. And you think, ‘Wow this is something they can carry with them.’ It’s a beautiful thing.”

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