MNPS Voices: Ethan Wolfe

MNPS Voices: Ethan Wolfe, Music Teacher, Cora Howe School
Posted on 04/10/2024
Ethan Wolfe in class with student

Ethan  Wolfe teaching a student music

Ethan Wolfe sings to elementary school students as they identify colors and body parts on worksheets. He gently strums his guitar as one child plays a shaker and another starts to dance.

On another day, Wolfe bounces on his feet to the rat-a-tat beats of the high school students in the drumline that he started last fall to give them a chance to perform in the community, as they did in a joyful parade through East Nashville streets just before Thanksgiving. Ethan Wolfe

Wolfe has trained to lead high school marching bands. But he has found his happy place teaching music to students of all ages at Cora Howe School, a special day school serving students from kindergarten through adulthood.

“I planned to be a band director, and now I’m in special education, and I love it,” he said.

Wolfe, who is 28, moved to Nashville during the first year of the COVID pandemic after earning his music education degree from Temple University and teaching in California for a year. He started at Cora Howe as a paraprofessional, which proved to be a formative experience.

“Those two years have informed my practice so much,” he said. “When you work side-by-side with a student all day, you have a great opportunity to see school through their eyes and sympathize with the challenges they might be facing. It taught me a lot.”

After those two years as a parapro, Wolfe took on his own classroom as a teacher in 2022-23. He has inspired the Cora Howe community with his passion for music, Principal Jon Mahaffey said.

"Through music, Mr. Wolfe has transformed even our most vulnerable students into performers. It takes a lot of courage to play an instrument in public. Mr. Wolfe has helped students grow the confidence they need to take chances. He truly understands how the power of music can impact the social and emotional growth of our students,” Mahaffey said.

“The lessons learned in Mr. Wolfe's music program will extend far beyond the classroom. Our students are fortunate to have access to such rich musical experiences!"

Ethan  Wolfe teaching a student music

Along with the drumline, Wolfe – whose own main instrument is the trumpet – has started a small wind instruments band. He said having that experience can help students transition to zoned high schools and find their groove in a new community when they’re ready. And Cora Howe now has winter and spring concerts to wrap up each semester, frequently featuring students who have worked independently on something that interests them. 

Seeing Students Shine - and Sing

Wolfe said he enjoys the moments when students are able to see how they can solve problems for themselves.

“The biggest challenges for many of our students at Cora Howe are overwhelmingly related to handling frustration, being inflexible, and the self-destructive cycle of bad habits. I do think these are relatable struggles for many, even though our individual challenges might look very different. Making music is a perfect proxy for working on these challenges and applying the learned lessons to other areas of life. I do my best to model unconditional grace with students when they make mistakes, because the vulnerability of naming and accepting your mistakes is key to correcting them.

“Some of the greatest moments for me as a teacher are when students first begin to recognize their own mistakes and take it upon themselves to tell me what went wrong before I have even asked. It gives me hope that they will be able to reflect on future situations outside of my class and problem-solve for themselves (or with the help of someone else). We are not able to change our situation until we can see it for ourselves, and so evidence of that self-awareness is so exciting.”

Wearing a sweatshirt with the words “Cora Howe School Wildings Band 2023-24" wrapped around a picture of a wildflower, Wolfe said he’s happy when he sees students “let their vision shine through.”

“We have seen a couple of our low-incidence students (students with multiple/exceptional disabilities) begin to use their voices more in music class, both speaking and singing,” he said. “To see a typically non-speaking student suddenly just open up and sing with me… It is a beautiful thing.”

Watch Cora Howe Drumline

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