After three decades of teaching, retiree focuses on better learning methods for elementary education.
Author, musician, educator—John Carratello is a person of many talents. Along with his wife, Patricia—a former Riverside County Teacher of the Year—he’s published over 100 educational products, including classroom instructional materials, seminars and support materials for interactive educational software. In 2016, he retired from teaching elementary school after 30 years.
His new book, Test Education vs. Best Education: Let’s Save Our Children from a Bad Idea, outlines the nonprofit project Masterpieces of Learning that focuses on using the knowledge of experts worldwide in developing a new program of instruction for elementary education.
How did you fuse music and teaching into a career?
A major love of my life is music. I started teaching guitar at a music store when I was a teenager. While majoring in music at the University of Southern California, I taught guitar and chorus for a local adult education program.
After completing a master’s degree in musical performance from California State University Fullerton, I worked for a major music education publisher and told them about a lecture I heard by a voice teacher whose clients included Michael Jackson, Bette Midler and Madonna. With support of the publisher, I developed a book with this master teacher to capture the essence of his teaching.
There was so much misinformation about how to train your voice being disseminated in textbooks and voice method programs in high schools and colleges across the country. This guy, however, was the real deal. I drove out to his studio every night in Los Angeles to interview him and just let my tape recorder run. It was a great learning experience for me, and it resulted in a book that is now available in many languages.
What led you to teaching general education?
After the singing book was done, I taught at several Orange County community colleges but decided teaching music wasn’t what I wanted to do. I wanted to teach younger kids and to teach all subjects, so I enrolled in the teacher credentialing program at the University of California Riverside. My program advisor suggested we do our initial student teaching assignment at the grade level we thought we’d be least interested in. I chose kindergarten. I loved it so much that kindergarten was all I wanted to teach, but most of my first 20 years in elementary education was spent teaching fifth grade, which I learned to love even more. Then, about 10 years before I retired, because I was disgusted with what standardized testing was doing to our kids, I returned to teaching music.
What was that like for you to switch to teaching music from general education?
I was now free to develop lessons that meant something—connecting music to science, math, social studies and everything else students were studying. But I saw a lack of shared cultural literacy between students. I could only find two children from all my first and second grade classes that had ever heard of “The Wizard of Oz,” so I made it a point to do a month-long musical theater unit every year, specific to each grade level. It began with “The Wizard of Oz” in first grade and ended with “West Side Story” in fifth. These musicals provided wonderful opportunities to explore important concepts and real-life topics.
As an educator, what are you most proud of?
Masterpieces of Learning! Teachers only have students for 180 days each year and are burdened with excessive trainings and bookshelves full of teacher manuals and ancillaries they can’t possibly get through—let alone integrate for increased effectiveness. In music, if you really want to be a great musician, what do you do? You study the masters. But no educational Mozart or Beethoven exists in our field.
I watch the news every night. What I come away with is the urgent need to create better human beings, able to think independently, critically and creatively—not simply move children along a K–5 assembly-line conveyor belt.
Teacher Talk is a series of profiles on California teachers and other educators. To be considered for a future profile, please email Communications@CalSTRS.com, with Teacher Talk in the subject line.
This profile also appears in Retired Educator Summer 2021, as part of the “How Are You Spending Your Retirement” series. To share the exciting and interesting things you have done since retiring, email RetiredEducator@CalSTRS.com.