Culbreth Middle School choir teacher brings an engaging energy to his classroom

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The 2015-2016 Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Teacher of the Year says the relationships he builds with students is crucial to establishing a good learning environment

By Sam Bermas-Dawes | Photo by Beth Mann

Michael Jones walks down the halls of Culbreth Middle School, greeting everyone, students and staff alike, with a warm smile and usually a joke or two. As the director of choirs walks into his empty classroom during lunch, he returns to the subject matter most near and dear to him: “I’ve been involved in music my entire life, since I was around 9 years old,” he says, taking a seat in a row of beige folding chairs normally used by the students in his elective classes. Growing up in Virginia, Michael’s father, a letter carrier for the post office, and his mother, a nurse, often had the jazz and gospel tunes of artists like Jimmy Smith and Mahalia Jackson playing in their home. “It was like background music,” he says with a laugh.

His father taught him how to play piano, and Michael went on to study music education with a focus on piano and trombone at Norfolk State University. His degree in teaching, however, did not immediately lead him to this career. For a time, he lived in Philadelphia and played in a band at the famous Caesars Atlantic City Hotel & Casino. It’s a venue that has seen performances by the likes of Mary J. Blige, Celine Dion and Lionel Richie. But Michael eventually sought a more well-balanced life and returned home to Virginia to become a teacher in 1993.

Now, after 14 years teaching choir at Culbreth, he still enjoys the challenges and rewards of teaching kids. “Every day is different,” he says. “You can have a lesson plan set up and a good idea of how you anticipate the class to go, but we have kids who learn in all different ways. You have to possess that sense of patience and provide a sense of belonging that helps the kids believe in themselves.”

Michael, who was named the 2015-2016 Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Teacher of the Year, says the relationships he builds with students is crucial to establishing a good learning environment.

“You can use my sixth graders as an example,” he says. “They only have known me for a little while. We’re in week three. I take time to tell them about the class, we do warmups, and [I] try to teach them some ideas of vocal technique. … In this class, everybody is a winner.”

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Chapel Hill Magazine is a 8-times-a-year lifestyle magazine dedicated to bringing you the very best of Chapel Hill. Our magazine places high emphasis on food and dining coverage, the arts, and community.

About Us

Chapel Hill Magazine is a 8-times-a-year lifestyle magazine dedicated to bringing you the very best of Chapel Hill. Our magazine places high emphasis on food and dining coverage, the arts, and community.

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Jessica Stringer

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