Melissa “Misha” Cruz ’21 grew up in a musical family. The San Antonio native has been playing drums since the age of five, so music has heavily influenced her life. During her senior year of high school, the Music Education major knew teaching others about the thing she loved so dearly was her calling.
Cruz is now in her third year at Walzem Elementary in San Antonio, where she teaches music to students in Pre-K to fifth grade. Prior to attending TLU, she was enrolled in the music program at Texas A&M. After realizing the curriculum and experience weren’t what she was looking for, Cruz moved back home and began classes at Palo Alto Community College. In 2018, she attended a Transfer Day event at TLU.
"That was all I needed, and it was the best decision I’ve ever made,” she said. “TLU prepared me to be a teacher, a leader, and an educator. The one person who really inspired me to become an elementary school music teacher was Professor Keith Robinson. At first, I didn’t want to do elementary education, but he showed me the true meaning of teaching. He was an elementary music teacher by day and a college educator by night. He led by example and knew how to teach us because he had done it.”
When Cruz started at Walzem, she was the third music teacher in just four years. That inconsistency, paired with the impact of COVID, made her realize the first year would be about seeing where the kids were and getting to know them.
“It was important for my students to understand the content I was teaching, but it wasn’t my main focus,” she said. “I wanted to build relationships with them. The best part about teaching is seeing just how driven my students are. They’re sponges and pick things up so quickly. Even when activities are labeled as challenging for the students, I don’t express the difficulty level to them. I just let their little minds flow and let them take control. To see the way their faces light up when they understand a concept is the most rewarding part of what I do. Many of the teachers at Walzem had never seen students have that connection with music at the school before.”
Describing her style as old school music with a modern twist, she is seeing the impact it is having on students.
“The feedback from parents and volunteers has been amazing," she said. "This past year, we performed at PTA meetings and hosted a Veterans Day program that featured my choir, and had a percussion club showcase. I also work dismissal at the end of the day, and it’s so heartwarming to hear parents say, ‘Oh, you’re the person my little one keeps talking about!’ Even though I only see some classes once a week for 50 minutes, I feel like I’m making a difference. TLU was the best decision I’ve ever made. It prepared me to be a teacher, a leader, and an educator.”