On his first day as a music teacher at Garden Elementary six years ago, Tim Ferguson said he felt like the “oldest kindergartener” in the school.
After 15 years as an instrumental music teacher and band director in Central New York, Ferguson and his family traded in their snow shovels for beach chairs and relocated to Venice. The change from fourth- through sixth-grade instrumental band director to K-5 general music teacher meant Ferguson had to adapt to not only a new school and new grades, but an entirely new curriculum.
“Out of my comfort zone, I was nervous, but also reinvigorated with the opportunity to learn, grow, and reinvent myself,” said Ferguson. “When it was time to sing, which I had never instructed, I made no secret to my students that I was not winning ‘American Idol’ any time soon, but I wanted to show them that I will always try my best and learn from my mistakes to grow as a musician and a person because that’s what I want them to do.”
Now in his 21st year as an educator, Ferguson, a top-three finalist for the 2022 – 2023 Teacher of the Year for Sarasota County, is grateful for the tremendous responsibility and privilege that comes with teaching grades K – 5.
“I see every single student, over 500 kids, once a week, so I feel I have the opportunity to be a positive role model and show them the right way each class… and it’s amazing because you see that growth.”
Ferguson credits his own teachers, along with his mother, a retired music teacher, for fueling his love of music. In fourth grade, he picked up his first of many brass instruments, a French horn, and with it a passion for music that burns as bright today as when he first learned how to hold the instrument and control its pitch.
“When I was deciding what I wanted to do in the future, I really thought of those educators who had inspired me, and I looked to emulate them,” Ferguson said.
Ferguson earned a Bachelor of Arts in music education, with a concentration in trumpet, from Ithaca College in Central New York. He later earned two master’s degrees, in educational leadership and in information design and technology, while teaching full-time.
In 2017, after visiting his in-laws in Fort Myers and returning home to an April blizzard, Ferguson and his family were ready to make the big move. He lives in Venice with his wife, Kate, and their children, Ben and Hannah.
Along with teaching at Garden Elementary, Ferguson serves as the Director of Education for the Venice Symphony, where he oversees all educational initiatives, creating opportunities for young people across the county to develop their love of music and express themselves through it.
Ferguson teaches his students to be comfortable with failure and the challenges of learning a new instrument or concept.
“They’re learning self-determination through the arts. And they’re learning not to give up, and to develop grit and perseverance.”
He also teaches teamwork and camaraderie. “As a musician,” he reminds his students, “I need to collaborate with someone else, even if I’m not their best friend. Even if we have differing beliefs, we need to work together.”
For Ferguson, music instruction is so much more than just sharing his passion. He sees the arts as integral to teaching life skills as well as a vehicle to bridge subjects and reinforce academic concepts.
When discussing musical pieces, Ferguson draws connections to related historical eras and events. When introducing the trombone, he talks of sound waves and amplitude. When he teaches rhythm, he uses fractions. He incorporates math terminology like denominators, and when students tell him it’s music class, not history or science or math, Ferguson smiles and reminds them how interconnected these subjects actually are.
And through the enthusiasm and energy he brings to all his lessons, Ferguson models what he most loves about music: the joy and discovery that comes through collaboration and creativity.
Teachers helped plant the seed that has become a lifelong passion for Tim Ferguson. He is committed to doing the same.
“When I have a group of six-year-olds in front of me, how can I inspire them through music?”
After 20 years, Ferguson is as energized as ever to continue to show his students the power of music. As Ferguson said, “I can’t imagine a world where we’re not teaching the arts.”
About the Education Foundation of Sarasota County
The Education Foundation of Sarasota County sponsors the Ignite Education Teacher of the Year annual recognition in conjunction with Sarasota County Schools. The Education Foundation is an independent, philanthropic organization whose mission is to enhance the potential of all students, promote excellence in teaching, and inspire innovation in education, guided by strategic philanthropy and the belief that education changes lives. Read more at EdFoundationSRQ.org.