New Postdoctoral Fellow: Altovise Gipson-Colon ☆

When Dr. Altovise Gipson-Colon began teaching orchestra in a Georgia public school, she found that her training had left out a crucial ingredient: she was taught to view music education in terms of scales and chords, not socioeconomics and culture. But Gipson-Colon quickly discovered that being a great teacher involves not just teaching content: it also means learning to navigate the cultural and social context of the classroom.

“I was shocked that that was missing for my teacher preparation program,” Gipson-Colon said. Now, her research at Teachers College aims to understand how teacher preparation programs can better equip pre-service teachers.  As the recipient of the Teachers College Minority Postdoctoral Fellowship, Gipson-Colon plans to interview graduate students in the Music & Music Education program who are working on Master’s degrees with New York State teaching certification. She wants to learn how Teachers College graduate students imagine music education that embraces students of all races and cultures.

“It’s asking how they envision teaching and learning spaces that are racially and culturally inclusive and in what ways their own cultural backgrounds have informed their ideas of theses spaces,” she summarizes. She’s interested in the perspectives of pre-service teachers before they enter the classroom as professionals.

Raised in Virginia, Gipson-Colon says her own public school experiences first inspired her love for music. In fifth grade, she began playing the violin in the school orchestra, and in seventh grade, she added her second instrument. While many schools allow students to borrow inexpensive band and orchestra instruments, Gipson-Colon was offered the chance to learn an instrument not found in your typical school music room: the harp. Gipson-Colon played the harp and the violin in the school orchestra and in after-school ensembles throughout middle school and high school.

“I’m very fortunate that I had the opportunity,” she said.

Her first private violin teacher, an African-American man who also led a public school orchestra, was highly influential.

“It was cool to see someone of color playing classical music.” Gipson-Colon said. “He also played jazz and R&B—it was cool to see someone cross those boundaries.”

From an early age, Gipson-Colon knew she would become a teacher. “I decided in seventh grade,” she said. “It pretty much stuck with me.” She was inspired by the idea of showing other people how to play music. “I like the way that music allows you to express yourself in a different way,” she explained.

After high school, Gipson-Colon earned a Bachelor of Music Education at Florida State University and a Master of Music at Northwestern University. She spent seven years as a string orchestra teacher in public schools in Georgia and in New Jersey, where she taught mostly African-American and Latino students in urban settings. When she decided to pursue her Ph.D. studies, she settled on The Graduate Center, City University of New York.

“I liked the fact that they had a strong emphasis on social justice and social equity,” she explained. She earned a Ph.D. in Urban Education with a certificate in Africana Studies. Her dissertation focused on interviewing African-American music teachers about their experiences and perspectives.

Gipson-Colon currently lives in Staten Island with her husband and two daughters who share their mother’s enthusiasm for music. The girls, ages four and six, enjoy going to concerts and performances. They both love to sing.