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Teaching in tune

In class, Anita Hocker is as much performer as she is instructor. But the Teacher of the Year finalist often frets that arts programs are considered luxuries.

By LOGAN D. MABE, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 3, 2002


CARROLLWOOD -- Anita Hocker has the kind of job that allows her to break into song at any moment.

"Sing about Martin, sing about caring, sing about peace, all around the world," Hocker sings, her pitch-perfect voice joined by the first-grade students who are learning about Martin Luther King Jr.

"That was beautiful, boys and girls," she says, encouraging the children not only with her words but with her effervescent smile. "Such nice singing voices!"

Hocker, who teaches music at Cannella Elementary School, is a finalist for Hillsborough County Teacher of the Year.

In just her seventh year of teaching, Hocker distinguished herself as one of 10 finalists out of 183 applicants.

"I got lucky," Hocker said with a laugh. "Something must have come across in my essays. You know that every one of those 183 is in there for a reason; because they're a fantastic teacher who does great things."

That's what Hocker aspires to as she teaches the 200 first- through fifth-graders who visit her musical realm each day.

"I like to think I do a lot for the children," said Hocker, an Ohio native who graduated from Ball State University in Indiana and now lives in Carrollwood. "I try to make every class time a worthwhile experience for the students."

In class, Hocker is as much performer as she is instructor. An accomplished actor and singer, she has had roles in local theater productions.

"My love for the children and my passion for music is, I think, what comes across in my teaching," Hocker said. "It makes me feel good about what I do when you see the expression on a child's face when they're successful in music."

Music teachers across the county grew anxious last year when the school district had to do away with programs in the face of a budget crisis, and Hocker was one of them.

"Every music teacher cringes when we hear, "budget cuts,' " she said. "But we know how important music is in a child's life."

It certainly was in Hocker's childhood. She remembers thinking as far back as the first grade that she wanted to grow up to become a teacher. Then, in high school she got involved with chorus, orchestra and band.

Now Hocker is on the other side of the baton directing Cannella's two choral groups and its hand bell chorus.

"They're an absolute joy to work with and teach," Hocker said of her choral students. And the hand bell players "are doing something that a lot of adults would have difficulty doing."

- Logan D. Mabe can be reached at 226-3464 or at mabe@sptimes.com.

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