Christopher ‘CJ’ Shaw is a working-class teacher at Palmerston District Primary School who has just been nominated for an Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA) award for music teacher of the year.
The nomination came from the working-class man himself, Jimmy Barnes, via a live video link into the classroom at Palmerston that left the usually vocal CJ speechless.
“To get an ARIA nomination from Barnesy leaves a Barnesy fan like myself absolutely stumped for words,” he said.
“It is a huge honour for me and the incredible Palmerston District Primary School community whom I represent. I am the first nominee from the ACT and so it is also great news for Canberra.”
CJ has hit all the right notes when unlocking his musical methods of learning.
There’s the times table rap for maths and the homophone rap about the semantics of the English language.
“Music is a great tool for students to access subjects that are often complex or challenging,” CJ says. “I’ve written hundreds of songs that have helped immerse students in all aspects of the curriculum.”
A former touring folk musician from the Blue Mountains west of Sydney, CJ brings his skills as a performer, songwriter and producer into the classroom to expand students’ understanding of Australian culture, history and society as the head of music at Palmerston Primary.
Many of the students at Palmerston Primary have parents working in the Australian Defence Force so CJ’s song earlier this year about the sentiments of war called ANZAC Biscuits was released to help students understand what is a very complex topic. The song’s music video was shared by the Australian War Memorial and had more than 23,000 video views in its first week of release.
Students are also encouraged to use their musical skills in real-world settings, with CJ giving young students the opportunity to express themselves through music.
“I wanted them to see the value in their existence and that it is worthy of art. When they identify themselves in the songs I witness their confidence and self-esteem grow,” CJ says.
In This Together is another song he wrote for Reconciliation Week, which acknowledges the school’s 62 student nationalities and incorporates the local Ngunnawal language into the lyrics.
CJ believes songwriting sparks creativity, encourages self-expression and boosts confidence in students, so he encourages them to write and create their own music by performing and recording their songs in the school’s makeshift recording studio before creating music videos to accompany the songs.
“Students love learning about the nuts and bolts of recording, like how to sing into a microphone, pitch control and how to analyse their technique.”
As well as nurturing students’ music education skills in his classes, CJ has extended the benefits of music education out to other areas of the school curriculum.
“Teaching subjects through music and verse can have immediate impacts,” CJ says, “The use of lyrics, melody and rhymes help students connect to their lessons especially if there is a learning barrier or if English is a second language.”
The ARIA award for music teacher of the year will be decided by popular vote and CJ hopes he can bring an ARIA back to the ACT.
The public can vote for CJ as their favourite music teacher via the ARIA website. Voting closes at 11:59 pm on 18 November. The music teacher with the most public and industry votes will be announced during the 2020 ARIA Award ceremony in late November.