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Local music teacher earns second state teacher award

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By Kirsten Laskey

A Professional Music Teachers of New Mexico Teacher of the Year Award is given to instructors who have made a difference in their students’ lives, contributed to the advancement of music in their community and is an example of a professional music educator. Teacher of the Year awards are not easy to receive, however, local music teacher Charlene Cox-Clifton has two. She earned her first Teacher of the Year award in Kansas in 1985-1986. The second one was awarded to Cox-Clifton in November during the Professional Music Teacher of New Mexico conference. Cox-Clifton said she is “very honored” to receive the award a second time. “What it says to me is I have made a music educational impact on this state,” she said.The irony is, when Cox-Clifton arrived in Los Alamos in 1992 to retire from teaching. However, a local music teacher asked Cox-Clifton to work with a student and from then on, “I was no longer retired,” she said. Cox-Clifton has been teaching for 55 years. She began by substituting for her high school teacher in the summer before moving on to teaching at Kansas State University, public schools and Wichita State University. One of the things Cox-Clifton said she enjoys about teaching is “just the joy of seeing (students) succeed at whatever they want to.” Cox-Clifton said she has been interested in music and the piano since she was a child. While she was growing up, Cox-Clifton said she studied the piano. When she entered college, however, she wanted to pursue architectural engineering. However, the department dean barred her from this career path because she is a woman.“I guess I had two interests, engineering ee (and) music,” Cox-Clifton said. So when she couldn’t follow engineering, she turned to music.She received a degree in piano performance and music education and a masters’ degree from Kansas State. Cox-Clifton explained she decided pursue education because “there’s more of a demand for teachers. Additionally, she wanted to help students follow their dreams.“When people say, ‘you’re a music teacher,’ they only think performer. Good teachers are critical to train children to follow their dream,” she said. Cox-Clifton also taught private studios in Topeka, Denver and Wichita. She currently operates one in Los Alamos. Additionally, she has adjudicated for the National Guild of Piano Teachers, MTNA and concert competitions in El Paso, Dallas, Missouri, Nebraska and Oklahoma. Cox-Clifton co-authored a manual, “Teaching Materials,” and was the music director for a film series, “Music Images.” Cox-Clifton has been heavily involved in the Music Teachers National Association, serving local positions in Topeka and serving as president of the Kansas Music Teachers National Association. She also was on the national board and served as the West-Central Division president. It was health reasons that persuaded Cox-Clifton to move to Los Alamos but she said when she got outside of Santa Fe, she just had a feeling that this was the right place. “I fell in love with everything about it.” She is active in New Mexico’s music teachers’ association. She served as its president from 2002-2004 and currently chairs three committees: group piano, handbook and student activities.For the future, Cox-Clifton said she will continue to teach. Young people are needed in life, she said, “they make you stay young and I think we all need that when we get older.”