With nearly 65,000 followers on TikTok, Laura Beth Wendelin ’17 & ’19—a self-proclaimed orchestra dork teacher—has become a surprise influencer overnight, sharing witty videos about instrument repair and providing advice to other teachers in the field as she launches her career as a middle school music teacher.
“My TikTok (@theorchdorkteacher) is so funny. I randomly was making dumb videos about things other than teaching and then one day a video of me getting a pencil out of a cello BLEW UP. I suddenly had all these followers, and a lot of them were other teachers or musicians. I decided to just set the camera up when I was fixing instruments to see if anyone cared. Turns out, a lot of people did,” she said. “I make videos about my experience, and I try to give very specific and thorough advice. It's so rewarding when I get positive comments on my videos! It’s also funny when my students find my account because they think that they’ve ‘found me out,’ lol. Kids I don’t even have in class will walk by me and shout ‘I found your TikTok!’”
The SUNY Potsdam alumna—who graduated with an undergraduate degree in music business followed by a master’s degree in music education from The Crane School of Music— landed a job as an orchestra director at an elementary school in eastern Connecticut shortly after receiving her degrees.
“I really adored my time at SUNY Potsdam. I met some of my best friends, and my now husband. It always felt like a big family. I have my Crane banner hanging in my classroom and I get so excited whenever I get to tell someone about it!”
An inspiring teacher in the classroom, Wendelin knows how to motivate and engage her students. Her days start early, walking her dogs at first light, and then arriving at school to greet students as they get off the bus. She teaches fifth graders in the morning, offers small group lessons throughout the day, and works with more advanced students in the afternoon. After the bell rings, she leads a rehearsal for the school’s musical, which is “Legally Blonde Jr.,” this semester.
“My days are jam-packed and full of joy,” she said. “I love working with beginners (my fifth graders) and seeing how much they grow and learn over four years. I get to see them every other day for four years, so we become a little family. It’s everything I always imagined when I decided I wanted to become a teacher.”
Wendelin’s passion for music took hold at a very young age, picking up her first instrument when she was just three years old. “I practiced everyday (even my birthday!) and took lessons weekly,” she recalled.
She attended a private elementary/middle school, before transitioning to a public high school with a well-funded music program. “I was amazed. I got involved in everything I could: orchestra, choir, band, jazz, swing choir, drama. I knew that I had to do something with music in my life, even if I didn’t know what that was at the time,” she said.
Building on her experiences in high school, she enrolled at SUNY Potsdam to pursue a degree in music education at Crane, but after one year, she switched to music business, still unsure about her ultimate career path. The music business program proved to be a great choice—helping to improve her resume, cover letter and strengthen her job marketability as she entered the workforce. “The music business program looked so exciting, and I wasn’t 100% sure about teaching. Even though I ended up going back to it, I use stuff from my music business degree all the time,” she said.
As an undergraduate student at Crane, she also completed a variety of internships and jobs at the College working for the Community Performance Series, as a stage manager for theatre productions, and an intern for the LoKo Festival of Arts. “I am still grateful for those experiences and everything they taught me—especially large-scale event planning,” which she said is an imperative skill as an orchestra teacher.
At the beginning of her junior year, she realized that she wanted to pursue a career as a music teacher after all. She completed her bachelor’s degree in music business, and then enrolled in the master’s degree program in music education at Crane. Classroom training led to in-person student teaching. During her final semester, she returned home and started teaching choir at a school in Buffalo. “It was still so helpful for getting the lay of the land in a classroom. I had amazing sponsor teachers and supervisors who were there for me, for whatever I needed,” she said.
With two degrees in hand, she moved to Connecticut with her then boyfriend, and applied to 32 jobs, of which she lined up four interviews. “When I found the listing for a middle school orchestra job it was like the stars aligning,” she said. “I really adored my time at SUNY Potsdam. I met some of my best friends, and my now husband. It always felt like a big family. I have my Crane banner hanging in my classroom and I get so excited whenever I get to tell someone about it!”
Article by Jason Hunter