When I started teaching, I remember many days when my children simply wouldn't sing. They would just sit there and look at me. In hindsight, I realize that I had created this sort of "no fun" zone. It was rigid. I didn't listen to them. I hadn't taught them. They had no idea what those dots on the page meant because I was so bad at helping them understand. I was...well...mean...and not that good at teaching ...And who wants to sing when the teacher is mean?!? ....and inept? Kids were dropping out of chorus like flies. It was terrible. Now, I teach over 300 children who volunteer to be in chorus. It took me a long while to get there, though. I dug deep and realized that I needed to either figure it out or move on to a different career. First, we have to remember that our students WANT to do well. They really do. When they don't understand what we are teaching, this age group will either "act out" or "bail". It is our job to make sure we recognize when they don't understand what we are teaching, and then figure out ways to teach the material so that they understand...preferably in a FUN way. Be silly. They love it. They also love success. But, when we don't set them up for it, they...being middle school children, simply check out. We also have to remember that they want to be a part of something good. If we haven't figured out how to make them sound good, then forget it. This is a big one...Teach the type of music you are passionate about! Don't fall into the trap of thinking "I have to teach Level 5 music for festival" if you hate the music. Seriously...if YOU love it, you are more likely to infect them with your passion. It doesn't have to be pop music. If you love Broadway, then teach them Broadway. If you love gospel, then teach gospel. The passion starts with you. They feel it. They respond to it, and voila, your students start singing! Middle School Choirs are very special and unique places. These children aren't cute little people pleasers anymore. They make decisions on their own. Some of them are always going to do the right thing, but others, ....not so much. If they think you are incompetent, you lose them. If they think you are unfair..."check please". This age group is one of the toughest audiences out there! ...And the challenge of teaching them isn't for everyone. To be successful with this age group in choir, you have got to do a lot of difficult self-evaluation. Ask questions of yourself: Why did that lesson bomb? Which step did I skip in the teaching process? Am I setting them up for success? ...and so much more. Occasionally, we have to throw them a bone. For example, my students LOVE scary songs. So, I pull out my Teresa Jennings (K-8 Magazine) "Dweller of the Cave" every year. I add some choreography with flashlights and a fog machine and voila...they LOVE it. They can't wait for their parents to see them performing. I do a fun, novelty piece or two at every concert except the GMEA Large Group Performance Evaluation. Even then, I make sure to pick music that I love so I can help them love it, too. It's up to us to inspire. It's our job....and a rewarding one it is. Check out my blog!
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