Tuesday, May 24, 2016

If you want to fail as middle school choral music teachers, here is an ingredient for you!

A Choral Director posted this on the Facebook page of a major choral music organization.

  

Here are her accompanying comments in blue. 
This is my philosophy. What do you think? This is from an article on cultivating children's choirs from the most recent issue of the ACDA magazine.

It was posted 12 hours ago.  In that time, there have been over 300 likes/loves, and over 100 shares. Almost all of the people who have responded are in total agreement with the sentiment expressed in it.  They've written comments like "Preach", "Amen", "I'm posting it in my choir room", and more.

I died inside just a little bit when I read all of this.  As a middle school educator with over 24 years of experience teaching in a diverse public school setting, all I thought about was how many singers are lost each year due to this sort of philosophy.  

It feels so "old school".  It reminds me of corporal punishment.  It's like 1953.  It brings back memories of the way we used to train dogs not to poop inside the house...

...by rubbing their noses in it. 

Yuck. 

It is this sort of antiquated attitude and approach that causes so many middle school choral programs around the USA to be so small.   

The students run from it because it is feels like drudgery taught with a scowl.

Have we forgotten that "A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down?!"


I find it so hard to believe this was printed in such a major choral director's magazine (giving it credibility), and I am amazed that so many people have piled on in agreement.

If you want to fail as a middle school choral music teacher, you should definitely follow the advice ("It's not about having fun") in the above posting, and let it be your guiding light. 

People with this philosophy should not teach middle school.  I've seen so many of my colleagues come and go over the years because they approach the classroom in this manner.  They need to be teaching at college or teaching only the most elite high schoolers...and even then, I think fun is near the top of all priorities.  

I was a volunteer in a major singing organization in my area for several years, and I absolutely adored singing with the group.  The director was incredibly competent and musical.  She was able to get a super, dynamic sound out of volunteers.  The group was one of the largest of its kind in the country. There was never a single night when I didn't get goose bumps as we created art together under her leadership.   I looked forward to every 2 1/2 hour rehearsal on Thursday nights.  Each night, there was laughter amongst us and between us as we worked to perfect the music.  

A new choir director came in, and it was no longer fun.  The approach was very disciplined, but there was no laughter and no time to just be a human.  The quality of the singing the group produced was no better than the previous director.  In my view the sound was sterile and unemotional, and the process of learning was much less enjoyable.  So, I left the group...and I'm old.  We all need fun and laughter.  The group has continued to shrink and age along with it's audiences.

Fun and singing go hand and hand.  




Here is what I know based on my experience:   Our middle school beginners must have fun.  Is it going to happen every minute of every day of every rehearsal?  No...but we have got to stay connected to what helps open up their hearts and allows them to enjoy the process of learning to take the signs and symbols off the page and make art from it. 

It's also about structure and boundaries in a huge way, but without fun and laughter occasionally, you are not going to attract students to your program.   Kids talk.  If your class is a bore, no matter how good they sound or how many superiors you get at adjudications or how many Allstate Chorus members you have each year, your program is going to stay small.

 I teach 340 volunteer middle school students each and every day in classes with as many students as 84 from "bell to bell".  It's nonstop.  They work.  I give them structure from the very first day, and I tolerate very little.   I do everything I can do make the process of learning to read music as enjoyable as possible...again, from the very first day.   Middle school children need to be understood, and sometimes we need to allow them to fail.  I've covered this stuff on my YouTube Channel and in my blog for years now, so if you want to read more about my approach to the classroom, just type in "classroom management", and you can watch and read ad nauseum!  

I couldn't do my job if I were easy on them...if I didn't have processes in place...and if I scowled all day and made it feel like work.  There is a balance...and the "fun" part is what tilts it in your favor.

Before I created S-Cubed Middle School Sight Singing Program for Beginners, I created a product called "What do you MEAN I can't Smile Before Christmas?!?" because I so strongly believe that middle school students need structure and boundaries, but they also need FUN.  They need to see the human side of us.  

We have to help this age group WANT to work with us.



We have to find a way to make work not feel like work whenever we can so we can keep these young singers singing!

And life is way too short not to have fun. 

I hope the end of your school year is going great!

****I created this blog post on May 24, 2016.  Two days later, a version of this video went viral and as of today (June 2, 2016), it has gotten over 15,000,000 views. 
Middle School Choir "Watch me".    Watch it!  More of us need to do stuff like this with our students as a part of what we teach.  These kids are experiencing pure joy!  
I LOVE IT!



Check out my blog!

7 comments :

  1. I wholeheartedly agree - our job is to help them have fun and love it, and the hard work doesn't seem as much like work! (Plus, who wants to be a grumpy teacher all day???)

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  2. I read that comment the other day, as well, and I'm so glad to read your response. While I do understand that there is enjoyment and satisfaction that come from mastering a challenging piece of music (which I hope is what the poster was really trying to say?!?!), I couldn't agree with you more. When I first started my HS choral job, I was trying to emulate a director whose philosophy very much followed the post above - a very rigid approach. It took me several years of personal misery and lots of unhappy kids to finally toss that approach in the can and follow my own instincts. What a difference in me, my students, and even their parents. I still have rules and structure, but the kids follow these because they WANT to. They are now intrinsically motivated to do well, and we love every minute we spend together. I also feel more honest this way, as I am not THAT (above) at ALL! That post has actually been on my mind since I read it. You can be sure I will never print and post that page in my chorus room. I think it would be interesting to share it with my students and see what they have to say about it. Anyway - I'm glad I'm not the only one who bristled at that post and the response to it. Keep on keepin' it real, Mr. D

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    1. Thank you so much for the comment. I really appreciate the time you took to write it. I had the same revelations after a year of doing the other approach, and it changed everything for me. I want to help as many teachers of this age group as possible to do what you've described above and what I have written about in the blog post. Have a great summer!

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  3. I shared this article at some point last year but something made me find it again when I need it the most. Specifically today, I'm stressing because I can't get my freshmen girls choir to have fun. I want to and I think I'm trying but every day we get stuck in the weeds and they are giving off the most miserable vibe. HELP! How do I get them to enjoy class? We're sinking fast!!!

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    1. Bless your heart. I feel your pain. Try a few of these ideas: Change your daily routine. Put the stuff you normally put at the end at the beginning. Let one of them lead the class or lead the warm up. Do a team building exercise like the "Cup Up" Game. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FcJYVIYbFIA. Discuss afterward. Give them a written assignment asking them what they enjoy about choir and what they'd like to see changed. Do some exercises from the "Breathing Gym". (YouTube it). Build relationships with them.

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  4. I've been fighting with my one grade 5 class to be more focused and stay on the same page as me all year. I already teach your program in my grade 6-8 classes with great success. Starting last week, I began to play Forbidden Pattern with Gr 5's, and it's been incredible how quickly this helped elevate the mood of the whole class. I love your program - it has helped me to learn to love teaching again!

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    Replies
    1. Thank you so much for taking the time to comment! So happy the program is helping you!

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