Tag Archive: expectations


Many music education undergraduates and music educators cringe when they find out they have to teach middle school choir or even just cringe at the though of possibly having to teach it at one point in their career. While I believe that middle school choir is definitely a challenging area to teach, I also feel that it can be an extremely rewarding experience for both the teacher and the students. Just yesterday I had the opportunity to attend an amazing workshop on middle school choir yesterday at Grove City College. Amy Beresik- Choral Director at Doresyville Middle school presented a workshop on directing middle school choir and brought two of her middle school honors choirs to perform. This was by far one of the most valuable and beneficial workshops that I have ever attended which prompted me to write this blog post reflecting on what I learned.

I Have to Teach Middle School Choir…Now WhatHere are some tips to help you survive middle school choir. While I have no experience teaching middle school choir here are some of  my opinions and ideas that I learned from the workshop.

  1. Teach Good Vocal Technique First-At the middle school level students are going through a lot of changes and they are just beginning to figure out how to use their voice. It is extremely important as music educators that we stress good vocal technique first. Our voice is an instrument so just like in a band, it is the choir directors job to teach the students how to properly use their instruments. We need to teach healthy technique first and then you can have students adjust their style to match your repertoire, but it is imperative to have good vocal technique before experimenting with different musical styles.
  2. Make Students Listen– At the workshop I saw first hand the importance of teaching our choirs to listen and the outcome that is produced when this happens. Even at the middle school level we should challenge our choirs to sing a capella as much as possible to help develop aural skills, blend, and intonation. Also we need to ask our students what they are hearing because this makes them listen more attentively while they are singing.
  3. Singing Requires More Than Just Your Voice– Singing requires your full body so it is important for us to incorporate this full body approach to sing in our choirs, even at the middle school level. For example when warming up start by warming up the body, and then breathing and then begin warming up the voice itself.
  4. Instructional Conducting– At the middle school level we as directors need to make sure that our conducting is as much instructional as it is artistic. In our conducting I believe we need to show the students breath support, posture, embouchure etc. Students mirror whatever they see the conductor doing so it is imperative that our conducting is instructional especially at the middle school level where students are learning and growing a lot.
  5. High Expectations– Many times I have heard directors say “Oh, they are just middle school kids, they won’t be able to handle that.” To me it seems as if middle school choirs are often looked down upon. As educators we need to not underestimate what our students can do. If we require excellence all of time the students will usually rise to meet those expectations.

The Changing Voice– This is one area that I believe most undergraduates (including myself) do not know enough about. Here is an analogy that workshop presenter Amy Beresik used that helps to put the make changing voice into perspective. Imagine that the instrument you play changes daily; one day, it has a wide range, others only five notes. Sometimes it is resonant others foggy-sounding. Muscled memory seems to change and one day you play a passage perfectly and the next it sounds like you have never played it before. Also, the way you hear your instrument is changing as well. This may seem crazy, but this is what it feels like for middle school boys experiencing the voice change. Below are some tips that I learned about how to deal with the make changing voice.

  1. Know your voices– Listen to your boys sing regularly because their voices will be changing at a rapid speed. It is imperative for you as the director to know exactly where in the voice change process each of your boys are in. This way you will best know how to accommodate and pick literature that will set up all your students (including the boys) for success!
  2. Flexibility- Because your boy’s voices will be changing so rapidly it is important to be flexible and willing to change voice parts when necessary. You may need to allow some of your boys to change parts on ever song so that they feel comfortable and are singing in a healthy range.
  3. Sing– Especially for female choir directors it is extremely important for us to sing with our boys instead of always playing their part on the piano. Us singing helps them to hear the pitches better and sing in the correct octave. As a middle school choral teacher it is necessary to get extremely comfortable with using your singing voice as a teaching tool.
  4. Communication– Make sure that your boys are willing to communicate and be open with you about what they are feeling and going through. We can learn a lot from them by hearing about their experiences throughout this process. It is also important for female directors to make sure the boys know that we have no idea what they are going through so it is even more imperative for them to communicate with us so we know how to better help them.
  5. A Natural Process- Middle school boys can be a difficult age to deal with, but they need to know that the changing voice is a totally natural process just like your shoe size changing. As the director you need to normalize the process for the whole choir to help with any self-consciousness the boys may have. It is also important that you are encouraging during this process and don’t get frustrated when the boys come in sounding different everyday.

Never Say Never

I know I have said this in earlier posts, but I believe as undergraduates we need to get as much experience as possible in all areas of music education, including middle school choir. Yes, we all have our area of expertise, but we never know where we may end up, especially now days. I believe as undergraduates we need to never say never. Many times what we say we will never teach is what we end up getting our first job in. My advice to undergraduates is to not only continuing learning in your area of expertise, but attend workshops and gain more knowledge in areas that you are not as comfortable with. It frustrates me when instrumentalists will only attend instrumental or band related workshops. In my opinion I believe that instruments should attend more coral and general music workshops because those are the areas we are usually less experienced in. We are music educators, not just band directors, choir directors, or general music teachers, so we need to become competent in all of those areas. I believe we need to be well-rounded musicians and not just top-heavy in one area.

As an instrumentalist I am constantly looking to improve my vocal and choral directing skills so that if one day I end up teaching middle school choir I won’t feel like a fish out of water and I will be able to give my students the best musical experience possible. This workshop taught me a lot of teaching middle school choir that I did not know, but hopefully will one day be able to put into practice. I believe that it is crucial for all music educators and undergraduates to gain as much experience as possible in all areas of music education. If you are a person that never sees yourself teaching middle school choir, I urge you to start now and take advantage of every opportunity you have because you never know when one day you will find your self with a bunch of middle school students who want to sing. A great way to do this is by attending professional development conferences such as PMEA, which is coming up this week. Check out my blog article PMEA 2011 Live Blog for more information!

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“Take the attitude of a student, never be too big to ask questions, never know too much to learn something new.”- Og Mandino

This week was definitely a challenge in many ways. As it gets further into the semester and further into my second placement I am taking on more classes which requires more planning, ensembles are starting to perform more, and the job search and application process is now in full swing. All of these things keep me extremely busy and this week it has been a challenge to find a balance between them all. I feel that one of the biggest challenge as an undergraduate from freshman year to senior year is keeping everything in balance. I also believe that this will continue to be a struggle once I start teaching, just in a different way. In regards to teaching I felt like this week went very smoothly and I had a lot of success with my lessons. Each week I am still amazed at the amount that I am continuing to learn. Below are some of the challenges I faced this week and lessons I am learning.

Challenges

  1. Disruptions/Schedule Changes- One big challenge I faced this week was dealing with constant disruptions and scheduling changes. I feel that scheduling changes are always a challenge for the teacher because you have to change around your lesson plans and often have to re-organize your entire schedule for that day or maybe even the week. This week was full of schedule changes for me because of PSSA testing, assemblies etc. One challenge this brought to me this week was because of an assembly we combined some of our classes so no classes would miss music. This was definitely a challenge because now I had to teach classes of 35 kids, which is very challenging and exhausting. There are also many disruptions that take place daily that are challenging to deal with because the get the students out of their routine. Some disruptions I faced this week were fire drills, announcements in the middle of class, students getting called to the nurse for hearing tests etc. Scheduling changes and disruptions are not something we can change as teachers, but I believe it is important for undergraduates to be aware of them and realize what they may have to deal with in the future.
  2. Student Accountability– This is an area that is definitely a challenge, but not something that I am able to deal with during student teaching. It is very hard to find ways to keep students accountable especially when it comes to areas such as practicing. As I said this isn’t something I can change during student teaching, but I am thankful that I get to experience this and see how my cooperating teachers deal with it because I am sure that I will be faced with this issue in the future. My advice to undergraduates is to starting coming up with your own ideas now of how you might deal with this situation when faced with it in the future.
  3. Adjusting to Different Grade Levels- Another big challenge that elementary general music teachers have to face is adjusting to different grade levels very quickly. For example on Mondays I teach two kindergarten classes in a row and then have two sixth grade classes. This is a huge jump and your entire way of teaching has to change almost instantaneously. It is even hard to switch between grades such as kindergarten and first because there is such a difference in development, maturity, and behavior. I believe that this is something that just takes getting use to and after time the adjustment isn’t as challenging.
  4. Multi-Tasking- Elementary music teachers I have found are the wearer of many hats and must be very good at multi-tasking. There are days when I feel like I need multiple sets of hands and eyes in the back of my head just to teach a lesson. This learning to multi-task definitely takes some time and was overwhelming at first, but is starting to get easier. For example I am often finding myself playing piano, singing, leading the students, watching the students for behavior, correcting behavioral problems and assessing student performance all at the same time!!!
  5. Balancing- As I said at the beginning of this post, this week I have definitely been struggling with balance. Student teaching takes up so much time and energy, but I also have nightly ensemble rehearsals, and many job applications to finish. It is a challenge to balance these things without getting burned-out. My piece of advice is to prioritize everything and be realistic when setting weekly or daily goals. If we are not setting realistic goals we are just setting ourselves up for failure which leads to more frustration. I believe this is a challenge that everyone from undergraduates to experienced teachers are faced with continually.

Lessons Learned

  1. Be Prepared for Questions– One lesson I learned this week is to be ready for all kind of questions especially with the younger students. Many times these questions are great and lead to more teaching opportunities, but many times the questions are completely un-related to what we are talking about, but still may be a good question. I have found that it is important to not let questions through you off guard. One piece of advice I have is when preparing your lessons come up with some questions that you think students may ask. This may also help you in figuring out the timing of your lesson.
  2. High Expectations– It is very important to set high expectations for our students and to challenge them. I have learned that usually the students surprise us and rise to the occasion if they know what our expectations are. I believe that what we expect is what we are going to get. For example this week I did a recorder lesson where not only was there a simple recorder part, but there were two other classroom instrument parts. This was definitely a challenge for the students, but before we started I clearly set my expectations and to my surprise the student rose to the challenge and did extremely well.
  3. Don’t Stifle Student Creativity– Elementary general music classes can often get very loud and chaotic and we as teachers are quick to stop this. I believe we need to have control of the classroom at all times, but we also need to make sure that in no way are we stifling student creativity. For example this week in kindergarten my cooperating teacher had the students listening to a piece of music. The students automatically started reacting and moving to the music. Instead of stopping this as some teachers would, she allowed them to continue, but set some guidelines such as they had to stay within their area and not talk.
  4. Play Songs More Times than you Think– I am also learning that we need to play a song more times than you think in order for the students to learn it. Once or twice is not enough times for students, especially younger ones, to comprehend and learn the song. My cooperating teacher said that we get sick of the songs so we are quick to think that the students heard it enough.
  5. Get Out of Comfort Zone- The last lesson that I have learned through the past few weeks and this week especially is that you have to be willing to be silly and crazy with the students, which may require you to come out of your comfort zone. The students want to see someone who is able to have fun in front of them and is not afraid to act silly. I have seen many of my music education undergraduate friends who have not been willing to come out of their comfort zone and be silly and I believe that the students are benefiting from this. We as teachers often have to have fun and silly to get our students involved in the learning and keep them engaged throughout the lesson. My advice for undergraduates is to begin getting out of your comfort zone now so that the transition later is not as hard.

This week as always I faced many challenges, but I also feel like I had some major successes in classroom management. The first few weeks of my elementary placement I struggled with classroom management because the students are so active, but now I believe I am getting better at it. This week I was much more proactive especially when teaching lessons that required the use of classroom instruments. I also tried being more firm with the students and making sure they know what I expect and then making sure that I follow through with any consequences. I can almost guarantee that as an undergraduate music education major you will struggle with classroom management at some point. My biggest piece of advice is to be firm, set clear expectations and most importantly be PROACTIVE instead of reactive!! I can’t believe I only have a few short weeks left of student teaching, but I am looking forward to sharing the rest of my experiences!!