The April 2014 issue of Choral Journal features an article titled “You Want Me to Teach What? The Choral Educator’s Guide to Teaching Outside the ‘Comfort Zone’” written by Kyle Zeuch. Following is a section from the article.
Many choral educators find themselves teaching students with a wide variety of skills and even age ranges, often teaching age groups they have never taught before. As public school teachers are being asked to cover entire K–12 programs, choral educators must adapt to effectively reach all students. A familiar scenario might be someone who has a passion for teaching high school choir.
They teach students who experience great choral music in high school, get “bitten” by the choral bug, and go on to pursue a college degree and a lifetime of singing. All that other teaching is kids’ stuff! It’s easy. There’s no artistry. It’s great for those who have a heart for teaching little kids, but really, it’s just “fun and games,” right? How can an artist with creative and lofty goals work with little kids?
On the other hand, the constantly changing secondary social atmosphere might overwhelm the elementary teacher in a situation of teaching middle school and high school choir. This teacher feels like they can make a more significant impact on the younger student. How to relate to these older students? What music to pick? How do the social implications of this age play out in the classroom? The expectations of participating in festivals and competitions may be against the philosophy of the elementary choral teacher. Each age group presents its own set of challenges in the choral classroom. For the secondary teacher in the elementary classroom, teaching basic musical skills to a room of forty precious six-year-olds for forty-five minutes is a challenge. How to keep their attention?
How to simultaneously teach basic musical skills to forty squirrely children? How to get them to sing in tune? How to get them to sing musically? Teaching these children requires the most creativity, the most artistry, and the most musicianship. A teacher must be constantly on their game, navigating through a lesson plan like it’s a road map where every road has a detour, tip-toeing through rehearsal like a tight-rope walker improvising, letting them use the bathroom, using analogies that are applicable to the seven-year-old mind, relating to them, nurturing them, pushing them to be better, making sure no one cries, bouncing back and forth from fun to serious to fun, and loving them.
This is what one must do in this setting, and it’s very difficult. The elementary-aged student soaks up everything. Model poorly, they sing poorly. Give a wrong cue, they watch, come in, and learn it the wrong way. Teaching these kids demands that educators strive for musical perfection while teaching them.
The rest of this article can be found in the April 2014 issue of Choral Journal at acda.org/choraljournal. Click “search archives” and choose April 2014 from the dropdown menu.