With this post, we would like to both thank Brian O. Ackles and welcome Micah Bland. Since February 2020, Brian Ackles has authored a monthly blog on his approach and experiences with AGILE, a student/learner-centered music education program – even during a time when he was unable to meet with his classes in person. We thank him for sharing important insights into the choral music classroom. Taking this monthly spot is Micah Bland, director of choirs at Ranger College. He is an active author, clinician, and host of the ChoralEd video podcast. He introduces his podcast in this post, and we are delighted to welcome his contributions on choral education in the middle and high school classroom, which will be of particular interest to beginning and early career choral educators.
By Micah Bland
Welcome to the ChoralEd blog, a new series based on the ChoralEd podcast. ChoralEd is a video podcast dedicated to providing pedagogical techniques and strategies for secondary choral educators. New episodes are released the first of every month with episode summaries posted here on ChoralNet.
When it comes to being a choral educator, one of the most important features contributing to your success in the classroom is your teacher identity. In establishing your teacher identity, you should ask yourself three fundamental questions:
- Who do you want to be as a teacher?
- What is your desired choral sound?
- What are the goals you have for your students?
Many new teachers just starting out may lack clarity when it comes to these questions. For some, this lack of clarity results in the imitation of their past teachers or colleagues copying their teaching style, preferred tone, and classroom demeanor. There’s nothing wrong with imitation. However, by copying others we present an inauthentic version of ourselves to our students.
Several years ago, as a new teacher, my teacher identity lacked clarity. Having observed successful teachers throughout my musical development I believed my teacher identity should emulate their classroom persona. For those reading this, you may feel like you need to be exuberant, eccentric, authoritative, commanding, entertaining, etc. In my own experience I felt a disconnect between the false eccentric persona I was trying to portray, and who I was as a person. Over time I came to realize that my persona of calmness and patience was a perfectly acceptable and effective teaching persona. And my faux exuberance was only preventing me from achieving optimal success as a teacher.
In terms of your desired choral sound, new teachers are more often guilty of imitating their past teachers and current colleagues. Again, it’s perfectly acceptable to imitate the tone of your teachers. But it’s also important to carefully consider the tone you want from your singers, and fully understand the methods used to achieve that desired sound. For some, the tone asked of you in your collegiate ensemble may not be appropriate for a middle or high school ensemble. Knowing how to achieve your desired choral tone is a challenge and takes time. As you begin your career in choral music continue to expand your knowledge of tone development through reading, listening to podcasts, and attending seminars.
Finally, consider the goals you have for your students. This is significant as it will determine the focus of your class, as well as the activities you choose to implement. For example, as a teacher do you care about music literacy, diverse repertoire, auditions, solo literature, small ensembles, composition, improvisation, musical theater productions, madrigals, show choirs, jazz ensembles, among other vocal styles and possible choral activities. When it comes to the classroom we have a limited amount of time in rehearsal. As a teacher, you may decide you want to implement as many of these previously listed activities as possible. While this approach may seem ideal at first, the focus of instruction is so vast that the learning lacks depth, resulting in mediocre experiences and quality of instruction. In contrast to this, intently focusing on specific areas provides students with a deep and meaningful experience, but can result in a lack of diverse instruction. By determining the goals you have for your students you can refine your instructional strategies providing students with an optimal learning experience.
When it comes to your teacher identity, ideally it is an authentic representation of yourself. During your next break from teaching, I encourage you to take a moment to reflect on these three questions, and carefully evaluate your teacher identity to determine if it is who you want to be as a teacher.
To watch ChoralEd, Episode 1 on YouTube click here.