In this episode I sit down with THE Middle School choir guru, Dale Duncan to talk about sweet spot for success in Middle School vocal music. Middle School Singers are often overlooked and underestimated. What they need is an educator that believes in them, and provides high quality instruction in a school that supports them. We talk about the balance between high expectations, trust building, pitch matching in puberty, motivation of middle schoolers, connection and belonging and how they all serve each other. Dale also shares a bit about what it is like to be retired, his favorite things about teaching Middle School as well as talks through some of its greatest challenges. We ranged a bit into other areas too like pre and post pandemic choral music, and education and some of the changes we have seen, as well as why years 20-30 can be the “prime years” for teachers.
I have taught middle school students for well over 20 years. I currently teach over 340 un-auditioned choral students. I have up to 84 students in one class by myself. I could never have managed that as a young teacher, but along the way, I have learned several tips and tricks to help me successfully manage this age group of students in a positive learning environment.
I started my career in North Carolina where I taught for 5 years. In the beginning, I struggled enormously with classroom management. My middle school students totally “ran over me”. I was unstructured, inconsistent and ineffective. I was discouraged and felt like a total failure. I felt alone. I thought often about quitting teaching and doing something else. I was armed with a masters degree and absolutely no idea how to teach this age group.
I am not a quitter, so I kept going. I observed other teachers, and slowly began to figure a couple of things out that helped me hang in there.
I continued my career in New Jersey for the next 6 years. It was there that I saw an amazingly gifted choral educator who had created the most magnificent middle school choral program I had ever seen. She graciously allowed me to observe her teaching a few times, and that was when things began to click for me. I began to realize how to relate to and successfully teach this age group. That is when my programs began to grow exponentially.