A Choir Teacher Prepares for the New School Year
[by Guest Blogger, Denise Eaton]
We are people of “beginnings” but I have found that teaching requires something more from me. Instead of thinking about the beginning of the year, think backwards. Make a list of the things that went well last year and the things upon which you would like to improve. Be very specific about both your strengths and weaknesses as a teacher. One example could be that you feel very good about your ability to teach repertoire, but your classroom organizational skills need improvement. While thinking in that vein, begin planning to implement the “how to’s,” “what to do” and “what not to do’s” which will effect a successful beginning.
Confession: After twenty-nine years in the profession, I still attend the “Tried and Proven” and “Jump Start Your Year” -type sessions at conventions because I fret over what to do at the beginning of the year. They target young teachers but I am proof that you can teach an old dog new tricks. It is crucial that there be a thorough classroom management plan in order to establish boundaries and expectations between you and your students. Procedures for checking roll, getting in seats, distribution of music/materials, picking and putting up folders, etc. must be well thought-out. Anticipate and have a plan for anything and everything your students will “throw” at you and know that it is impossible to over prepare.
Consider the concepts you taught last year, how you would like to build upon them, and any new ones you would like to teach this year. My list consists of:
- Continued rhythm growth: Extracting rhythms from repertoire, review of rhythm and relative duration (a very basic presentation of note values), and through selected drills from the Sueta Rhythm Vocabulary (ask your band director – he/she should have Sueta and many more you could use).
- Interval identification and drills: We begin the year speaking and singing steps and thirds, steps and thirds, steps and thirds. It is impossible to over enforce these basic tenets of sight reading throughout the year. Next we’ll begin the introduction of fundamentals from the SMART Book in the tonality of the song(s) being introduced.
- Sight Reading: My high school Chorale used to begin the year sight reading The Lord Bless You and Keep You. Since it is four-part, it is at least eight days of sight reading, as everyone learns all four parts. The order of teaching events consisted of : chant text in rhythm, audiatesolfegge, and then sing solfegge. The “amen” section is a great place to begin as the choir can successfully make the transition from syllables/neutral syllables to text. The song will be a great way to get them singing, but we would also begin some sort of sight singing series, be it SMART, Jenson, or portions of each.
- Repertoire: [All the time] I’m listening to CDs, digging through my “possible” music stacks, ordering single copies of songs heard while judging, attending festivals, and conventions. Initially, my “possible” stacks start off high; I put anything and everything I think I might be able to teach plus all that my choir might be able to execute. It is then time to play through the songs, looking at range, harmonies, etc. all the while paying particular attention to exposure of each part. This helps determine whether the song will show off a choir’s strengths or draw attention to their weaknesses. Eventually, there is a short stack for each choir. After much study and thought to what will provide a varied and interesting program, next is score study and teaching material preparation. It is always good, however, to keep a few songs in reserve; once you have actually heard your choir and you get to know their collective strengths/weaknesses, your repertoire choices could change.
- Assessment: Implement some creative ways to assess your students. Assign a part learning assignment using technology (Carl Fischer and BriLee have FREE down-loadable part-by-part recordings online); and writing assignments – nothing long and elaborate – merely a tool to get to know students better and to assess their strengths and weaknesses as communicators. In addition to their writing, the students will develop a word bank of musical terms and any vocabulary I use when teaching that they can not readily define. Rhythm counting drills are always fun and can be made into a competition/game between sections.
In closing, I hope that by working backwards, you can move forward as a teacher this year. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, to ask questions and to share your ideas with trusted colleagues in order to get feed-back and encourage dialogue. We are all in this together!— Denise Eaton, a former TMEA President and active educator, joined the editorial team of Carl Fisher in 2011, where she serves as their choral editor. Carl Fischer, and their sister company, Theodore Presser, are leading publishers of educational choir sheet music, band sheet music, piano sheet music, orchestra sheet music, and much more.