State of the Choral Nation: Assessment and Survival Tips

September 28, 2010

In spite of some of the obvious benefits of a life in vocal music education such as the sense of fulfillment after a day spent sharing the joys and complexities of music with eager students the going isn’t always easy for school choral directors. With that in mind, it can be invaluable, on occasion, to step back and reflect on the general well being of those in the choral profession, ruminate on the challenges within the occupation, ponder an assessment of one’s own program and areas that might warrant improvement, and, of course, brainstorm tips for making it through the day, the week, the month, and the year.

This recent reader survey does just that, providing both an opportunity for the Choral Director readership to air frustrations and to share the methods by which they you cope with those same challenges.

How long have you been teaching vocal music?

0-5 Years: 3%
6-10 Years: 13%
10+ Years: 84%

“Teaching music, and especially choir, is one of the most rewarding jobs available! Remember the old adage that if you love your job you’ll never work a day in your life. I love my job. I get paid to sing and bring the joy of making music into the lives of young people. I get to see the change that comes into their life as they find a sense of belonging in choir that they can find nowhere else!”
Joseph Allred, Gunnison Valley High School, Gunnison, Utah

Do you plan to continue in your current field indefinitely?

Yes: 84%
No: 8%
Undecided: 11%

“Thankfully I am still employed as a music teacher. However, due to budget cuts, I am now part of a rotation that covers four subjects, one quarter-period at a time. With only nine weeks to teach, I’m creating my own curriculum and unsure about the practicality of a final concert in each quarter. Also, I no longer have an auditioned Advanced Choir as part of my class schedule. The good news is that I am optimistic that things will turn around, and while they’re currently turned upside-down, I can still make a difference in some students’ lives.”
Joanne Hong, Newark Junior High School, Newark, Calif.

“I have moved this year to the elementary school in our district. After years of the middle school music program being cut back, I had no more kids to draw on for leadership at the high school. I feel great about the move… I feel that I am teaching instead of just holding a choir program together against all odds.”
Kirk Jackson, Pevely Elementary School, Pevely, Mo.

How would you grade your school’s choral program?

A: 38%
B: 45%
C: 13%
D: 3%
F: 1%

What are the most pressing concerns for vocal music teachers in your area?

“Our elementary teachers have switched from music only to being fine arts teachers. In most cases, the vocal teacher is being pushed out for the teacher that can teach it all. One of the four middle schools has a choral program in the school schedule, while another meets after school, and yet another has been ‘off and on,’ with choir becoming an after-school program one year, to a class during the day, to no choir in a three-year span. Vocal music is just not considered a priority in our district anymore.”
Brett R. Burton, Maddisonville-North Hopkins High School, Madisonville, Ky.

“Reform efforts are causing administration to scramble for success on the test, which keeps whittling away at the entire music program. Our Middle School is at bare threads stage of existence. Instrumental has been hit harder in the long run, but they also have the benefit of being ‘needed’ by the athletic program. Many area music teachers, here and at surrounding schools, have been marginalized in their area and placed in reading and tutoring aid positions for much of the day, or asked to teach ‘extra’ classes outside their area of certification.”
Joyce King, Indian Lake Local Schools, Lewistown, Ohio

“Even though there are two music teachers to teach general music to 850+ students, our school doesn’t support the chorus financially. The teachers aren’t paid for their time for any rehearsals or performances, which are all after school, money for music has to come out of our allotment for general music, and we pay for any extra accompanists out of our own pockets.”
Cathy ter Weele, Emerald Hill Elementary, Culpeper, Va.

What are the areas in which you would most like to see improvement?

Numbers/enrollment: 33%
Level of performance: 29%
Support from administration or the community: 23%
Enthusiasm/fun: 14%
Other: 11%

“I would like to see our level of performance continue to increase. I also would like to get the kids out in the community more to perform.”
Trisha Scheidies, Carmel Middle School, Carmel, Ind.

“I would like to see more of my students become more independent as vocal musicians by becoming better sight readers and sight singers.”
Betsy Bergeron, Greens Farms Academy, Greens Farms, Conn.

“I graduated 40 seniors last year so my numbers are down a bit. I would like to see a few more kids coming into choir as freshmen, but they are worried about getting their required classes in their schedule.”
Gail Bowers, Maria Carrillo High School, Santa Rosa, Calif.

What is the best survival tip or tactic that you’ve learned since becoming an educator?

“I have come to understand that I am helping students discover their humanity through the lens of music. When I am able to remember that in the fray of the day, how I teach, how I relate, how I discipline, and how I see my classes in relation to my colleagues it all falls into place.”
Pat Badger, The Prairie School, Racine, Wis.

“Keep learning… I take as many classes from as many different teachers as possible. We are so fortunate to be teaching what we love. We need to celebrate that! We need to be our own best advocates and our own best support system.”
Edward Reisert, Fox Lane High School, Bedford, N.Y.

“You can never be too prepared. Garner a file of 10-minute ‘punts’ that will work in any teaching situation: if the risers have been removed for another event, if a student gets sick in rehearsal, if your original planned piece, warm-up, whatever falls flat, and so on.”
Dale Lower, Springside School, Philadelphia, Pa.

“Do not be afraid. This statement can be taken many ways and is meant to be that way. Do not be afraid to make split second decisions. Many things will be put onto your plate daily, and decisions for dealing with these things can make or break your program. Also, do not be afraid of experimenting with the vocal capabilities of your choir. Change warm-ups frequently and also vary the styles of songs that you perform. Never rehearse one piece for the length of a rehearsal. This leads to stagnation in the choral sound and also leads to classroom management issues due to boredom.”
Gregory Cross, Polk County High School, Benton, Tenn.

“My best survival tactic is simple: respect. Respect your students. Expect them to treat you and other students with respect. Set the expectation that everyone respect the equipment and the environment around us. This one concept affects our rehearsals, our classroom management, and our relationships with students, parents, and the community.”
Sue Green, Graham-Kapowsin High School, Graham, Wash.

“Be willing to change. The face of music education is changing and we must be willing to change with it. Be willing to offer non-traditional classes if necessary (for example, music technology, mariachi, steel drums, and so on) to bring more students into the music department.”
Joyce Bertilson, North Canyon High School, Phoenix, Ariz.

“Remember that teaching is a calling. Show the students how much you enjoy it, and don’t dwell on the negative aspects. Work with what you have with enthusiasm. Be passionate in your teaching!”
Cathy Spence, Alexandria High School, Alexandria, Ala.

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