Reply To: Confidence

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It sounds like they don’t feel safe in your choir room, with you and with each other. When they feel safe, they’ll sing out. First, buy Tom Carter’s book, Choral Charisma and read it, especially his chapter on humanistic discipline. Here are some things that I’ve learned over the years working with middle school girls:

1. Rule number one. GIRLS TALK!!!!!!! become sensitive to when the choir needs to talk. Don’t try to stop that train. They’ll erupt into noisy conversation, let it run for a minute and quietly restart the lesson. SUPER IMPORTANT. They will never be quiet for a complete class period. Get to know when to ask them to be quiet, and when to let them run a bit. Take a little break after some intense work before the next piece. Teach them that its ok to talk, they just have to learn when the right time is. I like to use the phrase, “Please don’t talk when I’m talking”, or, “I don’t like to talk when you’re talking.” Don’t talk until they’re quiet and listening. Have patience. quote from one of my students to the class last week, “He’s quiet and he’s touching his beard, that means he’s getting annoyed at us.” She was right. 😉

2. . Don’t yell at them. Always speak with a calm quiet voice, even when giving instruction. Make them listen to you. It can scare them if you speak using a loud voice. (I’m a bass/baritone, so my voice can be scary) Soften your voice, lower your pitch. (unless you’re excited about what they’ve done then ring out!)

3. Don’t EVER engage a student into a verbal battle in front of the class: They have allies in the room, you don’t. They cry and their friends comfort. Nothing gets done. Everyone shuts down, Those not involved will feel a little afraid it could happen to them too and no one will sing. (and they hate you for the rest of the day). If you need to discipline, and you will, calmly ask the student either sit out, off the risers where they don’t have eye contact with other classmates, or sit outside the room. I ask them, “Please sit out”, or “please leave now,” in a very calm voice. Allow them to come back in when they’re ready to work. If they refuse then you have a very different issue on your hands, defiance. in this case, call the office and ask to have the student escorted to office and follow your school’s discipline procedures.

4. Middle school girls and boys have the energy of a hummingbird. They are moving all the time. Notice how they twist from side to side and swing their arms? Use this energy to your advantage. Use lots of movement in your warm-ups. I do a lot of vocal sounds in my warmups; siren sounds, sighs, silly sounds, etc. incorporate hand movements to mimic the sounds they’re doing. Allow them to move when they’re singing.

5. When they’re noisy, don’t add to the noise by raising your voice. I like to sing the syllable Loooooo. Start singing, and get close to them. Move slowly from one side of your chorus to the other. They’ll parrot you and start singing. (OH yeah, I forgot to mention, middle school kids like to parrot. Use this to your advantage.)

6. Middle School girls will start crying for no reason. This is OK. Look at the crying girl and check in if she’s ok. The other girls will want to comfort the crying girl. Don’t make a big deal out of the crying and keep the other girls from “comforting” her. I’ll say something like, “Let her work it out” and then I quietly ask the crying girl if she’ll be ok. Keep the class on task. Chances are she’ll nod and be smiling in a few minutes. If needed, give the crying girl the option of a safe place to settle herself (not with a friend’s help)

7. Establish bathroom procedures. When they get bored they’ll ask to use the bathroom. You have no way of knowing if they’re being honest. What are the chances of 2 friends having an emergency at the same time??? Every day? Keep tabs on this. Understand the “its a girl thing” and let them know its ok, you know all about this. They’ll become comfortable telling you this. I only allow one at a time out of the room, and whenever a student asks, I ask them if this can wait till the end of class. Otherwise, if you haven’t noticed already, you’ll always have at least one student out wandering campus at all times during your class. Be very clear about bathroom policies–Yes, they’ll also fake wiggle and pretend they have to go just to meet their friend at a per-arranged time. Knowing your students will help with this and also, If you have a student that has an emergency every day in your class, don’t hesitate to call their parents and ask them if the student has an issue of which you should be made aware. That usually settles it.

8. Lastly, Be prepared in your rehearsal. your kids want to sing, they don’t want to watch you figure out what to do. Talk less, sing more.

I’m curious as to what your students have deemed as “stupid.” Middle school kids think they’re grown-ups, so anything that is perceived as elementary schoolish, they’ll reject. You have to guide them and talk with them not at them and definitely not down to them. I love my middle school kids and honestly, I don’t think I’d want to teach another age group. If they trust you and feel safe with you, you’ll help to form them into who they’ll become. And just because you think they’re not listening, Doesn’t mean they’re not listening. Trust me, they are.