Mentors Share Choral Counsel IV

MENC caught up with Mary Jennings, choral mentor for November  to get her perspective on the questions we’ve been asking some of the mentors the last three weeks.

What are the three most challenging things about being a music teacher?
– the rise in importance of state testing/assessment and the impact on music
– economic times: scarce resources
– advocacy: you have to justify what you do every day, no other profession needs to do this – this is the challenge to music teachers.

Advocacy is not legislation, it’s going out into your community, promoting it in the community, globally as a music educator, you have to do this every day and every waking moment, you have to justify what you do; you have tomaintain what you do every day; never stop, never give up!

What advice would you give to a new choral teacher?
– Continue learning. Even after the first year, keep learning and working as hard as you can.
– Develop networks – a mentor teacher, an older friend, someone who can reassure you that it’s not just YOU that may be the problem, that it is (or can be) the kids, it is other things, etc.
– Have and maintain a sense of humor!

What’s the best thing about being a music teacher?
Mary says she could go on and on about all the things that are good about being a music teacher – but she says only about “1% of why I like it is about having the “aha” moments and great performances.”

“I simply like being a teacher. To see kids willing to take a chance on the unfamiliar, it’s about trust, whether it be trying a solo, singing a capella, working in another language, learning music from another culture, attending a concert and hearing music for first time, and wow! Seeing their growth. I love to see them become intelligent consumers of music. We discuss their music, why their parents maybe don’t like the music, why they do, etc.”

Mary says she would “ban” the term music “appreciation,” as music education is so much more than just appreciation. In Mary’s view, the term “appreciation” doesn’t at all convey the depth of what happens in music education. Mary believes students should be consumers of music and be able to discriminate.

“I’ve worked with highly select groups, I love the accomplishment, but it’s more than that. It’s about seeing the students interact and seeing them become aware of different music and cultures, seeing them open their eyes to different styles, and discussing them.”

What advice would you give to a music teacher who is not a vocal teacher but has to teach chorus?
-Sit down with an ENT (ear/nose throat specialist) or a respected choral educator, and learn to take care of your singing voice; get basic ideas about appropriate supportive tone and how to communicate it to students.
-Find a mentor/supervisor you can turn to.
-Use MENC resources, books.
-Set realistic goals for students.
-Have a no-nonsense approach to your work – suck it up, deal with it, they hired you to do it; work your tail off.
-Plan only one day at a time vs. the whole year. Don’t overwhelm yourself.
-Maintain a sense of humor!

–Sue Rarus, December 9, 2009, © National Association for Music Education