5 Reasons I Look Forward to the New School Year

I am struggling with a lot of emotions as I’m in my last days of Summer vacation.  It has been a fantastic summer.  I have been at home with my two little boys and while there have been some challenging days, I have loved it.  My oldest has so much to say and his imagination has kept us plenty busy as we run from dinosaurs and fight off pirates.  My youngest started walking at the end of May and that alone made the summer even more adventurous.  I enjoyed improvement projects around the house, read some good books, and was thrilled to finally start this blog, something I had wanted to do for years.  As I think about how much I am enjoying my outings with the boys and our relaxed routine around the house, I sometimes find myself struggling to find the motivation for a new school year.  I don’t know that I am ready! On the other hand, I find myself getting excited as I start to think of all that the new year holds for me.  As the time gets closer to go back, I do find myself looking forward to the fall, and the reasons each year seem to be the same:

  1. A clean slate.  I love having the opportunity to start fresh in my classroom each year.  I can implement new procedures, new routines, and a new classroom setup.  Last spring, I started to write down everything that was not going smoothly in my classroom, and I have spent a lot of time over the summer researching and brainstorming ways to fix those problems.  I am so thankful for the opportunity to make changes each year to create a better classroom environment for myself and my students.  I am glad that I can have the chance to improve from year to year.  I have the chance to eliminate last year’s problem areas before the kids even arrive to my classroom.  And I can start the year with everything beautifully organized!  My grade book will be so neat and tidy, every piece of paper will have its place, and my office will be spotless.  While I know these things are temporary, it’s a nice feeling while it lasts.
  2. New students.  I always look forward to meeting the new students who choose to join Chorus.  Hopefully, each of these students joined Chorus because they wanted to, and I want to make it the best experience possible for them.  I was really reminded last year how much I as their teacher determine their love for the class.  While I don’t like to think of myself as the center of the classroom, I’m afraid I am.  I have met too many students (and adults!) who told me how they quit their music lessons or ensemble involvement because they didn’t like their teacher.  That is a lot of pressure!  It doesn’t matter how great the music I pick is or how many friends they have in the class.  If they don’t have a good relationship with me, they will not stick around.  How do I make our relationship a positive one?  Show them I care.  Get to know each student.  Greet them at the door by name, talk to them about their other classes, and work with them individually.  Then, the next crucial step in keeping those students involved is…
  3. Being the Entertainment.  I teach on block scheduling.  My students’ attention spans are about 25 minutes long, which means not only do I have to show them I care about them to keep them engaged, but I have to be a bit of an entertainer on the podium.  I have to make sure the kids are having fun and I have to let them see me having fun.  My colleagues and I have talked about this often, describing how sometimes our silly behavior in front of the class is so out of character for us.  But if it keeps the students focused, we will do it.  No matter how ridiculous we look.  But if I’m honest with myself, I have a lot of fun being their entertainment.  I like cracking nerdy jokes just to see the students roll their eyes at me.  I like to run from the soprano section down to the alto section shouting for more emotion in the music as they rehearse their concert music for the eight thousandth time.  I suppose it’s the performer in me.  And when I look back at my high school choral experience, I remember how much fun my director made it.  He was witty and downright silly sometimes, but we ate it up.  He was one of the greatest influences in my choice to become a high school choral director.
  4. Making music every day.  My boys love music.  It makes my heart so happy to see them playing with their toy instruments and singing their favorite Disney tunes.  Every week this summer, the boys and I have had “band practice.”  We alternate between drums, guitars, and a microphone, and I know you’re all anxiously awaiting our debut album.   However, anytime we add a piano to the mix–my own instrument–things go south.  Whenever I try to sit at the piano, my two year old promptly jumps on the bench next to me and begins banging away.  I have not found a way around this, either.  If I am near the piano, he has to be a part of the performance.  It is rather endearing, but at some point I need the chance to work on some real music.  I’m looking forward to being back in my classroom with my baby grand piano and having a group of singers ready to tackle new challenges.  I still marvel at the notion that my job is to make music with young people on a daily basis and I take a paycheck home for it.  God is good!  Which leads me to my final reason…
  5. The feeling of gratitude.  I am sure that I am quick to share my frustrations and disappointments to those around me when things are not going smoothly at work, but through it all I am truly grateful for my job.  I love the feeling of pride I have when I walk the halls of my school, knowing that I am a part of a fantastic community of teachers and students.  I really do love where God has placed me.  I am thankful to be in a school system that recognizes the importance of music.  I believe that the arts are essential in every child’s education, at every age.  My class is not an extracurricular club or a “filler” class.  I have a tremendous responsibility!  I am teaching my students music history and theory.  I am teaching listening skills.  I am teaching them how to use their voices correctly in singing and in speaking, something they will use for the rest of their lives.  I am teaching them how to be a performer as well as good audience members, and how to work with well with others.  I am teaching them about other cultures through world music, and I am relating our music to every other subject area of their school day.  I am grateful for the opportunity to reach students through music, and always will be.

I am praying now for my students and for my colleagues as we prepare for a new school year.  I am also praying that God comforts my heart as it aches to be with my sweet little boys all the time.  I know I am incredibly blessed to have the time off to regroup and be with family, but it’s still hard to spend so much time away from them throughout the year.  They are pretty special.  I hope one day they will have music teachers that are passionate and dedicated.  Hopefully one day they will sit in my classroom, and together we will have an incredible school year.

Friends, I hope this school year is your best yet!

  

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Student Leadership, Part II

Last week I shared details on the responsibilities of my Choral Vice President and President, the top positions on my program’s student leadership team.  I call this team the Choral Council, and all of my students are familiar with it as they see the student leaders hard at work throughout the year.  If you missed Part I, catch up on it HERE.  In that first post, I explained that the Vice-President – who automatically steps in to the President’s position their Senior year – has to complete an application to help me decide who fills the position.  The Vice-President role is the ONLY position that is chosen by me.  The rest of the jobs are voted on by the chorus students.  Scary?  Absolutely.  However, after expressing to the students how important these jobs are, they have never taken this process lightly.  Once people are voted in and start working on the choral council, the rest of the students can never accuse of making a bad choice, or “playing favorites”, because they did the voting without any interventions on my part.  This process has proven to be really successful.

I’d like to share with you the other positions on the Choral Council that the class votes on:

Secretary.  This is such an important job with so many responsibilities.  This person can be your greatest resource in keeping your rehearsals running smoothly.  Train this person to take on some of your administrative tasks so that you can focus on the teaching!  In my program, the secretary takes attendance each day.  They have a notebook with the class roster (bonus: they are ready to take attendance for the substitute teacher when you are gone!) and can check attendance while you are running warm-ups.  They are also responsible for assisting all of the other council members with their jobs when needed, so they should be organized and great at taking initiative.  They need to help you get information out to the students, which can happen through announcements on the white board, group texts, social media, or bulletin boards.  Of course, at meetings, they should keep minutes and records throughout the year.

Treasurer.  This student will never be solely responsible for money, but they can be a great help to you as you deal with fundraisers or class orders throughout the year.  I will often have this student help me count money from fundraisers as they are turned in, or write down who turned in what as I dictate it to them.  Often, I am just appreciative to have a second set of eyes to check my adding and subtracting.  The students are always great at choosing someone who does extremely well in their math classes.

Librarian.  No joke, I would be lost without the librarian!  When I stepped in to my role at my current school, I was so discouraged by the chaos that was our music library.  There was very little music and if you wanted to find anything, you had to sort through stacks of music to see what was available.  With the help of some outstanding students over the years, we have a great organizational system in place now.  When you walk in to our library, it is clean, organized, and titles are now very easy to find through our catalogue system.  To keep it this way, I need just a few organized students to keep tabs on it throughout the year.  Your librarian will help you pass out new music and take up old music, ensuring that every piece of music has a home.

Public Relations.  The students love this job, and it can do so much good for your recruitment process.  The public relations officer must keep a running inventory of pictures, programs, and moments throughout the year.  They should help brainstorm new ways to recruit new students, and then help carry out those new ideas.  Who can relate better to the recruitment of students than current students?  They should also help in designing t-shirts and scrapbooks at the end of the school year.  Don’t ask them to take all of the pictures throughout the year.  There is no doubt your students are taking plenty of pictures every week (selfies, anyone?), so have your public relations officer go to your students for copies of their pictures.  This helps to ensure that all of your kids are represented in pictures at the end of the year.

Each of your choirs or classes should vote on students to fill each of these roles so that you have these helpers in every class.  Have students nominate one another (or even themselves) and share with the class why those nominees would be good for the job.  Then have the students vote by a show of hands (after you have sent nominees out of the room) or by secret ballot.

Finally, be sure to have each section of your choir nominate and vote on a section leader.  The section leader will be responsible for leading sectional rehearsals when you schedule them.  This can also be a great person for you to go to and ask how things are going, check to see what areas of weaknesses are happening, and address other concerns.  If you want students to rehearse with their sections while you are out, meet with the section leaders prior to your absence and give them a list of rehearsal goals and assignments to complete while you are out.  Let them know you will be checking in with them when you return to hold them accountable.  Again, if the students choose their own section leader, they are more likely to respect and follow that student when they step up to lead a rehearsal.  I have found sectionals to be an excellent use of rehearsal time in my class as it allows all of the students to be working at once while I am able to move from section to section to listen and fix problem areas.  This also forces students to use the skills you have given them to rehearse on their own (in other words, without someone plucking out all of their notes at the piano – gasp!).  This can strengthen their sight reading skills and listening skills so much, and it makes it more difficult for those shy and quiet students to get lost in the shuffle as it’s tougher to hide in smaller groups.  Sectionals really creates an opportunity for more individualized teaching on your part.

My goal for the coming school year is to do an even better job of utilizing each of these roles to be more efficient with my rehearsal time.  As I said in my previous post, not only can these students help me to do my job with more success, but they can also learn valuable skills that will serve them down the road as an adult.

I have been considering adding some roles to this list, so I would love to hear what other student leadership roles are used in other programs.  Have I left something out?  The more help I can get from dedicated students, the better our program can be.

Student Leadership, Part I

It is definitely time to get in to some of the nuts and bolts of my classroom.  I am really excited to share some posts on the successes I have had in my program in hopes of sparking some ideas for others to use in their own programs.  As I said in my introductory post, I find it incredibly helpful to sit and share with colleagues how things are done in different classrooms, so I hope you will find this useful and will in turn share what has worked for you.

As I started brainstorming what I wanted to share first, I was stumped.  It was the end of June, and my mind was in vacation mode.  I told myself I needed to wait until August when I was teaching again, but the writing bug in me argued otherwise.  After a couple of hours spent with a notebook and a great big cup of coffee, I was easily able to list some of my most favorite activities and organization methods.  The best part of this was that it got me to thinking of ways to improve on what I already do, so I was able to get in some planning for the new school year coming up.  Coffee to the rescue – a common theme in my life.

If I had to choose the one essential procedure I have in place in my program from year to year that has proven to be most helpful to me, I would have to go with my student leadership structure.  It took a few years to tweak, but now it runs smoothly and makes my life much easier.  I am so incredibly grateful to have had fantastic students step in to the leadership roles that I had in place.  They took on a great deal of responsibility that allowed me to focus more on teaching.  Who doesn’t want that?

I call it my Choral Council.  It includes the following positions:

  • President/Co-Presidents
  • Vice-President/Co-Vice-Presidents
  • Secretary
  • Librarian
  • Treasurer
  • Public Relations/Historian
  • Section Leaders

Today I want to focus on the President and Vice President roles.  I’ll start with the Vice President or Co-Vice Presidents if you have multiple qualified applicants that you want to use.  I have had several years in which I used two Vice Presidents and two Presidents and it has worked out very smoothly.  I’m so glad to give two deserving students the opportunity, so I don’t feel that you have to restrict the position to only one person.  Students are eligible to apply for the position of Vice President in the Spring of their sophomore year. They complete an application that I created in order to help me get to know more about them and their leadership qualities.  Once they are chosen to be Vice-Presidents, they are committing to then become President their senior year.  They are made aware of this commitment when they request an application.  Vice Presidents spend their junior year assisting the Presidents and shadowing all that they do so that they know just what to expect when they step in to the President’s role.  The President is my go to person, always.  If I need help with something, the President is first to be called upon.  The President has plenty of specific responsibilities, such as assisting a substitute teacher when I am not there, warming up a choir before concerts while I work with other choirs, planning the spring awards banquet, and making sure that the rest of the Choral Council is running smoothly.

I am including a copy of my application.  If you would like to see it, click here —->  Application for VicePresident  . Feel free to tweak it as much as you’d like to meet your own needs.

So far, not a single one of my Presidents has disappointed me.  It is still amazing to me that so many of my kids have taken on a two year commitment to the Chorus and fulfilled their responsibilities with such enthusiasm and dedication.  I once had a President who often said to me, “I’m a step ahead of you, Mrs. Wyatt.” And the scary part is that he actually was! He had been in the program for four years and was familiar with my routines and procedures. While my brain was juggling lesson plans, fundraising deadlines, attendance sheets, e-mails, and plenty more, he would see one thing he knew needed to be done and do it, therefore taking one more task off my plate.

By having them complete an application in which they have to present well thought out questions, you can typically see which students want this opportunity and are serious about it.  Not only is this a great help to you as a Director, but this is an excellent training ground for the student.  My students have learned to take initiative when planning the banquet and they have had to learn how to work with their peers in leading rehearsals and council meetings.  They are gleaning life skills and having fun along the way.  They take so much pride in their title and they strive to impress their Director and fellow singers.

Another perk of having Vice Presidents in place means that if you have a big job for your President, you know they have someone to enlist for help.  It also creates a seamless transition for students to move in to the President’s job.  This way you are not re-teaching someone what you need from them as President every year.  The students teach each other from year to year.  It also gives the Vice Presidents a standard of success to meet or – hopefully – surpass.

Do you have that one student in each class you go to each day for help?  Have you given them a title?  I would love to hear your version of my Chorus President.  In my next post I’ll go in to detail on my other council members.  They are the ones that help keep my class schedules running smoothly on a daily basis.

This past spring, my Presidents gave me a good laugh.  It was our spring concert, and they presented me a gift at the end of the night to say thank you.  They got on the microphone to share with the audience how they appreciated me, which was incredibly humbling and meaningful for me.  Then they held up their gift:  chocolates and a plant.  The chocolates needed no explanation for me–just more proof of how well my students know me.  But the plant was a first.  The Presidents then shared with the audience how I love to breathe and how I spend so much time talking about it in the classroom.  They went on about all the breathing exercises I make them do….so maybe they are listening to me a little?  So when they saw the plant, which had a label that read “Air Purifier”, they knew for sure I would love it since I love to breathe.  Um, thanks guys?

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Salty Air

Oh, how I love the beach! The salty air, sand on my feet, the roar of the ocean, and singing of the sea gulls, and the lack of a schedule makes for my perfect vacation. Granted, a beach vacation for me now isn’t as relaxing as it used to be. Four years ago I would set up camp for the day with a good book or two, magazines, and a cooler so that I wouldn’t have to get up until the sun set. I would read multiple books in a week and take naps every day.

This week has not been like that. I have almost finished one magazine. I have probably only read about thirty pages of my novel. I have only napped in my beach chair for about fifteen minutes total. I have, however, played in the surf with my two amazing children. Both boys, who are under the age of three, have boundless amounts of energy.  I have been inspired by my siblings and their athletic abilities (of which I have none) and tried paddle boarding for the first time. I have built sand castles with my boys and had good conversation with my family. Thanks to my kind husband, I had an afternoon to myself to read another magazine and take a much needed walk (4 wonderful miles of solitude!) on the shoreline.

As my beach trip comes to an end, I am at the halfway mark of my summer vacation. It is with sadness that I acknowledge this fact as I am loving my time at home with my boys. But another part of me is a little excited for the new school year. It has already gotten off to a great start with one of my students being accepted in to the NAfME’s All National Honor Choir this summer. I’m so proud of this young gentleman and am so excited to see him take on this opportunity. I’m also pinning away on my Pinterest board and making lists of new plans for my classroom, and I’m ready to try them out and share the most successful ideas here.

For now, I think I will go and find a few more seashells for my collection.