Deep Impact

by Kirk Aamot, R&S Chair for Student Activities

Aaamots each of us begins a new school year, a question presents itself, “What one thing, if done exceptionally well this fall, would have the most positive impact on my teaching?”  At our NWACDA Division Conference last March during the New Teacher Roundtable, teachers and music education students discussed skills necessary for long-term success.  Three aptitudes surfaced during that discussion.  As the new academic year gets underway, I’m looking over this list trying to decide which area I should try to grow and improve in to have the deepest positive impact on my teaching.

Area #1: Have a vision and share it.  In order to succeed long-term as teachers of choral music and to build a better future for our profession, we need to articulate our goals, advocate for our mission, and grow a passion that will sustain us as teachers.  Shifting financial support, changing student demographics and evolving federal and state education requirements create an environment that requires us to be creative and recognize opportunities to impact our communities through music.  As music educators we must have a vision to inspire students and the ability to articulate it. 

Idea tonews work on this skill: write a brief opinion piece for your local paper relating a story from your classroom that illustrates a cornerstone of your philosophy of music education.

Area #2: Tools of the trade: piano skills, conducting gestures, knowledge of the voice and teaching methodology.  As you might have guessed, the number one skill mentioned during our discussion was the ability to use the piano.  Being able to read an open score in two, three and four parts and to play accocameramanmpaniments well enough to facilitate efficient rehearsals is critical for effective teaching in the choral classroom. 

The second “tool of the trade” highlighted during the roundtable session was the capacity to communicate clearly with meaningful conducting gestures.  Clarity from the podium when giving verbal and non-verbal instruction is important. 

Other important attributes that experienced teachers mentioned were an understanding of vocal pedagogy, possessing an effective “tool bag” of teaching methods, the ability to listen selectively (hear parts with the whole), a working knowledge of music theory and history, and an appreciation for the interaction between society and art. 

Idea: videotape a rehearsal, identify one conducting gesture that you frequently use, then practice two new gestures that convey a slightly different idea and incorporate them in your next rehearsal.

Areteama 3: The capacity to lead and work cooperatively with others.  As teachers, we are first and foremost leaders.  We organize, explain, serve and inspire.  From their first day in the classroom, young teachers have to develop plans and share them in ways that motivate their singers to work together.  To develop these leadership skills aspiring teachers of choral music benefit from many different experiences working cooperatively with people.  In my experience teaching conducting at Montana State University, it is common for students with strong interpersonal skills to initially be more effective conductors, even though they may not be the most musically gifted students.  Students who have had experience interacting with others in a variety of situations tend to communicate non-verbally in ways that complement their conducting gestures and verbal instructions making them more effective on the podium.

Idea: participate in a new group next spring in your community to add to your experience of working with others and volunteer for a leadership role on a project the group is working on.

As teachers, we juggle so many responsibilities that our jobs often become overwhelming.  New demands are placed on us practically every day and there is rarely enough time to get everything done.  However, by focusing on building skills in one of the three areas listed above, we will equip ourselves to make an even deeper impact on our students and our communities.  

Strengthening essential teaching skills is a great way to refresh and retool as we begin a new school year.  In addition, as we meet new students who demonstrate ability in one or more of these areas, we can encourage them to join us in this truly rewarding profession.