Many of the vocal music educators in the state of Nebraska find themselves in a K-12 teaching assignment. Too often we overlook the immense joy of teaching K-12 Vocal Music! We are responsible for: enhancing our programs, building our programs, sustaining our programs, and most importantly surviving our hectic school year! The burden can seem heavy, but through thoughtful: opportunities, vision, collaboration, and keen organizing it can be accomplished and lead one to a successful vocal music program.
K-12 teachers often find themselves niched into either being: an elementary teacher who teaches junior high/ high school or a junior high/ high school teacher who teaches elementary. This is the hardest part of the job. Developing and embracing your strengths to be the best in both worlds for your school district. It is important to seek consistent music professional development: NCDA Summer Conference, NMEA Conference, ACDA Regional Conference, ACDA National Conference, Kodaly Workshops, Orff Workshops, Children’s Choir Workshops, Conducting Masterclasses, and continuing your education beyond the B.A. or B.M. Challenging yourself to go beyond what you already know is of most importance. We challenge our students to be lifelong learners, so we must lead by example.
I will begin with finding the balance in K-12 teaching. It is of most importance to give equal opportunities to all of your students. This can seem impossible, especially if it is your first year teaching, but attainable. Depending on location, you must research the opportunities available for your students. Elementary Students: I participate in Sing Around Nebraska, LinkUp with the Omaha Symphony Orchestra, host Sing Around Nebraska Festival Honor Choir, perform two concerts a year, and have an Elementary Honor Choir which rehearses twice a week after school. I would suggest the NMEA All-State Children’s Choir to add to your list of activities as well. Junior High Choir: I audition students for the UNO Middle School Honor Choir, Singing Youth of Nebraska Honor Choir, participate in the Fremont Middle School Honor Choir Clinic (by nomination, but I take my entire ensemble), three concerts a year (Winter, Pops and Spring) and we participate in the Wayne State Junior High Music Contest (large group, small groups, duets and solos). High School Chorus requires a majority of my attention, for their are many opportunities available for students. High School Chorus: All-State Chorus Auditions, East Husker Conference Honor Choir, audition for NSAA National Anthem singing events (this is super easy, and very rewarding), yearly/bi-yearly musical, District Music Contest, National Choir Day: Holland Performing Arts Center, singing at various community singing events, Blair High School Choral Invitational, Tri-M Music Honor Society, Chamber Choir, and perform three concerts a year (Winter, Pops and Spring). I would also recommend the BOCH Festival at UNO and the Wayne State Honor Choir. I also have over 20 students (in JH and HS) who take private voice lessons with me before and after school during the week. This seems like a heavy work load, but it can be done with proper planning. As a music teacher, it is important that we accept sacrifice for our students. There will be long days and nights, but it is very important for K-12 teachers to demonstrate a commitment to music. This commitment will in turn inspire the students in your program, and lead to success. Let me be clear, success isn’t measure by the amount of ‘things’ you do. It is measured by the experience your students receive under your direction. Be an aspiring teacher and an opportunist.
Develop a vision for your program. Close your eyes and imagine what you want your program to be, what you want your choirs to sound like, and how you can use your strengths to achieve this. I am blessed. I have Mr. Bryan Bohn as my full-time accompanist for both junior high and high school choirs every day (my JH and HS Choirs rehearse every day). When he isn’t our fantastic accompanist, he is busy teaching 5-12 Band for Oakland-Craig. Having Bryan allows me to be a conductor in my JH and HS rehearsals, but I understand many teachers don’t have this resource, but again, play to your strengths! When I close my eyes I hear the Nordic Choir from Luther College. I am from Iowa, and had the pleasure of being directed by Weston Noble, and my ears are bent towards a darker, mature, and vulnerable choral sound. This ideal is up to you! Create goals for your ensemble, very specific goals, and devise a plan of how to achieve this. Call upon other directors, reach into your junior high and high school memories, hire clinicians, and never stop being the biggest fan of your choir. Cheri Helmer-Reinsche provided my choir wild solid gold during one of her famous clinics, “You are ON a team…but you are IN the choir.” It is that simple. Be a coach, be a parent, be a therapist, and most importantly be a caring teacher. Kindness and empathy pay off in your programs. Once you have found your groove, stick with it. It may take more than a year of teaching in a position to discover this, and that is OKAY. You are the future of your program, so plant your seeds and let your garden grow. Never underestimate the power of passion. Passion and hard work go a long way in our profession, and students appreciate this.
I had to laugh when I showed the rough draft of this presentation to Bryan Bohn. What does it mean to survive? Well, for me it means to ‘Not lose my marbles!’ I just joked with a fellow colleague (in fact my JH/HS teacher) that I was teaching first grade music, which is directly after my junior high rehearsal, “Have ANY of you seen Mr. Hoefling’s marbles? Because I am afraid they are lost!” The next five minutes were spent searching for said ‘marbles’ while singing “All Around the Kitchen Cock A Doodle Doodle Do!” I swear, from the mouth of babes! It is tough, it is hard, and it grueling, but it is important. What we do as educators means so much to our administrations, communities, and most importantly our students. At times it is thankless, but the rewards are too great to explain. We must teach with passion, purpose and promise. We are teaching the music teachers of tomorrow. Think about that. The lessons we teach change lives every single day. Be yourself, be present, and be the best music teacher you can be.
Author: Alexander J. Hoefling, K-6 Vocal Music & 7-12 Director of Choral Activities, Oakland-Craig Public Schools
District 2 West Representative
January 30, 2018