One of my favorite singers of all time is Ella Fitzgerald.  I love listening to her sing.  I love everything that she sings.  I love hearing recordings of her when she was young.  I love hearing recordings of her when she was old because every time she sang she shared her emotions with everyone who heard her. She was even quoted as saying,

 “I sing like I feel.”  – Ella Fitzgerald. (video of Ella at the end of the post! )

As someone who enjoys singing very much, I love this quote and can hear it expressed in every note of her performances. In fact as a performer I hope that my singing does communicate my emotions clearly. But then I laugh because I’m only a “singer” for a very small percentage of my real life.

My reality is the classroom and as someone who teaches children to sing every day I would like to give a new quote, but instead of from Ella, it will be from me.  Here it is!

 “I sing like I should feel until I do!”  –
Bonnie McSpadden

In truth I feel like one of the most important skills a young music teacher should work to cultivate is the art of convincing  children that you really do want to sing that same song 7 more times for the 6th straight day in a row!

You see, the more that fatigue sets in, the more I have a situation with a student or parent going on via email waiting for me at my desk, the more that l feel pressured to meet deadlines, or if circumstances in my personal life are weighing on me then suddenly I really don’t want to sing at all and if I allowed my sour, worried, tired or angry emotions to bleed through into my presentation of my song, then I would be doing my students a terrible disservice.

Imagine you are a second grader who LOVES going to music but you only get to attend that class once every other week.  Now imagine that you are that student and when you are greeted by a music teacher with a look of resignation on her face and an air of defeat about her.  Now everyone, let’s sing!  What?  Yuck!  No one, not your eager students and especially not your reluctant students will follow Ms. “unhappy” pants into a meaningful lesson about anything…..blah! Truly the best way to kill the natural enthusiasm students will  bring with them to music is to act like an over-worked, tired out music teacher who hasn’t gone to the bathroom since 7:30 this morning!

As my daddy would say, “You’ve got the same pants to get glad in that you got mad in” sooooooo

My advice?  Fake it until you can make it!!!!!

Here are a few tips that I think will help!

1. SMILE! – When you smile, you will get smiles back from your students.  Only the hardest hearts can stay in a pouty self centered mood when faced with a room full of smiling 5 year olds.

2. MOVE! – If you find yourself in need of some space to think, re-arrange your lesson so that your movement activity is first (often mine is anyway) and really put yourself into it.  Everyone benefits from a shot of endorphins!

3. PLAY WITH your students!  This is more than teaching them a game and then releasing them to manage it.  Teach your students a singing game, embrace the moment and enter into the play with the children and watch as the singing of everyone becomes light and beautiful.  Also, those same songs you’ve been singing for days will be refreshed by the unique experience each class brings with them  You can never have the same turn twice!  For more about how to utilize genuine constructive play in your teaching, please reference the ETM website.

4. Mix it up! – Just because your objectives are the same, just because you choose the same repertoire, just because you would like your students to be moving along at the same pace, doesn’t mean you have to teach the exact same lesson every time, you don’t teach the same students every time, so why should the lessons be identical?  Challenge yourself to extend and refine your practice – if you are interested, your students will be interested.

5. Sing higher than you speak!  It will brighten your voice and make whatever you are singing sound more cheerful.

6. Drink some water! Get more sleep! Eat your veggies!  – No one is crabbier than dehydrated sleepy people who haven’t had enough fiber! Take care of yourself! It’s good for your brain, it’s good for your body, it’s good for your voice, it’s good for your students!

7. Have a bathroom buddy! (someone to watch your class if you need to step out)  – This is a bigger issue for some folks than for others, but if you gotta go, you gotta go, don’t be a bathroom martyr.  Bathroom martyrs end up with UT infections and bladder infections which can make you really sick and a little crazy….. so just go!

8. GENUENLY SMILE at colleagues!  Be friendly with your homeroom teachers! – No one wants to drop off their students OR pick them up from a frowning angry looking specials teacher. EVEN if the behavior in the class was appalling every single time you’ve seen them all year!  I’ll admit this is hard for me when I’ve had a rough class, sometimes I’d just rather be the drama-queen and put on a show.   Really, no one has time and you can solve those problems in conversation with the homeroom teacher with whom you wish to commiserate I mean collaborate later by appointment when you’ve both set aside time to come up with a creative solution. Some problems must be settled when you have access to caffeine!

9. Limit your outside communication so that you are PRESENT!  

Ya’ll,  I could preach a sermon about email and cell phones and the issues they create that place  us in a frame of mind that is not conducive with happy teaching, but really at the end of the day, it’s about focus.  Unless you are using technology in your lesson, all technology should all be put away. There is no need to refer to your cell phone for any reason during class unless you are in a state of emergency… A couple of years ago my dad was hospitalized and not expected to live.  He did eventually recover from his medical emergency, but I learned the hard way that it would have been quicker had my mom called the front office rather than relying on my cell phone to keep me updated during the day, not because I wasn’t checking but because I was busy.  If you need to stay in close contact with the outside world because of an emergency, let your office staff help you.  Putting away your own distractions will help you as you work to engaged your students by focusing your own attention on their needs.  Your students will be grateful because THEN they will have a teacher who is focused on them and in the right frame of mind to not only teach well but to sing well together with them!

10.  Have a plan B ready JUST IN CASE! One of the hardest days of teaching that I ever had was a day when we arrived at work Monday morning to discover that one of our first grade teachers and her entire family save one teenaged daughter had been killed in a drunk driving accident. For the protection of everyone, my school followed the protocols set in motion by our district which meant that until the first grade homeroom who was affected got the news then everyone had to go on as normal.  That day I had class after class after class and at first I thought that I would be able to just go on with the normal, playful, exuberant lessons that I had planned for the day.  However, I just couldn’t.  I could remain calm and if not cheerful, I could at least manage to not look bereaved until it was time for me to start the game and if I tried to open my mouth to sing, my voice would literally break on a sob. I would walk and start singing, “As I was walking….” and literally by the time I got to the word walking I couldn’t go on.  To continue would have drawn attention to something that we were not ready to divulge.  So I just had to scrap the lesson and do something non-singing.  I think we played rhythm bingo, or some other thing that I could pull out at the last minute that was almost as easy as a sub plan but that was specifically saved for a “just in case” day.