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Interview with Chorus Teacher Veronica R.
Veronica R. is the chorus teacher at Still Middle School. She started teaching at Still during the 2005-2006 school year and has done many awesome things for the music program at Still Middle School. So what does it take to become such a successful chorus teacher? Well, that’s what I was trying to discover during our interview.
What made you want to become a chorus teacher?
Well, I love to sing, number one, I’ve always loved to sing, the thing was I was really, really shy when I was in middle school and high school, so I was always fearful to do the things I wanted to do, so when I got into college I started taking voice lessons, and I started getting into the whole music part of it. Then, I decided, I really like this music thing, I could’ve done performance, but one of my teachers asked me to cover his class one day; one of my college professors; he asked me to teach one of his classes because he had to go out of town. I did, and it was a music theory class, and I actually really, really liked it. And I was like, ‘Wow! I think I like this’, that’s actually what got me into teaching music itself, was the fact that someone asked me, or kind of put me on the spot, I never really thought about it, and someone put me on the spot and said ‘Hey, would you like to, can you please please, please cover me’ and I was his student and it was kind of weird at first, and I was like ‘I don’t know if you want me to do that, I’m not that great’ and he said ‘you’ll be fine, you’ll be fine. So I worked with his students and taught them a lesson and they were really happy because they said they understood it. They were all saying how they finally got it, and it made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. So I put the two together, I loved to sing, and I started to really like to teach, so let me just mush the two, and that’s what got me to want to teach chorus.
What training did you need to become a chorus teacher?
You need at least a Bachelor’s education, with an emphasis in voice. Basically, what you have to do is have a 4 year college degree, you can take it further if you like, get a master’s, a PhD, whatever you like, but you need at least a Bachelor’s degree in music education with a vocal emphasis. So you take a lot of music ed classes, education classes and you take a lot of voice classes.
What is a typical work day for you like?
Well, I’ll just include my honors chorus since that’s in the morning. So typical work day, in the morning I get here around 6:15-6:30. Get my mind all ready for honors chorus, run through everything I want to do. I have my honors chorus from 6:45-7:50 in the morning. Directly after that I have my first period class at 8am. So I have a total of 6 classes that I teach. I have two 6th grade classes, two 8th grade classes and two 7th grade classes. It goes like so, there are ten periods in the day. So basically, period one, sixth grade; period two, eighth grade; period three, eighth grade. During 4th period I have my team meetings, basically we learn about everything that’s going on in the school, things we have to look out for, you know, students who aren’t making great decisions. So usually we go through school agendas and what we have to have ready, and when we’re not going to have our students because of special school events. Then, I have my lunch 5th period. After that, I get to plan. Basically, plan time is when I get to write out my lessons for the week and make sure that I cover everything I need to cover. I make copies for music, and make sure I have everything together, or even working on the musical. During 7th period, I have duty. That’s basically either watching students in the cafeteria, or watching students in ISD. And then 8th and 9th period I teach my 7th graders. And my last 6th grade class is 10th period. And directly after that I have musical which runs from 3:15-5, and we prepare for the musical. As soon as that’s over we’re usually going through ideas, getting a schedule together for the following week for the musical, making phone calls, making sure everything’s taken care of for props and costumes, calling parents, creating sketches. Usually I don’t get out of here, until 6-6:30, on average, so it’s a pretty long day. But I try to keep my energy up throughout the day; I drink lots of water, lots of tea. Stuff like that. But that’s a typical work day. There’s a lot going on, there’s downtime in the middle, but I have roughly about 270 chorus students total, so that’s a lot of kids; about 40-50 in each class, on average. So that’s about it.
How much do you make per year?
Starting off, about 40 thousand. And you can make more, depending on how much education you add on, and how many years of experience. So that’s like a starting point, but then you can grow, so if I decided to get my master’s degree, or take extra classes that can go towards getting paid more, along with the years of experience that I have as well.
What parts of your job do you like, and what parts are you dissatisfied with and why?
Well, I love my job, I love working with middle school-ers, you guys crack me up. You all make me laugh. I love teaching, I love making someone feel like they’ve learned something or they’ve got it, and making a person feel like ‘oh you know what I can do this’. To me, that’s like the best feeling in the world, and if I could have every single one of my students feel that way, I’d be on like Cloud 9. But, even if I just have one student who enjoys themselves and really works hard and you see that, and you see their drive and commitment, it’s a really satisfying feeling. That’s like my main thing. What I don’t like about my job, its not that I don’t like it. There’s a lot of time and a lot of hours that are put into it, which are not just in the school day. I have to do a lot of paperwork, with making copies of music, I have to order different pieces of music, so you have to be able to work with a budget, and write out PO’s, and making sure things are programmed correctly. There’s a lot of administrative details that are included, where I’m not really teaching. So a lot of time is spent doing a lot of paperwork and just a lot of time spent overall. Getting up early in the morning, making sure I’m ready to rock, and then staying kind of late in the evening, especially this time of year. And if you can’t handle it, then it can wear you down a bit.
Is there one thing you wish you knew about being a chorus teacher when you were in college?
I wish that, I would have been more prepared with the skills of how to run a class, its tough, you don’t know what it’s like in college, until you teach. I wish I had known everything that’s entailed in teaching before I jumped into it, not that it would’ve stopped me; I still probably would’ve done it but just so that way it made me aware. Because my first year of teaching, you feel like you’re running to catch up with everything that’s going on, which is scary because you don’t know what’s the next thing that’s going to happen. And for myself, I always like to know what’s coming and I get a little anxious when I’m not sure what’s going on, and the fact that with my first year teaching, if I had been more aware with everything that happened, with all the little details, and all the little signatures I needed, it would’ve made my life easier.
Is there anyone who inspired you to become a chorus teacher? If so, who and what did they do? If not, then how did you motivate yourself to keep working hard in becoming a chorus teacher?
Okay, probably the person who continually motivated me to become a chorus teacher was my advisor in college. Her name is Dr. Ramona Wiss. She is my mentor, I look up to her, I think she is the person who I want to become. That would be her, you know what I mean? That’s the person I look up to, and I want to become and strive for because she does such a phenomenal job with her choir, it’s insane. It’s absolutely insane how much dedication she has to her choir, and what she can bring out of her choir, and the level of respect that she has between the choir and herself. And these are college students, and it’s a little bit tougher to continue to gain respect from other adults. So, she is the person I truly look up to. Part of the reason why is because I had just transferred from North Central College, I had gotten a bunch of my general education classes taken care of at another college. She was my advisor. My first term there, I took an education class, just a regular education class to learn about teaching and all of the standards. And I had a really difficult time, and I wanted to quit. So I went up to my advisor and said “I don’t want to come here anymore, I don’t think I can handle this, I can’t handle this, the workload is too much for me”. At the time, I was working a full-time job and going to school full time, so it was a little harder to make ends meet, and I really felt like just giving up. She was really good at just sitting me down and she said to me ‘there’s something about you that I know you can do some really great things, you may not believe it yet, but I see it in you’ and because of that we continued to talk and she was the one who actually kept me there. If it weren’t for her, I wouldn’t have continued to take classes there, and if it weren’t for the choir that I was in that was with her, I don’t know if I would’ve done it either. She was a phenomenal teacher, and choir director. The classes I took with her, she was probably one of the best teachers I’ve ever had. In high school I had a teacher who was great, she was actually a speech teacher, she was very motivating for me. But overall, my college professor was the one who kept me motivated to continue on with music education. I thought everything was against me, I didn’t think I was good enough, and she helped me see what I could do to make the best of my education and my teaching career.
Describe how it feels to know that students look up to you.
It’s hard thinking about students looking up to me, I just hope I set forth a good enough example to make sure that they become a good person. So, I’m hoping that I’m using the right tools, and taking the right steps to help them learn how to become a better person. It’s more than just about singing well, it’s about making music a part of your life and just being a better person overall. And it makes me proud to know that students look up to me, I never really think about this, but as you bring the question up, yeah it makes me feel good that some students look up to me, and I just hope that I am doing the best job that I can do to make sure that they’re looking up to me for the right reasons.