I am a cautionary tale. I transitioned from a semi-professional singer to a private voice teacher and full-time professional singer nine years ago. When I started teaching, I wanted to learn everything there was about how to teach voice and so, I attended seminars and read everything I could. Teaching my new students became an education in itself as I learned how to handle the various challenges they presented me. As time passed, my studio filled up and I became too busy with work to worry about furthering my own education. This past year, I realized I was in a teaching rut. My studio is still full and I consider myself a successful teacher, but I was bored. I had not added any new tools to my “teacher toolkit” in a long time and my students no longer taught me like they once did. I lost the spark that I had when I struck out on my own nine years ago and I wanted to find it again.
I came to teaching voice almost accidentally. My mother, an accomplished singer, started me on music at an early age – singing with her and taking piano lessons from a highly respected teacher in town. In high school, my chorus teacher mentored me and helped me compete in (and win) various vocal competitions. Despite my mother's early encouragement, my parents decided that they would not pay for a music degree so I attended a technical school where I received my Bachelor's Degree. During my time in college, I still sang and found myself being mentored by another choral director who ultimately connected me with my vocal coach. Almost 10 years later, my coach declared that she had no more to teach me. If I wanted to learn more, I would either need to go elsewhere or start teaching. My daughter was an infant so going to graduate school for music was not an option. I wanted to leave my high-tech job because of the long work hours, so I took this as an opportunity to start my own voice studio. Only when I began teaching did I realize how much my coach had done to teach me how to teach voice. To this day, many of the routines I do during the course of a lesson are rooted in what she taught me.
Teaching music extends beyond notes and rhythms. In may ways, it is “authentic intellectual work” that Newmann discussed in his Authentic Pedagogy article because when taught properly, a music student is not only learning the fundamental “how-to” for making music, but also bigger picture concepts that tie into history, music appreciation, and human physiology and emotion. Even if a student does not pursue music as a career, he or she is left with an understanding of music that allows deeper enjoyment of the art.
Being able to tap into the many different facets of music education requires continual teacher development. No one source – not even an advanced university degree in music – can completely prepare the teacher for a lifetime of teaching. Music styles evolve, research into how the human brain processes music broadens the field, and the needs of music students continually shift based on their own personal goals – just three items on a list of many moving parts in the field! Continual teacher development is required to keep up.
As in many other fields, music offers many opportunities to continue learning formally and informally. Organizations such as the National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS) serves as a professional learning community by offering regional and national conferences, online resources and classes, and localized networking opportunities. They also offer a fantastic journal full of white papers, articles, and reviews of teaching materials. I joined NATS as soon as I was eligible to join, but until recently, I have not fully utilized their resources.
This past summer, I evaluated my current situation as a teacher and determined that I needed a change in order to continue in the profession. I love many aspects of my work, but I need to grow and learn so I can better teach my students and stay engaged. I am already utilizing the NATS resources more fully, and I am in the process of laying the groundwork necessary to toward my PhD in Vocal Pedagogy. A Vocal Pedagogy degree will give me many more tools in my teacher's toolkit, and will also allow me to expand from just teaching voice students to training voice teachers and/or work in the therapeutic realm of vocal health. These prospects excite me and I look forward to discovering where this path may lead.
In the short term, using Evans' terminology in her teacher development article, I am focusing mainly on my “functional development” by working on an online vocal pedagogy certificate and an online music theory and composition certificate from two different respected music schools. This will fill in some gaps in my learning and will give me the credibility I need when I apply for my graduate degree. In the meantime, I am doing what I can for my “attitudinal development” through classes such as the Foundations for Learning series. My short term goal is to find resources that I can use immediately while building toward the long term goal of an advanced degree.
I learned a valuable lesson this summer: I need to check in with myself more regularly and evaluate where I am – a practice that is regularly discussed in this very course! My cautionary tale is ending as I am learning to feed the teacher inside of me so that she may grow and flourish.
Evans, L., “What is Teacher Development?”, Oxford Review of Education, Vol. 28, No. 1, 2002
Newmann, F., “Authentic Intellectual Work: What and Why?”, Authentic Pedagogy, Vol. 8, No. 1, Fall 2000
Stoll, L., Bolam, R., McMahon, A., et al, “What is a professional learning community? A Summary”