Obstacles and Lifelines

SBO Staff • ChoralSeptember 2012Survey • October 2, 2012

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Surviving in vocal music education isn’t easy. Between funding, red tape, scheduling constraints, standardized testing, increasing demand for teacher accountability, changing technology, and a host of other non-musical concerns, school choral directors have an awful lot to worry about. And that doesn’t even touch upon the challenges within the classroom itself.

This recent reader survey aims to uncover those elements most critical for survival and success among school choral directors: most common challenges and obstacles, lifelines, support and funding, as well as the most helpful tools in choral classrooms. Pinpointing these pressing issues and, in particular, how vocal music educators across the country deal with them, might provide an assist for those choral directors looking for a leg up. Whether a chance to see how others let off steam or to pick up a tip, this glimpse into choral classrooms is sure to have something of interest for anyone in the field.

What is the primary obstacle standing in the way of achieving all of your goals as a vocal music educator?


 “After eight years of teaching, I stopped making excuses for why we weren’t going on tours and doing the challenges I wanted to give the singers and did it! You can find money if you can delegate and make the time. It is true though that you have to lay the ground work with setting up your plan.”

Natalie Miller
Oak Ridge High School
El Dorado Hills, Calif.

“Scheduling, and retaining kids with the many college classes now offered in high school makes it impossible for some kids to stay in choir. How can you expect them to choose between cheap college credits and concert choir?”

Susan Budd
Lawrenceburg High School
Lawrenceburg, Ind. 

“The one difficulty I face is that our school has an incredibly successful band program with a very charismatic director. Once I get kids in my program, they stay. The tough part is the initial recruiting. I must say, though, that the band director is very supportive of the choral program, and I always have some singers who are also in band.”

Lynn Pernezny
Wellington Landings Middle School
Wellington, Fla. 

“I feel that I spend a lot of my energy on fundraising and this takes away from what I am best at.”

Alberta Smith
Central High School
Springfield, Mo. 

If you could wave a magic wand and change one thing related to your music program, what would it be?

“Having choir during the school day. Right now, I have choir on Tuesdays and Thursdays. With only two hours of instruction per week after school, competing for time with kids is tough.”

Ken Kleager, III
Jane Addams Middle School
Bolingbrook, Ill.

“I would have an assistant director so that we could offer more choirs.”

Michelle Byrn
Caston School Corporation
Fulton, Ind. 

“My time and energy levels. The students, parents, and administration are amazing… I just wish I had more time and energy to make it an even better program.”

Joy Augustine
Des Moines Christian School
Urbandale, Iowa

“I would have create more connections between school and community music programs.”

Mary Lynn Doherty
Northern Illinois University
DeKalb, Ill. 

Which of these areas is most challenging for younger/inexperienced teachers?

“Although we have some very well prepared young teachers, it is sometimes a challenge for them to simplify concepts so that students understand the basics and can move forward. Classroom management can also be an issue.”

Dianne Johnson
Jefferson County Board of Education
Birmingham, Ala.

“Until you have proven yourself as a leader in the classroom and have earned the respect and cooperation of your students, I don’t believe any of the other listed areas will matter, will work, or are particularly needed. Unfortunately, gaining leadership, respect, and cooperation have little to do with the subject matter we spent our college years preparing to teach.”

Leah Baskin
Rock Valley Children’s Choir
Rockford, Ill.

What is the biggest source of funding for your music program?

What/who is your most effective lifeline for support?


“We all have to be careful not to let our ‘friend tanks’ get too close to empty. This profession is very time consuming and it is easy to get out of balance.”

Chris Fowler
Buford High School
Buford, Ga.

“My lifelines have changed through the years. As a young teacher, I don’t know how I would have made it without ACDA and NAfME and my connection with music colleagues within these two organizations. Now, I find myself in more of a mentor position giving back to ACDA and NAfME and relying more on my colleagues within my school building for support and opportunities to vent.”

Peggy Leonardi Bucheit
Hamilton Middle & High Schools
Hamilton, Mt.

“Our district has a wonderful music coordinator who is available for support. I also talk with the band and orchestra teachers here at school.”

Jackie Foster
Sneed Middle School
Florence, S.C.

What is your most helpful teaching tool?


“Although I am an accomplished pianist, my accompanist is my absolute right-hand person! I require an accompanist at my school who is competent and can almost read my mind. That person must be knowledgeable and enjoys being in the classroom with the students.”

Connie Coleman
Bixby High School
Bixby, Okla.

“I can do a lot with humor! We just got Smart Boards this week, and I know that will be helpful. I’m also hoping to get Finale (which I had years ago). I learn a great deal at festivals and competitions.”

Judy Abrams
Leonard J. Tyl Middle School
Oakdale, Conn.

“I find so many wonderful teaching tools on the Internet. I am able to research each choral piece to make sure that my students are informed about the nuts and bolts of each of their pieces.”

Megan Wicks-Rudolph
Vestavia Hills High School
Vestavia Hills, Ala.

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