Thursday, December 13, 2007

Using My Teacher Voice

I have a teacher voice. A mommy voice too. Being a kindergarten teacher and mother means that my "voice" doesn't match the voice of a drill sergeant, doesn't match the voice of a ticked off assistant principal in a high school, and certainly doesn't match the voice of an assertive police officer in a touchy situation. I have to *explain* as I make a request, because the young ones I tend to deal with don't have as much background knowledge or frames of reference that will clue them in quickly to what I need modified or addressed. Emergency situations are an entirely different matter, as no one misses or ignores any tone I use with alarm, and no one needs an explanation before trying to determine if they feel any motivation to respond as quickly as possible when they hear me use it.

We attended my daughter's Christmas band concert this evening. It might have been an enjoyable event if only the audience's behavior wasn't such a long, drawn out train wreck. My blood pressure rose as my anticipation of my daughter's performance plummeted. Teens and their siblings ran through the audience in the gym, running up to orchestra and band members snapping pictures on cell phones as the performers were warming up and tuning their instruments. Parents loudly chatted, played with cell phone ringers (no, they weren't turning them off), and ignored their offsprings' shouts, inappropriate comments and choice of vocabulary. I withstood four hits to the back of my head from teens running up and down the bleachers, not a single apology uttered once. Full-fledged conversations were being had in regular speaking voices throughout the first two musical pieces performed, and those of us who turned around to look at the chatters got rolled eyes, laughter and pointing as a response. Finally, I put my hand on a student's foot (he had been kicking my side tapping his foot offbeat to the music) and whispered "Sweetheart, it's not your turn to talk or make noise, it's your turn to listen." I followed it with a smile, and received a quick blush and nod in return.

My teacher voice worked on one student out of nine. You see, once young Master Foot was seen correcting his behavior, his cronies had to get louder and more obnoxious, perhaps in some attempt to avenge his honor. And every parent around me *let it go.* I watched a handful of other parents try to move inconspicuously away from other obnoxious teens and children, to no avail. There was no escape, no quiet area where we could listen for our child's solo, listen to inspiring music, or enjoy the progress the band had made since the beginning of the year. I just about left the concert in tears, only because my other reaction would have been to have taken children by the collars to their parents and demanded an answer to "what the he** are you thinking?!?!?!?!?!"

I spent the first ten years of my life in this very Bordertown, living on the "poor" side of the mountain, maybe a mile from where we're posted now, so I know it wasn't always like this. I remember when the haves and the have nots equally spent time raising children to be welcome. Immigrant or local, English-only, Spanish-only, or bilingual speakers, all parents, grandparents, and neighbors encouraged (required!) children to say "please, thank you," and "apologies." "Excuse me," "no thank you," yes Ma'am, yes Sir," were also regularly heard and rewarded with "what good manners you have!" Young children were left with babysitters, children old enough to attend performances were expected to sit still, save questions for later, and make necessary comments quietly. They understood the audience wasn't there to see them, they were there to see the performers. Every school-aged child in the district attended two theater performances a year as a district requirement, and yes, we knew the expectations our teachers and families had of us. No longer, apparently.

As a side note, I'll offer that it's difficult to keep an audience on track and engaged when both the band and orchestra directors apparently have no clue when it comes to the choreography required when beginning, intermediate, and advanced musicians all perform on the same night, in this case, on the same gym floor. I'm fairly certain my old orchestra teacher, Mr. H., has passed on, and is probably rolling in his grave. If Mr. A. is still alive and kicking, he's certainly been admitted to the Looney Bin by now if he's witnessed performances like this, by both students and directors alike.

So, using my teacher voice, here are some suggestions (not that the local teens, teachers, parents, or musical directors care):

1) Please learn that there are times when it's your turn to talk, and times when it's your turn to listen. You don't always get to choose which times happen when. Consideration isn't a sign of weakness, it's a sign of respect, respect you'll receive in return.

2) Even if no one has formally taught you how to behave at concerts, plays, debates, worship services, or meetings, it's okay to read the cues provided by the seemingly more reflective, calm, and observant audience members, and follow their lead. No, Joey belching out the alphabet during a band performance of the Hallelujah Chorus is not the best choice of role model. Sorry.

3) There is a difference between a musical or theatrical performance and a pep rally. Therefore there is a difference between the behaviors demonstrated at those events. Figure out the difference, and behave accordingly.

4) Just because your sister told you that Mary Jane was going to dye her hair blue before a concert doesn't mean that once you get to said concert you need to shout out at EVERY inopportune time "HEY MARY JANE, LOVE THE DOPE HAIR! WOOT WOOT!" Either quietly admire the hair, or laugh about it under your breath, but either way, talk to Mary Jane AFTER the concert please. She'll wait. Really.

5) School band concerts are actually not precursors to American Idol audience tapings, Jerry Springer reruns, or reality show soap operas. If you're in the audience, I'm sorry, but it's not about *you*. It's about the people who have practiced, learned, developed and are sitting on stage now sharing with others. You don't get the stage, therefore you don't get the attention. It's not your turn all of the time, no matter what You Tube, MySpace, and your lazy or absent parents have led you to believe.

6) Band and orchestra directors, when you're rotating different groups of performers in and out of the performance or "stage" areas, *stop rearranging the furniture* and taking twelve minutes (yes, TWELVE) to rotate thirteen students out and twenty-three students in. It's very easy. Set up ALL of the chairs and music stands you're going to need. Then either choose to seat ALL band members, regardless of skill level together on stage, with students only performing when it's their turn (yes, those not performing are capable of sitting quietly with their instruments across their laps), OR center the beginning group in the middle of the seats, leaving the extras empty, and then have them all walk off, row by row, to the left after their performance while the next group of students is walking on-stage, row by row, from the right. If the next group is bigger, they'll take up more seats, but can still seat themselves center stage. Takes a *little* practice, but the end result is faster, safer, more efficient, and more professional than the thudding, crashing, and bashing of chairs, stands, and instruments (!), and the barking of directions to students too nervous to be listening and understanding clearly.

TWELVE MINUTES? No *wonder* you couldn't get the audience back for the closing pieces! DOPE HAIR, MARY JANE!!!!!

Oh wait, that wasn't my teacher voice, was it?

1 comment:

  1. Oh, I am so sorry! That must've been terribly stressful for you.

    And I understand what you mean. We've evolved (or devolved) from a society that expects "children should be seen and not heard," to one that rests at the opposite end of the spectrum where children (and their parents) often do whatever they please whenever they please without any consideration for those around them. Sigh!

    I loved my sons' preschool teacher and her voice of authority and kindness. It's too bad that there aren't more of you in charge. I imagine that we'd live in a more civil society.


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