Four Lessons I’ve Learned From Teaching Young Women

I’ve known I wanted to be a choir teacher since my junior year of high school. My high school chorus classroom always felt like a second home to me, and I wanted to combine my love of singing with my desire to teach others. When I finally got to Florida State University as a Choral Music Education major, I was so excited to learn all the ins and outs of teaching and make music with my future students. My experience with FSU’s College of Music over the past three and a half years has been life-changing, and right now I’m halfway through my full-time internship at a high school in Orange County. 

As an intern, I spend my days at school working one-on-one with our four chorus classes and two piano classes. I primarily assist my supervising teacher, but I also do lots of teaching on my own in front of the students. Two of our choirs are made up of all girls, and they’re such a joy to be around and interact with every day (don’t get me wrong, the men’s choir is great too!). My junior/senior choral conducting class at FSU also had a wonderful partnership with the young ladies of a local middle school’s choir program for two semesters last spring and fall. Working so closely with all these young women has made me realize so many things about teaching, feminism and life in general – take a tip or two from these awesome girls!

Red folder with sheet music David Beale

1. Be brave enough to make mistakes…it’s how we learn

As a teacher in training, one of my main priorities in the classroom is making sure that my students always understand what I’m asking them to do. We learn many theories and schools of thought in our education classes about the best ways to break down musical concepts so that every student in the room can find success in every activity. But sometimes (actually, a lot of the time) that’s not exactly possible. Even after you try your hardest to understand something, sometimes you still just don’t get it. That’s learning! But the problems start to arise when my girls are scared to be wrong. They get timid and stop singing because they don’t want to be the one that sings a wrong note. When I don’t hear those mistakes, I can’t help them fix them and a learning opportunity has been lost. That’s why I’m so proud of them when I dohear those mistakes! It’s hard for a lot of students to let go of their perfectionism and allow themselves to screw up once in a while, but when they’re brave enough to do it, it makes the whole group stronger. They’ve inspired me to forgive my own mistakes that I make every day in the pursuit of becoming a better teacher.

Girl standing in front of group of children Grace Hayes

2. Don’t take yourself too seriously

Like most young people, my students are total goofballs. Because my primary purpose for my internship is to become a better teacher, I tend to stress out a lot about whether I’m doing a decent job or not. I want to earn and keep my students’ respect so we can have a productive relationship in the classroom. However, that means sometimes I get too caught up in the little things and I get discouraged by little mistakes I make while teaching. However, my students’ joyful, bubbly and funny nature always reminds me to take a step back and give myself a break. My mistakes are never as big a deal as they seem in my head as they are in-real-life (IRL). Sometimes you just have to laugh at yourself!

Smiling woman surrounded by young girls Grace Hayes

3. Our future is in good hands

Teenagers often get stereotyped as lazy, entitled and always glued to their phones and computers. However, after working with a ton of teenagers over the past year or so, I can tell you firsthand that those stereotypes severely underestimate this age group. My students in my two women’s choirs are some of the most motivated, passionate young people I’ve ever met. They work hard both in school and in extracurricular activities, with many of my students juggling three or four activities on top of choir. A majority of them are also heavily involved with volunteering for non-profits like Dance Marathon and Relay For Life. They have strong opinions about important issues that matter to them, like social justice and politics. I believe that anyone who thinks today’s teens don’t care about anything just hasn’t gotten to know them.

Red backpack Jeremy Bishop

4. Sisterhood is essential

My women’s choir members are unconditionally supportive of each other’s emotional needs. When a student comes into class upset about something, she immediately has a group of classmates around her offering comfort and making sure she’s okay. They push each other to be better every day, reminding each other to stay on task and engaged in-class activities. They understand the empowerment that can be found in singing with a group of girls and they take that privilege seriously. Sometimes even I need that reminder to lift up my fellow sisters instead of tearing them down, and I get it every day from my students!

My internship has been an amazing experience so far, but the best part about it has been something I never expected: my students have been teaching me far more than I could ever teach them. Working with these incredible young women has already inspired me beyond belief, and I’m so grateful for their presence, talents and perspectives. My new goal for my future classrooms of my own is to build a supportive, empowering environment where every girl can feel like they matter and belong!

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