For many of us, the thought of going back to middle school would be an absolute nightmare. However, for Pelham Memorial School Band Director, Elisa Saunders, it’s a dream come true.
On Tuesday Oct. 24, Saunders came to Keene State College to give a talk on how to be an effective music teacher at a middle school level. Saunders presentation, “How to Get Your Kids to Play With Musical Maturity: Even If They Are Faking It!” focused on the idea that middle school students can and want to play at an advanced level, but there are some steps that need to be taken to get there.
After teaching middle school for 14 years, Saunders has developed some tips and tricks to dealing the with pre-teen mind. As Saunders pointed out, children ranging from sixth to eighth grade have a lot of emotions that they don’t really know how to express yet. They often will not understand what they are feeling, or why they are feeling it. However, through music, Saunders gives her middle school students an outlet to express those feelings, and how to cope with of them when they arise .
“I give them the chance to play how they feel before they know [how they feel],” Saunders said.
With all of those emotions comes the constant feeling of judgement by their peers. It’s difficult to find a middle school student who is completely comfortable with themselves, and doesn’t really mind not fitting it.
Saunders brought up the fact that often times kids would rather receive negative attention for misbehaving, rather than being thought of as stupid by their peers. For this reason, it is not uncommon to see students act out to avoid looking dumb in front of their classmates. Saunders suggested that the best way to combat this situation is to create a safe and friendly environment, as well as follow these three procedures; be authentic, maintain that authenticity and be mutually respectful. By following through with those directions, Saunders claimed that the students will know what to expect and will make for a well-functioning classroom.
Throughout Saunders’ presentation, senior Music Education major Matthew McGinnis, who is a was impressed by the advanced level concepts that the Pelham Memorial School middle school students were able to grasp.
“It was really eye-opening to see how much middle schoolers can do. I’m always amazed but how much they can do with the proper teacher,” McGinnis said.
While knowing how to handle the emotional side of middle school students is important, it’s also crucial to understand that they learn in a different way. They are too old to be spoken to like they’re little children, but they also aren’t quite at the maturity level to be spoken to like a full-on high school student. It’s vital to find a balance between too young and too old. Saunders stressed the importance of using descriptive words when trying to explain what you want.
“Don’t use the word loud because they will do it,” Saunders said. She instead suggested teachers use words like intense, booming, roaring or powerful. While the directions you are giving may sound clear to you, for someone younger they may be taken more literal than desired.
Professor Jim Chesebrough, who has known Saunders for many years, valued the first-hand accounts of working in this field that Saunders was able to present to the class of aspiring music teachers.
“There was real life experience from a successful teacher who is everyday living and teaching. She not only just talks the talk, but she walks the walk. She’s very successful and she tells it like it is. She doesn’t have to fancy it up at all. Middle school is a very challenging age and she loves working with it. It’s very exciting when you find someone like that.”
Despite only being in middle school, Saunders’ students are able to work on a develop advanced music skills such as intonation. Intonation is determined by how in tune a note is. Saunders stated that she helps develop her students skills through Apps including Intune, Bandmate Tuner and TonalEnergy Tuner, students have the ability to fix any issues on their own and with complete accuracy.
“Every time you play out of tune, a kitten loses its wings,” Saunders has said as a joke to her students.
Saunders presentation was able to prove to KSC students that you can teach middle school students to play with musical maturity. Saunders expressed that the students may have doubts, but that shouldn’t stop you from trying.
“They won’t believe it, so you have to,” Saunders said.
Erin McNemar can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org