A Lesson From My High School Choir Teacher About What’s Important In School.
In 1964, the Yuma High School Choralairs debuted, beginning a tradition that lasted for the next 46 years. For three years in high school, I was a member of the Choralairs (that’s right, I was in show choir, before show choirs were cool). I had the pleasure, along with over 30 years worth students, to be taught by Mr. Taylor McBride, one of the most dedicated and inspiring teachers I have ever known. Mr. McBride was passionate about music and he let that passion boil over until it seeped into the veins of each of his students (Mr. Holland has nothing on McBride). I learned so much about music, performing, and leadership from Mr. McBride, but looking back, I recognize that one of the greatest things he ever taught me was the powerful role that love and community should play in every classroom.
Choralairs was a show choir consisting of about 85 singers, 10 musicians, and five sound crew members each year. Choralairs was filled with students from every ethnic background and school clique, making it a unique place were diversity came together in the name of music. Membership was via tryouts and dozens of students auditioned each year to become part of the Yuma High tradition.
My senior year, I had the honor of being Choralair President and with the title came the opportunity to work with Mr. McBride and offer insight and suggestions throughout the year. During the audition process my senior year, I remember looking over the list of potential new Choralairs and scratching my head over a few that I didn’t feel quite had the talent or dedication to become a part of our group. When I brought my concern to Mr. McBride’s attention, he simply said, “Some students need Choralairs.”
At the time, I didn’t fully grasp the significance or implication of that statement (18 year olds often miss the wisdom before them). However, those words have always stayed with me. When I became a teacher, the true meaning of those words began to materialize and to this day, affect how I view the students in my school and every student I have ever taught. It wasn’t necessarily Choralairs that students needed, it’s what Choralairs offered us that everyone of us benefitted from. Mr. McBride understood that the community itself was more valuable than it’s performance.
Choralairs offered high school students a place to be creative, to feel safe, to express their talents and passions. It offered us the opportunity to interact and be friends with students we may never have taken the time to ever get to know in high school outside of that choir room. It offered us a community, a family, and place to feel safe and be loved. We may not all have been the best singers, musicians, or techies out there, but we were a family, and together we did great things. Each of us had our strengths, not all musical, but we each had something to offer to the group. We came together with our mess, our baggage, and the struggles of being teenagers and we made people smile. We made each other smile. Choralairs not only made us better students, but better people. It wasn’t necessarily what we brought to the group, it’s what the group could bring to us.
As I look at the students in my school, the ones that have it all together and the ones that struggle just to make it through life each day, I see that we all need each other. Those students need me, they need each other, and quite honestly, I need them. They need a place to belong, a place to feel safe, a place to know without a doubt that they are loved. I need to know I make a difference and matter to each of those kids every day. They need an environment where they can make mistakes, learn from those mistakes, and be loved unconditionally in the process. They need a place to blossom and find their purpose.
School is about so much more than reading, writing, and math. Yes, that stuff matters, but it definitely isn’t all that matters. School is a place where we begin to become who we will be for the rest of our lives. It’s a place where our students should feel needed, because indeed they are. Everyone single one of them. We have the power to foster that community within our building and play a part in the extraordinary lives of our students.
Mr. McBride understood that community mattered most. He realized that when students find a place where they know they belong, the talent within them has no choice but to come out and be shared with those around. I see that more than ever as I work with the students at my own school. They may be overlooked, written off, or judged by the world around them, but not by me. Each student needs to know they matter to every adult in their school. It frees them up to be who they are and share with their school community, and eventually the world, the wonderful person that they are. Our students need us, and we need them.