The following events are based on a true story.
Picture the scene.
A veteran music teacher towers above a group of Year 7 girls who have come along to a singing club. The group begin working on a new song…
“Sing it louder!!” the teacher taunts.
“Enjoy Yourselves!!” She screams.
The girls are looking at the floor sat in perfectly aligned chairs. They are unsure as to why they are being shouted at. They sing as young girls do, quietly for fear of standing out.
“Let’s take it again from the top! Sing it loudly!!”
The song is a popular classic normally sung at parties and the girls like the song. This should be easy.
They breathe in, the count begins and…
The teacher starts singing. Loudly.
This wise and well-meaning owl has decided to show off her years of vocal training by going ‘full opera’. The girls attempt to join in but cannot hear themselves sing and the owl can’t hear the girls because she’s too busy screeching over the top of them, like an exploding bottle of ketchup over a Caesar salad.
“Come on! Louder! Smile!”
As the rehearsal continues the teacher is completely unaware that it is her ‘force you to have fun’ attitude that is sapping all the enjoyment out of it for these obedient and terrified young ladies.
She bullies through.
“Drop your jaw! Use your diaphragm!”
This is not a rehearsal. It is a bossing-you-around session and it’s painful to watch. Rarely have I seen a teacher this hell bent before. She is in a world of her own and is not self-analysing during this learning activity at all. She is deaf and blind to what is right under her straining nostrils. I daydream of taking the teacher to one side to “have a word” but it is above my station. I feel for the girls but there is nothing I can do. They are terrified and do exactly as they are told. They have volunteered to be part of an extra-curricular group, giving up their time only to be FORCED to have fun, to be shouted at for wanting to take part.
It was utterly depressing to behold.
“I can’t hear you! Give it some welly!”
It made me wonder… How do you knock an owl off her perch when technically she is your boss? How can her students have the fun that they deserve? Is this owl beyond rescue? Painfully, it escalates further.
“You there! What are you muttering!? How dare you talk while I am talking!? I am a grandmother you know!? I have a family and a life! I’ll end up having a nervous breakdown because of you!”
I watch the girls sit up in their chairs wondering why a cannon has been brought to a game of conkers. They shuffle uncomfortably not knowing what to say, trying to maintain their love for singing with their friends despite this aggressive outburst.
“Right! Let’s go again! From the top. Sing up!”
It’s sad. The rehearsal is repeated every Tuesday dinnertime in the weeks leading to the annual music show, and each week the instructions become ever so slightly more frantic than the week before, and the girls endure the same verbal battering. All I could do from afar was to hope that the owl might begin to open her eyes and ears one day, but the girls kept coming back every week without fail, because they did not want to let the owl down.
It is the night of the show and the girls shuffle nervously on to the stage. Loud whispers of “look at me!” resonate from the owl who is center-stage with her back to the audience, but her eyes are on stalks while she prepares the girls to begin.
They sing perfectly.
Despite being terrified of letting the owl down and making a mistake the girls show what they are made of and go for it. They give their all to the delight of the audience. The much deserved applause continues loudly as the girls leave the stage in a well-rehearsed line.
With a ‘thank God they didn’t show me up’ smile the owl flies off the stage and can be heard in the wings shouting “oh well done girls! You were brilliant!!”.
The girls emerge at the side of the hall and smile nervously, looking for their parents in the crowd.
They can’t wait to get home.
The owl had good intentions and her heart was in the right place, but she was blinded by the importance of putting on a perfect show. Her extreme methods were at the cost of the enjoyment of the whole experience for the girls. The owl was too much of a veteran to be told that there was a better way.
In a perfect world there should just have been a group of girls who sang every Tuesday dinnertime, whilst sharing their sandwiches, laughing, and actually having a good time.
I didn’t write out the recollection of this story to pick on the teacher. I wrote it out because I regret that I wasn’t able to take her to one side and reveal to her how the situation really was. I wish I could have videoed the rehearsals and shown it back to her. She was a fantastic person and she wanted the best for her students, but she was just so vastly experienced that she was unable to admit that she made mistakes and was not the sort of person who would not take it personally if you told her otherwise. I’ve worked with many teachers who have made that mistake. It’s human nature, but in education we have to always question if we are doing things in the best way that suits the students, not in the best way that suits us as teachers, regardless of our age.