Alec Powell considers himself to be a perfectionist, but he realizes that that can be a problem when teaching middle school students at Mountain Ridge Junior High. But his students are hard workers who constantly push themselves to be better. “They rarely want an easy day, and always surprise me with their tenacity,” he says.
Powell recalls that after a recent concert, he was out sick. He left his students to work in sectionals on some new music. “When I came back, not only had they learned their new music, but they memorized it. They wanted to surprise me with how hard they worked.”
How does the director of choirs instill this work ethic in his students? “I tell my students that the most important part of my class is becoming better people. I don’t care if they are musicians after they leave my room, but I do want them to leave better,” he says.
Powell understands that the middle school years can be difficult, so he connects with his students through honesty. “I strive to be as authentic as possible and model that same behavior in my classroom,” he says. “I talk about the losses as often as I do the wins. I speak openly about therapy, and how it and music have greatly affected my mental health. I give my students the space to say what and how they are feeling, and I act as a listener, not a fixer.”
During the pandemic, Powell saw the immediate need for a feel-good moment since the winter concert was canceled. “Normally I arrange our final number for the top three ensembles, but there was no way for this to happen. Seeing how other amazing educators were working with their virtual choirs, I decided to give it a go. After arranging/orchestrating the piece, we spent the beginning of November rehearsing and recording outside.”
Enrollment in his choir classes have increased dramatically. “I wish I had the magic formula for this,” Powell admits. “I think it has to do with class culture. I remember latching on to teachers I connected with, so I share stores about my life and experiences to humanize myself in the eyes of my students.”