Master Teacher Interview With Carol Dahle
by Connie Root, WMEA Vice President, Northwest District
How has teaching changed here in Wisconsin since you began teaching?
Advanced technology has been an enormous aid in communicating to parents and students, assessing students, organizing files of repertoire, organizing class lists and seating charts, sharing music and information electronically with students, to mention a few.
In the recent years of my career, there has been more paperwork to do, more forms to fill out, surveys to administer, students to assess, more reading and writing which does not often pertain to what I need to do as a music educator. In general, I do not have as much time to prepare for my students as I jump through all of the other “necessary” hoops.
You have a gift for creating masterful materials and practical opportunities for student assessment. What training and/or past experience has helped you to do this so well?
Posture assessment for all grade levels in the choir rehearsal are done easily and rapidly as we’re doing our warm-ups. I walk up and down the aisles and rows, and I make notes on which students are displaying the elements of efficient singing posture.
In voice lessons, each student needs to verbally explain to me the important elements of efficient singing posture.
For vocabulary quizzes and Elements of Music quizzes, I use Skyward to create the quiz. When a student finishes a quiz in Skyward, it automatically corrects the quiz and sends the result to my grade book.
I have noticed a true commitment to success for all in your classroom. Talk about how you perceive the choral experience to be valuable for students.
I’m emphatic about the positive role that choirs play in a child’s education and development. Large majorities of educators, often 80 percent or more, agree that choir participation can help make students better participants in groups, help develop stronger social skills, lead to better emotional expression and management, improve overall academic performance, help instill self-discipline, punctuality and a sense of responsibility.
You are now in your 41st year of teaching, and you have had a positive impact on literally thousands of children. Looking back, who was the most influential teacher YOU ever had?
My most influential teachers were Bess Blatchley, my piano teacher grades 3-12; Ames Dahl, my high school choir director; Dr. Wm. Hunt, my college choir director at NSU in LA; and Richard Cage, my college voice teacher at NSU. Their lessons, their techniques, their individual styles and the generosity of their time which they gave to their students made all of them impactful influences in my musical life.
Do you have a favorite “grade/level” to teach? If yes, which grade/level, and why?
After graduating from college with a degree in vocal performance and a degree in vocal music education, I thought my career path would be leading me to be a high school choir director. When a position in Hudson came along at a junior high, I thought I’d be there for a few years and then move on to high school. Over the years I have had numerous opportunities to move to a high school position, but it didn’t take me long to learn that I really liked working with junior high / middle school age students. There’s something about them that is fresh and new and not so much drama. They’re willing to trust and try new musical ideas.
Your list of honors and accomplishments are many. Please list a few: Is it possible to tell the readers which of these you are the most proud?
In 1998 I was a recipient of the “Star Excellence Award,” presented to me by the Education Foundation of Hudson. This award is the highest honor the foundation can bestow upon an individual.
In 2004, I was the WCDA recipient of the “Outstanding Middle Level Choral Director Award.”
With great pleasure, I have served with the Wisconsin School Music Association. In recent years (2008-10) I was the soprano coach for the Middle Level State Honors Choir, and for three more years I was the state choir coordinator for the Middle Level State Honors Choir.
It has also been my pleasure to be associated for many years with the Wisconsin Choral Directors Association, serving as the elected Northwest district representative, as the state chair of the Repertoire and Standards Committee, as concert manger for our state choral conventions, and as the WCDA historian. Working with fellow musicians in those two outstanding organizations has truly been a joy!
Recently I was honored with receiving the “WCDA Curtis Stanley Distinguished Service Award.” Criteria is “… for an individual whose contributions to the organization are exemplary and/or go beyond the normal services provided for the operation of WCDA.” I believe I am most proud, and humbled, with the reception of that award.
You have taught in Hudson and had the entire junior high /middle school choral program for the vast majority of your career. Please tell us about the benefits of this experience?
The community of Hudson, the Hudson school board and the administration of the Hudson School District has consistently been supportive of the K-12 music program in Hudson. Over 20 years ago, they listened to us when we explained that the voice is an instrument, too, and we wanted to add weekly voice lessons to our young singers in grades 7-8. Eight years ago when other school districts were looking to make cuts within their districts, Hudson added an orchestra program, which today goes from grade 4-12, and we have four orchestra staff members. With such support and forward thinking, one of the greatest blessings of my life has been to be a music educator in the school district of Hudson, Wisconsin.
All of us that know you could expound on your many positive attributes, but what do YOU think are your best qualities as a teacher, as a leader in our state, as a person?
I believe my best qualities are my sense of fairness, my listening to and understanding of others’ points of view, my ability to communicate with others in a straight-forward manner, accepting and following through on responsibilities, and my ability to organize on many levels. These qualities have served me well a teacher and leader at the district and state levels.
Do you have anything that you would have changed along your musical journey?
I can honestly say, no, I wouldn’t have changed anything. Things have not always gone according to plan, but I was able to learn from them and move forward, making things better next time.
All of us in education would like to think that we have had a positive impact on our students and community. What sort of impact have you had?
I feel my impact has been significant as I have seen the numbers in my program only get larger over the last 40 years. I believe the vast majority of my students – past and present – know I care deeply about them and how music impacts their lives.
In closing, do you have any “words of wisdom” you’d like to share with teachers just beginning their careers?
To have a successful program, you must be willing to put in more hours than what your contract reads. Teaching music has so many rewards, but if you’re not ready and willing to put in the necessary time, you might want to consider another musical or educational direction in which to go. Most of the time you must love it like nothing else matters. Lift your voices … lift your lives!