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Virginia Journal of Education

Ten Minutes with Dr. Toney L McNair, Jr.

Position:  Department chair and choral music teacher, Indian River Middle School
Local Assn.: Chesapeake Education Association (vice president)
Years worked in education:  15

What is a typical school day like for you? 
My day begins in the cafeteria,  welcoming students to breakfast. I then prepare to teach choral music to the 123 students enrolled in my classes, starting at 9 with 8th-graders, then 7th- and 6th-graders, wrapping up at 3:25 p.m. You can imagine it takes a lot energy and creativity to get morning voices awake for singing. I use a number of strategies and techniques, some not known to me until my students walk through my doors. Even with the best lesson plans, I’ve found middle-school students respond better to creativity, spontaneity and humor than to teaching strictly to the letter.

Teaching, handling my department chair duties, doing cafeteria and bus duty, and being a resource for the Association members in my building takes quite a bit of energy. Teaching music gives my students an opportunity to sharpen their skills and mold their talent for a professional performance, but it also gives me the privilege of sharing my love for music and the arts.

What do you like about your job? 
I really like the opportunity I get to develop young students into budding musicians. Many come with no formal musical training, unable even to recognize a whole, half or quarter note. It's a pure delight to watch and hear their transformation and to see the joy on their faces or on parents' faces when a performance has been stellar. Also, I get my students when they first arrive in middle school and about 90 percent of them stay in chorus throughout their entire time here. I develop lasting relationships with both my students and their parents. I like the fact that both groups trust me musically and personally.
What is hard about your job? 
Let's change that to “challenging.” One of the most challenging things is not having the resources needed to give students a holistic music experience. I have to raise money every year for choir uniforms. By the time I’m able to begin, the school has already worn the community out with other fundraisers. Some of my students’ families are experiencing financial hardship, so I have to solicit donations from staff or pay for supplies myself. While I’m fortunate to have very supportive and compassionate school administrators who trust my judgment, they’re limited by school budgets.

Another challenge is guiding my students through life situations while trying to help them academically. Some of their "issuations" (issues and situations) are so unreal!

Also, I’m challenged by the amount of time required to do an exceptional job while my take-home pay is an insult to this profession. I’m not trying to sound ungrateful, but it’s simply unfair to require such from someone who has put in the time to be a professional. At what point will I receive professional pay? Only legislators can answer this question. Enough of that...I need my energy to teach! That's what I've been called to do! But, “Stop taking advantage of me!”

What are some of the most fun and unusual things that happened on the job?
A couple years ago, my students and I presented a musical tribute to Michael Jackson. We worked hard and the students were so proud and ready to blow their audience away with the props, costumes and music. Once we began, before a packed house, the audience started singing along, with some even dancing in the aisles. At one point, the audience were singing as loud as the 135 performing students! The next day, as we watched a video of the performance, students began expressing frustration over the audience’s participation. I reassured them that they had done an outstanding job, but also told them what had happened had nothing to do with them. The audience joined in because the choir was singing songs they’d grown up with and students should feel good about such an overwhelming performance. The choir received several ovations and in the days after, parents were still ‘singing’ their praises. It was quite unusual and at the same time, fun!

How has being an Association member been helpful to you? 
Being a VEA member keeps me current on trends and challenges in education. I know I have reliable advocates both in and outside of the classroom. The Association offers training programs such as Effective Classroom Management, iTeach, The Model Teacher, How Cultural Identity Shapes the Way We Teach and Learn, the Local Presidents Retreat, and the Reggie Smith Organizing School. As a Cadre Leadership Trainer, I also get the opportunity to share my experiences with new and veteran colleagues who also work hard to put kids first!

Being a member also helps me to keep focused on what’s essential: developing a positive quality of life for students and educators, and being a teacher who goes beyond. The Association inspires that through its support and advocacy of  a sound educational foundation for all.


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