A performance, or even a rehearsal, of the Brooklet Elementary School Chorus under the direction of 2020 Bulloch County Teacher of the Year Tasheina Canty White is creative, expressive – and disciplined.
“I mean it, self-control and discipline,” she said, escorting fourth- and fifth-graders who voluntarily are part of the chorus down the hall and to the gym stage. Whenever they put on those bright yellow BES Chorus T-shirts, she reminded them, they are representing their school.
“Are you showing self-control and discipline?” she asked.
Fun with sharks
On stage, she directed students to their expected places in four tiers, floor and riser. Soon they were performing White’s own choral arrangement of “Baby Shark.”
The words, “Baby shark! Doo doo doo doo doo doo…. Baby shark!” and so on, are known to children far and wide, through translations and variations of a German camp song that became an international YouTube sensation. Children elsewhere also learn hand gestures for Mommy shark, Daddy shark, Grandma shark, Grandpa shark – who chomps with a big mouth – and their shark family activities.
But the way Brooklet’s children sing overlapping parts, speeding up toward the end but not confusing one another, while swaying and clapping and gesturing and doing almost all of it at the right time, is the result of their hours of practice with Mrs. White.
Think about achieving order, cooperation and sometimes literal harmony not only with 20-something children at a time, as she does in classes throughout the day, but with a chorus of 63 assembled 9-, 10-, and 11-year-olds.
The next song they did that day was “Let it All Go!” not just arranged but written – music and lyrics – by Tasheina Canty White. Bad habits, apathy and bullying are some of things the children of the chorus respond “Let it All Go!” to when one student calls these out. “It weighs you down, you’ve got to let it go,” they sing.
In one of her essay answers for the Bulloch County Teacher of the Year application, White confessed to doing some letting go. She explained that she spent years trying to sing and play perfectly on pitch, write perfect lesson plans and so forth, but came to a recent realization.
“In 2017, I had an awakening,” White wrote. “I decided to take a risk and put passion over perfection. I introduced my passion of singing, performing and songwriting to the students. Suddenly, I had an influx of songwriters, aspiring vocalists and performers, and our music program has grown significantly.”
Brooklet Elementary did not have a chorus White’s first year. After asking if she could start one, White has grown it to the current level of student participation and community support within four years.
This year, she has organized a school step team, for which she writes original chants and choreographs the dance moves.
Fall and spring, White also presents school musicals with students from two grades at a time, such as the second and third grades. The most recent musical involved 125 children. She didn’t write that one, but White wrote original lyrics and arranged music for both of last year’s musicals. For one, she rewrote some of the songs from “Motown: The Musical” to create “The Best of Moral Town.” Students dressed up as performers such as the Supremes and the Temptations and sang lyrics like, “My Goal, My Goal, Trying to Reach My Goal!” a transformation of “My Girl.”
White was born in Statesboro and graduated from Statesboro High School. After attaining her bachelor’s degree in music therapy from the University of Georgia in 2005, she realized that a career as a music therapist would require moving out of state, and instead became a special education teacher, working in schools in Conyers and Covington. She took time off from teaching while her two children were toddlers and resumed her studies to become a music teacher, receiving her Master of Arts in Teaching from Piedmont College in 2012.
Family of educators
She is now in her 10th year teaching, including both her special education and music teaching experience. She and her husband, Dr. Torian White, who is originally from Effingham County, sought to return to the area, and in 2014 he was hired as principal of Southeast Bulloch Middle School and she as the all-grades music teacher at Brooklet Elementary. Her mother, Cynthia Canty, is also a member of the BES faculty. In fact she has taught there more than 20 years and now teaches second grade.
When the Whites moved back they brought with them their sons, Tyler, now 11 and in fifth grade, and Trenton, now 9 and in fourth grade. This year both are members of the chorus under their mother’s direction.
Tasheina White is also very involved in music at her church and performs as a guest psalmist at churches around the Southeast.
A lot of life changes, including an illness, prompted her letting go of perfectionism, she said the day the chorus performed for two visiting journalists.
“You just come to a point where either you realize I’m going to go with the flow, roll with the punches and almost, as some people say, ‘make lemonade out of lemons,’ or you’re just going to fail,” she said. “And so I decided to go ahead and just make lemonade out of my lemons and allow myself to really be me.”
Hear them sing
White sees music instruction as an entry point for children to learn “connections with history and culture through integrity, compassion, and respect,” as she wrote in another essay response.
The selections she has the chorus practicing for seasonal performances include one Christmas song each in German, Latin and Spanish, as well as several in English. Some are contemporary adaptations. The most traditional is the Spanish “O Arbol de Navidad,” in other words “O Christmas Tree.”
People who attend the Brooklet Christmas Tree Lighting on Wednesday at 6 p.m. in downtown Brooklet will see and hear the BES Chorus.
Then the chorus will perform its annual concert, which also is open to the community, at the school on Dec. 18 at 6:30 p.m.
Walking back to the classroom, White answered another question. She said she models her approach to teaching on “Gardner’s multiple intelligences,” a theory of how different learners are reached by different “entry points.”
“You’re going to see tactile. Of course there’s auditory – all of it’s auditory. You’re going to see some mathematical things that I do. I do visual,” White said. “If there’s a child that’s more tactile I’ll make sure that they can touch it with rhythms, they tap out the rhythms, you see the rhythms, you say the rhythms.”
As they sat facing one another around the music-themed rug, she told the kindergartners a traditional story of Thanksgiving. They responded in time with rattles, drums, and little cymbals. Then they took turns naming things they were thankful for. Many were thankful for parents, siblings and pets.
“Music,” one child said.
White will represent Bulloch County in Georgia Teacher of the Year in May 2019. The statewide winner will compete for National Teacher of the Year honors in January 2020.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.