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Behavior issues

How do you deal with students (specifically 9th grade women) who talk back and argue about everything with a teacher?
Replies (16): Threaded | Chronological
on March 31, 2014 11:06pm
Hi Ben,
I recommend to sometimes speak their language, cater to some of their interests, enjoy some humor with them.  I did that with my 9th grade girls, and it seemed to work pretty good!  Of course, there are always rough times with that age, but if they really like you (and trust you) they're more willing to cooperate.  That's my experience anyhow.  I hope that might be of some help!
Best wishes,
Applauded by an audience of 2
on April 1, 2014 3:29am
The strategy is not to argue.  Without any emotion in your voice, keep repeating whatever your rule is:   One person speaks at a time, etc. with no further discussion. Another strategy is to say,  I am happy to discuss this at 3 pm  (or during lunch or five minutes before the bell rings, etc.  Our task now is to learn this passage, etc.   If you argue, you lose your authority and play into the verbal manipulation of some very skilled negotiators.   Best wishes,  Jura
Applauded by an audience of 5
on April 1, 2014 4:23am
I have the same problem.  After 20 years of teaching, it has never been worse. 
I have all the rules and procedures spelled out in my syllabus, so I end up warning 3 times, calling, parent and writing the detentions or referrals.  It takes a huge amount of rehearsal time away from the chorus, and adds extra to my end-of-the-day chores.  It is not  well received administratively, as they push to reduce referrals.  Sometimes the referral sits for weeks before being addressed.  It does, however, finally result in a couple of days of peaceful rehearsal as the offending students face the consequences. 
I keep several desk combos in the room as a first-step intervention.  Occasionally, all the student needed was a moment of time out; but, often the student yells out from the sidelines, encouraging discontent from her followers, requiring removal from the class.  Still, it shows on the referral that an attempt to keep and reincorporate the student onto rehearsal was made.  I feel the one thing that is most detrimental is the amount of time taken from active rehearsal to attempt multiple interventions, document everything accurately so the referral won't be kicked back by administration, and have the student removed.
I would love to read the responses of other seasoned choral directors who have developed effective methods.  I hope you will get many responses.
on April 1, 2014 6:04am
Fail them. Simple.
Applauded by an audience of 2
on April 1, 2014 6:47am
There are some great ideas above!  Find the video clips below.  They are about 2-3 minutes each.  These are a few of the videos I've made to help other teachers who struggle with classroom management in the choral classroom.
I hope to do more in the future because classroom management was difficult for me to learn!  
Best regards!
Dale Duncan
My blog:
My Sight Singing program:
Applauded by an audience of 1
on April 1, 2014 2:07pm
Yes, fail them, and continue giving referrals and send the students to the office immediately.  If a student won't follow instructions and stop talking or arguing, she is by definition out of control and your school should have a written policy for immediate removal of out of control students.  If your administrators won't help you with this, they are irresponsible and incompetent.  These people expect pay 50% or more above that of teachers, on the grounds that their positions involve more responsibility, YET, some shirk their responsibilities and blame us.  Outrageous!  If your administrators won't help, consider getting your union or other music colleagues involved, and taking it to the personnel office, superintendent, and school board.  
on April 1, 2014 7:10pm
P.S. I have taught in three schools in two districts in my 13 years, and not had any administrators question my sending disruptive students to the office (except for general information about the incident).  But then I've been fortunate to have excellent and dedicated principals who support me, the music program, and my colleagues.  I probably use this immediate removal five times a year.
on April 2, 2014 8:45am
Oh goodness, this happened so much last quarter, I was ready to pull my hair out! It sounds like you're past the point of using humor to make it stop, which is always my first game plan. From here, you really need to enforce a zero tolerance policy. They get ONE warning. By 9th grade, they know what is and isn't acceptable behavior and if they don't, warning them again and again is not going to help them learn. If they continue to argue with you, send them to the office, as others have said. If you send them to the office more than once, that is the point where a phone call home needs to be made. Most parents will get behind you.
Whatever you do, remember YOU are the authority in the classroom and the more you let students get away with, the less they will respect you. They'll learn quickly that they can play you and will do so every opportunity they get. Know and enforce your policies consistently. At this age, even the most rebellious students need consistency and structure, especially if it's apparent they're not receiving it at home. Additionally, document everything. If the details slip away from you, it will be very hard to argue your case should you ever need students removed from your class to pursue different academic opportunities, which I have encountered. 
Best of luck to you. Please keep us posted!
on April 2, 2014 10:23am
You've had some great advice here, so I will reiterate what a couple of people have said, but perhaps with a little twist.
1.  Keep it matter-of-fact and don't argue back.  Ever.
2.  Students get one warning.  Any more than one suggests you have a willingness to negotiate the boundaries.  You don't.  The warning may come in this way:  "You are stopping my teaching.  Do you need to sit out for a few minutes to rethink your choices?"  If the kid opts to do that, honor it as a good choice to keep the situation, but see number 3.
3.  Have a weekly summative rehearsal grade and for this class it will be solely based on collaborative rehearsal skills until further notice (later, it can be based on other things like a skills check, demonstrated mastery of vocal technique, etc.).  Anyone who gets timed out or kicked out automatically forfeits at least half of the points, and if the behavior is really aggregious, all of them.  No, they are not allowed to make the points up with extra credit.
4.  Speaking of time out, develop a buddy teacher relationship.  All students earn the right to time out in your room as long as they are "invisible" while they are in time  out, but if they violate that rule, the next time they are timed out (another session, of course, because two tine outs in one rehearsal don't happen--that's an automatic move to the office) they go to the buddy teacher.  If they can't behave there, that teacher writes the referral.
5.  Tine out isn't free time.  Have a Think Time  Reflection form handy.  They have to list your expectations, what they did to get in trouble, and their plan for improvement.  If they don't fill it out, they will be choosing to study music, not experience it, until they do.  Have a theory program handy (Fun Music Company has a great program that allows a lifetime of reproducing for one relatively low cost).  They can work on theory.
6.  Have the group create a covenant.  Have them break into groups of 4-5 each, and have them identify behaviors that make for a successful collaborative rehearsal.  Have all the ideas on the Baird and lead them to grouping them into 3-4 broad categories (my youngest pchoir's categories ended up being Be Respectful, Participate Fully, and Be Prepared).  Put it on poster board and have everyone sign it, including you.  Every time there's a misbehavior, you ask, "Are you being respectful (participating fully, prepared)?"  They created the covenant and signed it so they own it.  Go a step further and create a 4-point rubric based upon the covenant and have them assess themselves every day.  Have them turn in the cards on Fridays, and if they were honest in their assessment, they get a 4 for that activity.  If they were not honest, a 1 or 2 with a 3 reserved for forgetting to score something.  If they were gone, that day's scores are left blank.
7.  The second time someone is timed out, you make the phone call to the parents.  From that point on, you call every time there's a time out.  If you email, cc an administrator.
you have to create an environment in which you have to make them want to be better.  The flip side of all of these steps is that you have to engage positively with the kids and really notice when they are doing well.  When they like you personally and you pull them aside and say, "What's going on with you today? You're making choices that are getting you in trouble.  Is there something going on that you need help with?"  You will tend to get honest, thoughtful responses with kids that really do want to do well--and if the kids gives a snarky answer you know that she's done for the day and you send her to the buddy room with an assignment.  If a kid opts for time out, validate that it's a better choice than getting in trouble, but it still costs points (but better than losing all points and getting a referral).
Sorry for typos--in a hurry!
Good luck!
Applauded by an audience of 1
on April 2, 2014 11:19am
I just substitute-taught for an 8th Grade Chorus class that was the rudest, mouthiest bunch that I have seen in many years. They were: loud and mouthy; out of their seat and walking around the room; walking out to the hallway; mouthing off to me and other staff; slapping each other (thankfully not me!); and crumpling the paperwork that is supposed to be passed in and graded...
So --
I made detailed notes, including names where I knew them, and left it for the classroom teacher to review and address. That's all I can do. When I can, I can get the kids to make some wonderful music -- yes, even with a sub. When the off-taskers come in with bad attitudes, all I can do is keep them all safe and let them go at the bell.
on April 3, 2014 8:43am
Mr. Duncan - I am a retired choral music teacher (39 years). I had a successful career teaching at a 7 & 8 school for 11 years and then 28 years at the high school level. I am presently a long term sub for a colleague who is dealing with breast cancer and have found myself 'struggling' with the Women's Ensemble...attitudes - the advanced choirs are wonderful. I have listened to the five videos that you included here and I am excited to use these gain their respect and to be able to really make music with them. Thank you! I wish you were around early in my career. My kids and I both would have learned from you.
on April 6, 2014 4:25pm
Thank you very much for these nice comments.  I struggled like crazy in the early days and was so frustrated.  I just wanted someone to help!  ...I almost left teaching during those first three years.  Now, 25 years later, I am thrilled that there are technologies available that make it possible to share ideas with other teachers with an iPhone and a click.   I hope to do much more of it in coming months and years!
Best regards,
Dale Duncan
My Sight Singing lessons for middle school teachers-
My blog:
My YouTube Channel:
on April 4, 2014 7:29pm
I am SO GRATEFUL to see these videos. I am stressed, I am tired, I am not doing a good job, my prinicpal say I don't have good management skills adn I have lots of excuses why my classes are difficult. But the bottom line is me. If I can work on being positive and taking care of msled and SMILING in class? I am goign to have more success and so will my kids. I am delighted that these were shares and it is a reminder that punitive measures don't really work. They may get kids quiet for a moment but they won't help that child learn to respect teachers.  am goign to work really really hard for the next 2 months on becoming a more positive teacher. i don't think Starbursts will work But i will find something! Determined!
Applauded by an audience of 2
on April 6, 2014 11:27am
Best wishes to you Catherine, but remember that the bottom line is NOT you alone.  You are part of a team--supposedly--and other team members have responisbilities too.  Has your principal made suggestions that are specific to the subject of music?  Does he or she know anything about music?    If not, has your principal, arts supervisor or another administrator done his or her job by providing you with a mentor who is a music educator?  Has your principal or assistant principal done his or her job by removing disruptive students from your class--permanently if necessary?  Why are so many administrators, officials, and school board members so obsessed with tolerating and enabling bad behavior?  Students and parents have many other options these days: charter schools, private schools, other public schools in district or in neighboring districts, home school, online school...did I miss any?  Disruptive behavior by students is unacceptable and should be grounds for expulsion no matter how inadequate your teaching skills are at present.    Sounds to me like your principal "has lots of excuses".
on April 6, 2014 4:35pm
So glad that the videos helped a bit.  You've inspired me to continue to work on new videos and share more ideas with teachers who need a little shot in the arm.  It is helpful for ME too!  ...especially at this time of year with the spring fever.... Wow.  We all get a little low on fuel at this time!  
Middle School children have very special requirements.  They really do want to please us.  Working WITH them rather than against them makes all the difference.
When we strike the right chord with them, they will work so very hard for us.  The results are enormously rewarding for them and for us. 
We must remember the old adage..."You get more bees with honey...."....and we all know the rest.   
Dale Duncan
My Sight Singing lessons for middle school teachers:
My blog:
My YouTube Channel:
on April 6, 2014 8:15pm
"9th grade women" is an oxymoron. Freshmen girls can be really awful to others and to themselves.  Prevention is key. Connect with them personally in some way. Compliment a shirt or haircut. Once they see you as human AND as caring about them, they will do less of this kind of thing. They like you way more than they would ever let you know.  And realize you don't have to answer every comment or question. Once you get them engaged in the lesson, do not allow extraneous interruption.
Also, if you can get them on task immediately upon entering class, that's great. They need to move. Use body percussion in warm ups. Figure out whose behavior can be ignored and whose must be addressed. It's usually just 2 or 3 who are really disruptive. Call and email parents. Ask other teachers how they handle specific students. 
These are just a few suggestions. Hope they help.
Amalie Hinson
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