Wow...what a response! It just took me over an hour just to copy and paste the 50 emails into a word file...and here you go!
I am in my 4th yr. teaching and I love my JH and HS choir kids, but I find that being too much of a friend can hurt although I wouldnât want to be any other way to them. To be the teacher they confide in and who they often express kind feelings toward is the very reason I became a teacher b/c many just donât have those relationships at home. Choral excellence is what I want, but what I thrive for is having a great and lasting relationship with these students of mine. If it means a few gray hairs...I'll take them but at the same time, I donât want to be treated with too much disrespect. I want them to really reflect on their behavior so they can realize that it damages the choral sound and moral. It will take a few years and we are really growing (60 choir kids JH-HS in 2000 and now have 180 in 2004 in a rural farm town in southern Ohio)...until then I'll do my best with whatever I can do to improve.
I really appreciate your responses and look forward to using them to improve my teaching abilities in the classroom! As music people we strive for excellence b/c we are perfectionalists. Not only do I want the music to sound great and "perfect", but I also want my students to use that "Golden Rule" for my class...but perfection isn't always achieved.
I read the book: Teaching-Disciple from Dr. Clifford Madsen. He is the Director of the Music Education Area at Florida State University. I know him personally. It is the only book that addresses those issues down to earth. I can assure you that once you begin reading it, you will see yourself being described in the book. So, it tells you something...I did not stopped being nice with my students, but I certainly
reinforced my discipline in the classroom. (You've got to read the book)
1.. Plan ahead.
2.. keep them busy
3.. Don't expect them to behave better by the end of the school year. They know this is almost over. Prepare yourself to accept that, especially by the last two (endless) weeks, they are almost un-workable. But keep working.
If you are a young teacher, it is more difficult to achieve control because you are close to their age. The old saying that one has to start out strict and let up later in the year is so true. But it is a little late for that. Are there a few "leaders of the pack" that seem to get
things in you class going out of control? I used to be afraid to call parents, but not anymore. A few phone calls can do wonders. Meeting with these students and/ or their parents one-on-one can also help to calm them down. What about talking to the class about their behavior? Discuss their goals for the class and if the goals are hopefully high, then how focus and concentration will help achieve those goals. Yes, you want them to have fun, but there has to be limits on the time wasted. Are they responsible enough to come up with rules. Would a chorus council made up of the students help achieve a successful class? What about a point system and earning points? They get so many for good behavior and have awards after achieving an agreed upon total. Or have the class earn an award, maybe a trip somewhere or a day of games or something. Or a pizza party. Awards always work better. Make sure they earn it or it won't mean
anything. Some might say it is bribey. But I think if it works, who cares?!! Start with awards now and cut down on them later. The other thing you could do, and it would take courage on your part, is to ask another music teacher that you feel has control and a successful program to come and observe your classes and get their take on the situation.
First, it is important to look at them and to be aware of what is going on in the classroom. That can be difficult for directors because we have to look at the music too. I never have time to memorize the pieces we do before we start working on them, but I do have one idea: If you are working on a section of a song, work on notes and rhythms, stop, address the problems, and the next time, go through it and listen for tone, vowel shape, etc. That way you don't have to look at the music and you can spend some
time looking at them. If they see that you see them some problems will disappear.
Another thing you might try is having the students make up some of the rules
(or all of themI bet they'll be more strict than you would). That way, when things get out of hand you can say, "this is your rule not mine." It would be important to stress that they are part of a whole and you sometimes have to sacrifice individuality to achieve the larger goal.
I have also found it helpful to be very structured. When I stop the group, I always start commenting immediatelyI don't stop for moment to think about it. If I'm trying to decide what to do or how to say something, I let them keep singing for a measure or two so I can figure out what was wrong and how to fix it. As long as they're busy, they will tend not to be disruptive. I try to figure out where the problem areas will be before we
work on a piece so I already know what to do if they mess up those parts.
When I was student teaching, my cooperating teacher always had detailed plans (including what warm-ups they were going to do, what part of what songs they were working on, in what order, etc.), and he would put them on an overhead projector so the students knew what was coming next and there was no confusion. Also, if he was working on the soprano part, for instance, he would have all the student sing that part to keep them occupied. It's good for sight-singing as well. His choirs were always very
Of course, it is always important to be fair. If you ignore a student who is distracting others, it isn't fair to those around him/her. I find it VERY hard to deal with situations like that, but I am fortunate that my students are serious and I can usually say something like, "you are ruining the music that the rest of us are working so hard to create." You might not be able to use that effectively in a JH or HS setting, but you might be able
to try something similar. If you can figure out a way to show them that you value their individuality, but they have to do the same thing as the rest of the group, that would be helpful. Robert Shaw said during a rehearsal once, "see how important it is to lead? You all just have to lead together." The more energetic and engaging you are, the better things will be. My choirs tend to be a bit chatty and a little unfocused during rehearsals, but I prefer that over situations I've been in where the choir members are barely awake. They'll get energy from you and you'll get energy from them. If you have to "get tough," it will probably take the wind out of their sails and they'll be low-energy for a while, but you have to expect that and do all you can to keep yourself positive and upbeat. After a few minutes crack a joke or something so they know you're not still mad (or think you're
not still mad, even though you may be) and you can all get on with business. If you're sour for a long period it's no fun for anyone.
I don't shout at my choirs. I used to, but it never accomplished anything. They know when I'm mad because I don't get mad very often. I tend to take the "caring and understanding" route. Something like, "I realize that some of you have important things that you really need to talk about, but this isn't the appropriate time or place. If there is something wrong let me know about it and I will be understanding and try to help if I can." I have found that this works sometimes to calm me down as well. Maybe this only
works with older students, I don't know what would happen if I made a comment like that to younger kids. Problem is, once you've said it you have to stand by it. If you care one day and don't the next (in their eyes) it isn't fair to them. I have sort of a hierarchy of unacceptable behavior. Some things just aren't worth the effort or the disruption. However, if a student talked back to me during a rehearsal, I'd rip him/her to shreds in front of everyone. I'm not good at thinking on my feet so I already have a speech
(more of an outline really) for when it does happenthe shorter and more pointed the better so you can get on with teaching. They need to know that when you're finished the conversation is finished. I feel it's more effective if I don't raise my voice. You may feel bad when your finished (and don't degrade the student, obviously), but it will be better for both of you in the end. "Tough love." All this will be easy once you have established that "this is how things are." The "don't smile before Thanksgiving" rule can't apply because most of your student probably know you already (making it that much harder). I
expect the first quarter or so would be extremely difficult and you have to pick your battles to some degree. The kid doing his homework while you are giving directions is less important than the one shooting spit wads. If you try to address every infraction every time, you'll be at it all day. Better to make examples out of a couple of kids who are really misbehaving.
In the end, what I want most is for my singers to buy into my goals for them. If they know what the goals are (and especially if they help to set the goals) they probably will. When they do, discipline is easier because they know I really just want them to be good and to succeed. The better they get the more they'll want to do well (that's usually truewe tend to like things we're good at). If they think that doing what I say will make
them better, they'll do it. This is where it's important to remember they're kids. They will remember that they want to be good singers about 5% of the time (I made that statistic up, but you get the idea). If all they need is a reminder, they'll get back on track easily. If they need convincing, they might never get on track.
Like you, I have a difficulty with being strict with children (or adults) and they perceive me as being to sweet to every get really mad at them. I think one of the things that has helped me the most in such situations is to hand over some responsibilities to the students, give them special projects, reward those who reach goals for cooperation by participation. I have given them some responsibility for choosing pieces from a selection of literature that I provide, let them design some choralography, put them in charge of identifying who comes on time to events, who brings items needed for certain activities. I let them make the announcements for the day. I let them be helpful in designing the program for the year...I.e., performances and venues. This way, I don't have to be the tyrant that I don't have the personality for, and they take a little more pride in our efforts.
1) structure: when they are challenged and engaged - they are not discipline problems.
2) policy: this takes out personality when there is a conflict
3) student contract: let them create the first set of rules - then they own it
4) consistency: don't let them goof off until you know you can get them back whenever you want.
5) support: seek help from principal, mentor etc. call parents - often! you need to find the time now. you will not need all that time when the system is in place.
Until you have control - this is not going to work. You can be liberal with structure.
Right of the group's desire for excellence outweighs individual right to disrupt.
You will probably have received a number of "system" recommendations, and any of them will work, as long as you decide to be consistent in application. Inconsistency is
the biggest cause of teacher failure when it comes to classroom management, so
choose your weapon carefully, then stick to your guns. That said, when you've
tried any "system" for a while and it doesn't seem to be working, it's okay to
try something else, or adjust the plan to meet your students' needs. Be clear
when you change, however, that "what we were doing wasn't working, so this is
how it will be now" and then stick to that, no matter what.
If you want some inspiration, check out anything by Harry Wong. He has books
and videos available and they are all good. In fact, your school or district may have some of his collections already, as professional development tools. Check with your PD resource person/s.
Finally, get organized. Well-planned rehearsals and lessons just run better, because the TEACHER stays on task!
Always such a challenge to play the tough guy when you aren't one! I have the same problem, so we do what we must do - fake it! I deal with 3-6th grades in a church choir, so I don't really know if it will be different with older kids, but we do have a few very strict rules:
1. (The unwritten rule)- make your rules and stick to them like glue - especially at first. You MUST have a scapegoat at the beginning to make an example of. Look for some kid to nudge the line with his toe and then tear him apart. It will let him and everyone else know right away that (a) there is a line, and (b) if it is crossed, there are dire consequences. Of course you don't mean it, and you aren't really angry with the kids, but if you are truly dedicated to your job of teaching these kids quality music, then you will stick to your guns with discipline, because without it, they will learn nothing.
2. When choir begins, it's now MY time, and we're not going to waste it. I play an arpeggiated chord on the piano, and by the time I finish, they are seated and quiet, or the wrath of God comes down. If a child is out of line, then I get nose-to-nose and tell them (very loudly) that this is a rule we all agreed to, that they are wasting my time and the time of the other kids (peer pressure in reverse) and whatever else comes to mind. Take some time to just stare them in the eye- they back down pretty quick and feel guilty. (A teacher did this to me in High School on the first day, and after class I apologized, and he was very gracious to me. I was a model student in that class after that, and everyone else was too!)
3. Shut up and keep them singing. There are times when you do need to speak, but train yourself to keep it to the absolute minimum. They can't talk if they're singing, so keep them singing all the time! Remember, your talking won't help them learn the music as much as it will by going over it again and again (unless they're having trouble with something).
4. (Another unwritten rule)- speak softly. They will be quiet in order to hear you, especially if you make like it's something important, and if you follow rule #3, then it will be.
5. Silence is golden. If the whole class is rowdy, than just stand in front and stare at them with the "unhappy teacher" look until they quiet down. With my kids I start my stopwatch, and as soon as they hear the beep, then they tell each other to be quiet. Of course, there is a punishment - sometimes the amount accumulated is the amount I hold them after choir is over, and once I told them that if we reached a minute of accumulated time, we would sit boy-girl. (they made it to 59 sec!)
6. Discipline must come first! The first thing you must have at the beginning of every class is their attention. Complete silence - then say what you need to - "take out 'Such-and-such' and start at m. 16," or begin warm-ups or whatever, but don't tell them anything unless they're ALL completely quiet.
7. Never be ashamed to ask for help. Do you know everything? Obviously not. Neither do I, nor will the combined knowledge of both of us at the end of our lives amount to much. ALWAYS be eager to learn from anyone or any situation. You can even learn from less-knowledgeable people by seeing first hand what NOT to do! Oh yes, and what works now may not work tomorrow, and what isn't working now may work with a different group of kids, so never throw out any advice completely (unless it's really bad!).
You should read "55 Essential Rules for Every Classroom" by Ron Clark. Introduce one or two rules a day, and really stick with them. Or, choose the ones you feel are most important. I LOVE Rule #1: Call all adults "Sir" or "Ma'am" I don't know about your school, but there are a handful of teachers at mine who let the kids call them by their first names. Yikes!
My advice is to not be worried about being a friend. Remember that you are
the one in charge of the well-being of the class...not just for those that
are insensitive to others, but to those who really put the effort into the
work of which you are trying to accomplish.
I frequently use officers so that they, through peer pressure help maintain
some of the behaviors. Develop officers that can be useful, including those
who may conduct "attitude adjustment seminars". Find a way for the officers
to benefit from their work. Seek out a letterman's sweater or jacket for
choir or a special credit towards their graduation or...?
High School and Jr. High School kids are like the kids we raise at home. They will test the limits. If they see you are their "friend", they will take advantage at every turn. If they find that you are a solid, stable, consistent and reliable person, you will find such a difference with how you are perceived and ultimately respected by your students.
1.. When they are talking at the beginning of class or in between songs and I am trying to get their attention, I sing a simple round (one that I taught them at the beginning of the school year, such as Row Your Boat, Frere Jacques, 3 Blind Mice, etc.) They know that they are supposed to join in and sing with me. Sometimes it takes several rounds, but that way I don't have to yell and it gets the kids singing and quiet. If it takes a while to get them to join in, I will comment on the number of times it took me to get them all singing ("I can't believe it took me 3 times to get you all listening! Next time, focus more and we won't waste as much time."), and I make eye contact with students who continue to talk the longest. Then they "get it" and join in.
2. When they talk as we are standing or sitting to sing a song in class, I re-seat them and have them stand up again. I repeat this until it is done quietly. They really hate that! But it teaches them a lesson.
Another suggestion is to start off class with a bell ringer or warm-up activity, relating to music. I write a warm-up on the board each morning before school. Students are to copy it down when they come in. I keep staff paper on the piano, and they just come in, get their stuff, and start copying it down and working. Some kids are better than others, but generally, it gets them settled. Of course, you have to teach them how to do the warm-up, which takes about a week for them to understand, but it is worth it.
In my experience, kids will test you early in the year to see how far you will let them go. Once they have established where they think that line is, it is almost impossible to change it. I would suggest forcing yourself to be very strict early in the year, addressing
unproductive behavior as soon as it occurs. It is much, much easier to relax from a strict posture than the reverse.
You might also have the students help you draw up some rules with consequences, and then stick to those absolutely, especially early in the year.
One other suggestion: always address the behavior and not the student. For example, "you all know that your talking hinders us from being the best that we can beyou do want to be the best, right? Then we can't have this constant chatter" rather than "John, you're disrupting class!" Put the onus on themdo they want to be a great ensemble? Then they will have to do what it takes to accomplish that.
As for me, because choir is a performance-based endeavor, and you won't get to the performance successfully without good rehearsals, I directly tie their academic and behavior grades. This is something new I tried this semester and it seems to be working pretty well. Basically, if I have to call their names more than twice in one rehearsal, they get a check next to their name (I keep a class roster at my piano). If a student receives 5 checks, they directly lose one letter grade off of their final. It's a bit strict and I think I'll be refining it for next year, but it has helped for now.
1) I'm assuming your schools have discipline policies involving silent lunch/detention and other consequences. (The problem of getting a principal to back you up is a separate issue.) You have to start using that discipline policy. One of the common mistakes of young teachers is to be too friendly with the students and never enforce the discipline policy of the school and of your particular classroom for fear of not being
liked/having enrollment drop/having the principal complain that they're not liked and enrollment is down. (I'm assuming from your previous posts that you are in the early stages of your teaching career, whether or not you have gray hairs or other work experience.) You need to let the choirs know, very calmly, that there is too much at stake to allow the previous level of inattention, discourtesy, and disruption of rehearsal (and use those exact words, don't say "goofing off" or "back-talking" or "chatting"; you want to elevate the level of maturity, not undercut it) to continue and that they must, for their own sakes and the choir's sake, practice self-discipline and take the consequences when they choose not to do so. (Practice saying these things in front of a mirror with a serious, calm look, not a mad or frustrated one. You're a singer, I assume, so you should know how to practice a facial expression.) Don't say any more and simply get to work.
2) The next time someone starts talking or goofing off (or whisperingâthat one often goes under the radar and simply undermines any other discipline), simply say calmly, "Excuse me, John, Kevin, you're being rude." and then give a direction and get back to work. Always use their names, and all their names if there are two or more involved. If the rehearsal is flowing and you've already used the "rude" line once or twice, just say the names and get back to work.
3) Back-talking a teacher: when that happens, you say, "Do you understand that you are back-talking me?" or "Do you realize what you just said?" If they stare at you in disbelief, you say: "The appropriate response is: 'Excuse me, Mr. Comstock, I'm sorry.' It won't happen again." If they parrot the response, you answer: "I'm glad to hear that, as I'd hate to have to enforce the consequences of it happening again." Then get back to work.
4) The second time a person or person offends against courtesy and discipline, you say "John and Kevin, see me after class." You have, of course, prepared the first consequence paperwork in advance for the ring-leaders, or at least have the slips out on your desk in plain sight. After class, go to your desk and write them up. If they protest, tell them that you are no longer going to tolerate disruption/inattention/discourtesy
and if they continue to argue with you they are earning themselves the next level of penalty immediately. If they walk out without seeing you at your desk, you write that on the slip in addition to the misbehavior.
You may need to either write their names on a piece of paper taped to your stand (scribble is totally acceptable) the first time you call on them for misbehavior and then check the second time you call on them in order to keep track (In the beginning, I use a copy of the attendance sheet for that purpose, since I need it anyway for attendance anyway. Later, a 3x5 card is usually sufficient :-) Date it, use a new one each day, and file them!) You may also want to start surreptitiously (or openly) taping your rehearsals and listening to them to see that you actually catch every instance where you call a name.)
With 6th graders, you may want to write the names on the board so that everyone can see them and use a three-strikes-per-week or two-chances-per-week approach. That appeals to their sense of having to SEE absolute fairness, which, while it is an annoying adolescent trait, can be helpful if they see you being as scrupulously fair as possible.
5) Be prepared for parent explosions and principal pressure the first few times you actually enforce discipline by going to your principal, telling him/her that you have been frustrated by your inability to have the kind of effective, disciplined rehearsals you would like to have. Tell them about Choralist (most principals know nothing about it, and in fact, nothing about the milieu of the ensemble classroom which is vastly different from the regular classroom) and that you have received a great deal of excellent advice from experienced directors, which you are going to implement immediately and incorporate into your syllabus in the fall. Please back me up! Most principals will say, "Of course I'll back you up." If the principal has previously observed you and commented on classroom discipline in any way, you want to use that observation to show that you can grow as a teacher. Most principals prefer to see teachers grow and become effective
and a credit to their school than to have to document firing them followed by the expense and trouble of hiring someone else (and taking the chance that the new person won't be any better!).
Then be mentally prepared for the first parent explosions. If a parent storms in and is rude to you (no matter if in your office alone or in front of students) you say, "I'll be quite happy to address your concerns in private in consultation with Mr/Ms. Principal." and ask them to go make an appointment with the principal's secretary. If they continue to be rude in front of students, pick your most responsible, serious student and ask them
to escort Mr/Ms Parent to the principal's office and ask the secretary to set an appointment time for you, principal, and parent that is convenient. (She has your schedule on file, of course.) Ask the student to wait until the secretary has done so and to bring you back a written note with the day and time of the meeting. Parents who are older than you (most of your parents, probably!) and who are accustomed to protecting their kids from consequences will use their age and practice in intimidating teachers to try
it on you; don't fall for it. You DO NOT have to put up with a parent being rude, particularly in front of students, no matter what your age or experience or level of social status vis-Ã -vis the parent. You are a professional and have the right to be treated as such.
If the parent approaches you in your office when you are alone, say "I have a few minutes to talk with you about your concerns over John." and invite them to sit down. If they are angry but not demeaning or rude to you, you listen to their spiel and then you bring out your copy of the discipline slip, look at it, and calmly say, "John received detention for repeated disruption of class/repeated talking during rehearsal/whatever on such date.
I have made the discipline policy clear and John willfully violated it." Then STOP! You don't have to justify enforcing the consequences of poor behavior; that's your right as the teacher.
There are three principal arguments you have to be prepared to refute. A. "John says Kelly and Marcia were talking, too, and you didn't discipline them." Your answer: "There are 75 students in the classroom, and occasionally some behavior gets by me if the majority of the class is engaged in making music. Perhaps Kelly and Marcia did get away with something; however, John is responsible for his own behavior."
B "John says you're picking on him and Kevin." You pull out the check sheets for the day in question and sheets from previous days and say, "I do my best to enforce discipline fairly. See here, John and Kevin were each called on once a day on these days"point them out"but were able to refrain from repeating the behavior on those days. On this day (the one on the slip) they were unable to discipline themselves."
C. "You know John has ADD (fill in the blank with any LD). He's not capable of sitting still/not talking in your class." This one you have to be previously prepared for. I assume that you get the notifications from the guidance counselor on students with disabilities along with everyone else (if you haven't, run, don't walk, to the counselor and get them and make it clear that you need them just as much as every other teacher!). If you know that some of your most troublesome students are ADD/ADHD, you have to have asked the principal and guidance counselor if there are any set parameters
for loosening the discipline policy for those kids. If there isn't then you have to tell the principal and counselor that you are going to make your best professional attempt to distinguish between willful and non-willful disruptions and apply the discipline policy accordingly. With these students, as soon as you've announced that you're going to be enforcing the discipline policy, you need to pull them aside individually and tell them
that you understand that their disability may make self-discipline different, and so you will do your best to redirect them from any unconscious disruptive habits, but you will have to treat willful disruption the same way you treat it for every other singer. Tell them you want them to succeed in your class, and have their experience in your class be a
positive experience they can recall when they are having trouble with self-discipline in your class. Here's an example from my MS experience: Jake has a habit of just blurting his random thoughts out wheneverâduring the singing, during your instruction, whenever. If he actually said something intelligent about the music, I would say, "Jake, why don't you raise your hand so I can call on you to share that idea?" or if I didn't
want to interrupt the rehearsal for discussion at that moment, I'd hand him a 3x5 card and say, "That was a great thought; write it down so I can work it into a rehearsal." (This actually prompted other shy, not necessarily LD kids to come and share ideas with me that I could use to start a discussion or having a quick "teaching moment" and became my standard response for heading off getting off-task.) If is was an interesting but totally off-task thought, I would say, "Save that thought for later, Jake, and we can talk during lunch/extra help/study hall." Most of the time he'd forget by the end of the day; sometimes, however, he'd show up at extra help (which was an open-door half hour after dismissal) and we'd chat. There were several students in my 5th grade choir for whom choir was the only subject in which they excelled and I had these chats all the time, and in the following year the 6th grade chair and team credited my willingness to chat with these kids as a big factor in their being able to start being self-disciplined and confident in all their classes. It also was helpful that I see myself as a classical scholar and was willing to chat about math, grammar, literature, French, Latin, and so forth. (I used to regularly sub for a 5th grade math class whose teacher was the soccer coach and would miss class every Tuesday last period, which absolutely confounded my kids :-)
Oops, now I got off-track. The other way to deal with ADD/ADHD disruptive (i.e. repetitive) behavior is to get all your singers accustomed to you wandering around the room listening to them individually and as sections. Then if someone is doing an annoying behavior, you just touch them on the shoulder, and when they look at you, you mouth the offending behavior and smile as if to say, "I know you can control it." (For instance, a pencil-drummer would get "drumming" and a smile or a roll of the eyes and
smile.) They know the behavior drives everyone else up the wall and genuinely want to control it (most of the time), so your handling it quietly and without drawing attention to it will be appreciated. Besides, walking around the room gives you a wealth of information, both musically and behavioral! If you are your own rehearsal accompanist, they'll get used to you starting them and then singing a cappella while you walk aroundâand become better singers for less reliance on the piano. Also, you can make them rehearse in a circle with you in the middle (yes, then you need to know the scores cold!) which doesn't give anyone anywhere to hide and helps them hear each other, especially in a room with poor acoustics.
Side note: there were certain potentially injurious behaviors that got automatic detention in my class. If you leaned back in your chair, you were called on it just like any other offense; but if you fell over because you were leaning back, it was automatic detention (i.e., even with Mschoolers, where the usual first offense received silent lunch.) Also, pulling chairs out from under someone as they sat or other practical jokes. For me, these
are matters of the victim's dignity and health being upheld and I don't tolerate behavior that puts down another student.
6) If all this makes a definite improvement, at the end of the year (or at an appropriate place in a rehearsal just before your last concert) you mention very quickly that you appreciate the increased level of self-discipline in the choir and how that has enabled them to perform at a higher level than they might have expected. You might be surprised at how many students will thank you (privately, most likely!) for enforcing discipline.
7) And of course, next fall's syllabus has all this stuff spelled out as matter-of-factly and non-judgmentally as possible, so you can start the new year on the right track!
When I was teaching college music ed. majors, I always told them that the first year, no matter how well it went musically, would be "h-ll" because they would be having to establish their professionalism and make the transition from being a student to being a teacher. Also, there's always the "new director/new coach" syndrome; unless you're starting an absolutely new program, there will always be comparisons with the previous person and kids hate change, even if it's good change, so they'll cause trouble just
because they hate change. (And actually, some of your most talented students may be the worst, since they'll think that they have the right of longevity at the school and superior knowledge to tell you how things "are done around here". DonÂ¹t fall for it.)
By acknowledging that your classroom management needs work, you are growing.
Keep at it! Make sure you have specific plans for each rehearsal and a ballpark timing for each part of the plan, and stick to it as much as possible. Write the names of the pieces you're planning to rehearse on the board, and following warm-ups give a 30-second precis of what you want to accomplish in each today. (Mainly today we're going to practice undoing the train-wreck on page 11 of the Thompson Alleluia, so that no matter how badly we may get off, we get back on. We're going to tweak the two slippery spots
in the last movement of the Vivaldi, and we're going to end with one non-stop performance of the Mulholland.) You set the goals and give them some urgency, and then off you go.
What you're facing is not uncommon. It is often very difficult to keep the right balance of fun and rules in any group rehearsal. The first thing I would say you have to do is videotape a few of your choir rehearsals (generally, it's best to try to not tell the students you are doing this). Watch the tape and come up with a few things that you must put an immediate stop to. For each of these behaviors there should be a consequence. My school uses the same classroom management system throughout and it works well because the kids always know what to expect. First the student should get a reminder, but in your case I would say skip this for now, your kids have used up all their reminders. The next step is having a space in the room away from everyone where they can "take a break" and get back into control. At first you will probably need a lot of these spaces. If this is not effective find a buddy teacher and have the student go to that room to sit until you say he or she may come back (at this point you must make a call home). If the student comes back and is still out of control he or she is sent to the office and you would still make a call home. Obviously, this is just one system but it works for us and because there is a set pattern of consequences the kids can choose their behavior knowing the consequences.
Because we are so far into the school year and probably very close to your spring concert you have a choice to make. Do you want to ride out the rest of this year and come back with both barrels next fall or do you want to make some immediate changes? Either way, you have now trained the kids that what they have been doing is okay and they will resist (a lot) when you try to change it. More than likely, it will get worse before it gets better. You have to be prepared for the kids to not like you, threaten to quit chorus or whatever other ammunition they can create. When you do decide to make the change, take the time to sit down and explain to the kids that this has been bothering you because you know they can be a first rate choir, but their behavior is holding them back. Tell them that you don't mind being the hardest working person in the room, that's your job, but you do mind being the only person working hard. If you have people who do not disrupt and do work hard, make a point to say so but not their names. You may even decide to show them the tape of their disruptive behavior if you think they can handle it. If you don't have a choir handbook, make one. If you have one put the rules of rehearsals in it, post them on the wall and refer back to them as often as needed. 40% of people are visual learners so, in this case, out of sight really is out of mind. Finally, when you make this change you're probably going to have to be extremely strict, let nothing slide, even from the "good kids". You're probably going to be very busy just dealing with students trying to get you to back down and pushing the boundaries for while, but stick with it.
I try to maintain the same informal "way" with my students, but when it comes time to be serious (start warming up, stinging, etc.) MOST of them know it is time to work. I am constantly reinforcing this, though - and this year, I have a particularly "young" group (many of them are new to Choir) so this isn't always easy. The "veteran" ones who have been in Choir 3 and 4 years get frustrated at the "new" ones, and sometimes this peer intimidation / peer modeling gets the point across.
I have made it very clear to my choir members that talking in rehearsal, etc., will adversely affect their grades. Indeed, in the first marking period my grade
spread looked like this:
A - A- : 7
B+ - B- : 24
C+ - C- : 12
D+ : 1
While this might look a bit generous, these kids were all accustomed to getting As and Bs just for walking in the room. There was an immediate benefit, and although it is now a bit difficult to maintain, in general, they know I mean business. Especially for those kids taking the course solely for credit, having a decent grade in something that is perceived as easy matters to them. (Of course, a few don't give a hoot...but then that's always going to happen!)
Next year, I am implementing a program of consequences for talking in rehearsal. Students will be assigned a detention to help with the music library, organize folders, clean the choir room, etc. if their behavior is lacking. The instrumental director is doing something similar for kids who don't put their instruments away, forget to bring their music, etc. It may be too late to do anything about it this year, but for next year I would suggest handing out a list of the expectations of each choir member. Make it a form that must be signed by the student and the parent (making sure they have a copy to keep) - a sort of contract. Post a large sign in your room with the main tenets. All this assumes, of course, that you have some level of administrative support for your work.
As often as is practical, have them observe another choir that has good discipline. When they see peers involved in the same endeavor thriving, it is often a much better teaching tool than the teacher's words.
Try going to metacrawler.com (or to any other search engine) and put in "classroom management" or "discipline." You will have more resources and tips than you will ever
When I had taught a few years, I came across the book ASSERTIVE DISCIPLINE,
by Lee Canter. If nothing else, reading the book puts you in a control frame of mind. The actual "system" will work in your jr. high. In high school, it's more the frame of mind that will help you. At the first rehearsal (and the singers were all Chicago professional singers), when small chatter began when Peck stopped directing, he said, "Please don't talk each time we stop. If you do, we will never be as good as we can be." I tell this to my kids. I reveal my weakness, and ask them to help. I remember when one of our learning-theory-crazy assistant principals began this nightmare program called "Best Practices," I thought I'd lose my mind. I asked my principal just who would use "worst practices." She replied that I'd be surprised how many actually do. I told that one to my kids. So any time after that, when they got unacceptably noisy, I'd half jokingly remind them that we weren't using "best practices." They'd laugh, calm down, and get back to work. After 26 years of teaching, I can eyeball them across a room at a festival, and they return to task immediately.
I want the kids to be relaxed and "feel good." because I think they sing better then, with more freedomand expression. The problem is when they cross the line and do have the maturity to pull it back in... I have had some success talking with individuals who do that alot. Also sometime if my officers are strong enough they can help control the environment just by their behavior. I have had them talk to individuals also.
Bottom line is YOU run the rehearsal. I think my rehearsals are intense and productive. The occasional lapse is dealt with in private, or by me ignoring it and "forcing " the rehearsal to be the primary thing. The kids usually get the picture quickly. You have to do it.
The way your classroom behaves is based usually on the students first impression of the teacher. many teachers may feel that they want the kids to like them and hope that because they like them, sing for them. this never works. consistency is always best and it will probably be very difficult to change this pattern mid year. begin by having a talk with the class and express to them what you have written to us. as a group, come up with classroom goals and rules together so they know what is expected of them and have had a hand in what they are. then stick to it no matter what. print out a chorale hand book that clearly states classroom procedures and goals. have students and parents sign a contract on the back stating that they have read the requirements and agree to adhere to them. have in place the exact consequences for intolerable infractions. you can do this without seeming like a "jerk'. make it clear that it is because you care about the group and their success and you are all a team=) next year start this way and stick to it. after a while students will know what to expect when they enter your classroom and they will love knowing that the choir rehearses respectfully while having a fun musical experience.
So I am doing it at the end of the year and implementing a "3 strikes & your out" program, since I can kick kids out. When I was teaching Middle School, I had them copy
rules at the beginning of the year and I gave plus and minus points for behavior. They would start every day with 3 points and I would subtract from thereI assigned a point-keeper for each section who I could trust to record the points I gave and sometimes to subtract a point themselves. Points were recorded for each day at the end of each week. Their point record affected both their chorus cooperation and subject grades. (After
all, you can't do music if you're doing other things in class.)
Here are the elem. chorus rules I am using:
1. Never talk when the teacher is talking or when anyone is singing.
2. When a piece is finished, wait quietly for comments and further instructions
3. Walk in the room quietly and take your seat.
4. Raise your hand if you have something to say and wait to be called on.
5. Keep hands and feet in your own space.
6. Treat others as you would like to be treated
7. Keep the room a musical environment (a space for making musicnot for
Here are some things that help SOMETIMES...
1. I just wait until they get quiet - at times this takes a very long time and there are times I'm not willing to use this technique..especially 2 rehearsals before a concert...
2. I have section leaders - whose job it is to remind singers to listen
3. During work with an individual section, have everybody sing the part being worked on.
4. Have sections perform a section for the other sections for critique - they are amazingly tough on each other - in a respectful way. It's affirming to see that they really do know what will improve the sound... and they use lots of energy to sing well when their peers are evaluating them.
5. Having students sing in quartets or double quartets ups the anti... they will work much harder... knowing the rest of the chorus is listening.
Figure out a rehearsal regimen and stick to it so that they know what to expect. Lots of variety and move through simple tasks that they can feel that they are being productive, challenged and successful at the same time. Don't get mad. Insist they stay on task with you. No time like getting a fresh start next school year. Helps to stand at the door, greet them by shaking their hand, saying their name, etc.
I, also, don't feel that my groups do as well as they could because of their lack of focus. I have read the material and the gimmicks and have tried some, but since I'm not a "gimmicky" person, the gimmicks don't tend to work well for me. My rehearsals tend to be fairly fast paced and I frequently have everyone sing each part as we work on those
sections. But, some of my students always found a way to horse around, anyway, much to my frustration. The students don't necessarily sense the need for better focus because our festival scores are always Superior or Excellent. But, I still think they could be better.
I had finally had it and just preached to my students recently about my frustration and how I felt it was holding them back. I gave them specifics about how we were just learning the notes and I wasn't really having time to teach them about music and I wasn't really being able to teach them how to sing better. I told them that I had to have greater
quiet in class so I could hear the other parts better and I had to have greater quiet because I didn't want to damage my own voice.
After putting more responsibility on them in this way and asking them to live up to what I wanted, I have also worked harder to be more strict from the beginning of the period. So, as we are working, I will call students by name and ask them to be quiet. If a couple of students aren't behaving, I've separated them. In other words, I've not only asked them to kick it up a notch, I have been more pro-active so they have greater motivation to kick it up a notch. It's not perfect, but it is better and I'm a more relaxed person as a result.
We're at the end of a school-year and much of what we've done all year will continue. But, my plan is to start the new year the way I want it. My band colleague and I have talked and the bottom line is, make it the way you want it to be. I believe the students will step up to the plate. Old habits will die hard, but they will die and it's up to me to
see that the students respond to what I want.
Oh, one other thing-I do think it important for students to have a few minutes of noise. So, I give that between songs and for a couple of minutes at the end. That is just enough to satisfy them and me!
I love to tell stories, anecdotes, pertaining to something that happens in the rehearsal. So to stop this I put up a reminder on my piano. I also told everyone to help all of us stay on task. It works. I wise one once told me that a revolution is often more effective than evolution. This means start tomorrow a new person and stick to it (next year would
really be the best time to start fresh). Don't evolve into this new person so that the students are comfortable.
Oh, one more thing. it always helps to piss someone off right off the bat. This will help show you mean business. I have always told the kids i liked, in private, to stay clean so they don't get busted. That way you are not shooting yourself in the foot. I hear that a book on mob mentality is good too...
First, have a detailed plan for every class and stay with it as much as possible. Have a business-like approach and move swiftly through your rehearsal. Smile when they do what you want them to do. Stay poker faced when they do not.
Second, if you don't have a very specific seating arrangement, create one. Design it based on creating an environment of on-task behavior and choral "blend" (if you buy into that term). Reinforce their successes as a choir during rehearsal. Reinforce them as
people when you step off of the podium. Don't yell, don't blame, don't worry. Just be consistent and help them develop a positive rehearsal attitude. Don't preach, don't be friendly, don't be unfriendly-just be a good choral musician and show them how much
you love the music. If they like and respect you, and I'll bet they do, they'll start investigating the music more seriously. They'll also be more successful. Students like to do good work. I'm absolutely convinced of it.
Preventive Discipline Suggestions:
1) Create pleasant and neat surroundings for your choirs. Neat room, pictures on wall, organized chairs, cool temperature, and good lighting.
2) Have a brief set of rules, state them in a positive way, and be consistent in enforcing them. Knowing boundaries creates security for the students. Consider including consequences for breaking the rules.
3) Always begin the rehearsal on time, even if not all of the singers are present. Establish a rule on attendance and tardiness. Be consistent.
4) Before class begins, list on the board the order of the music to be rehearsed. This eliminates idle time.
5) Have an efficient system for handling music. Store numbered folders in a cabinet and place cabinet near the door.
6) Study music carefully before the rehearsal. Students will see that you are prepared and respect you more. You will be able to focus entirely on the singers and their performance
7) Have a rehearsal plan. This gives focus and purpose to the lesson. Begin with a warm-up and change pieces more often if you are working with a younger choir. Have something specific to work on and do not just sing through the piece.
8) Avoid broad comments, empty threats, and false praise.
9) Create a positive and supportive atmosphere. "Mistakes are not failures, but rather necessary steps on the road to learning." Encourage students along the way and always be positive, enthusiastic, and honest.
10) Maintain Eye contact. This tells the students that you are confident, prepared, sincere, and eager to share ideas and information.
11) Minimize teacher talk. Use the "talk and do" approach. The director selects small parameters and gives instructions for this segment of music only. The choir sings and illustrates that they understand the information. Or use the "rule of seven" by telling the choir what you want in seven words or less. Consider writing announcements on the board to save class time and disruptions in the class. If you need to address a student about information needed, do so before or after class.
12) Work with the entire choir as much as possible. Students who are actively involved in an activity are less likely to engage in undesirable behavior. Hold sectionals if you are having difficulty with a section. Come up with effective ways for everyone to be involved.
13) Be sensitive to students' fatigue and frustration levels and accommodate student's attention span. Do not remain too long on a problem area.students will get frustrated. Move on until you have time to study additional causes and solutions and the student's are fresh.
14) Stop. Noise levels go up, kids are moving around, but not going anywhere.AHH! Just stop.wait for them to notice that you have stopped and they will stop too. Then explain to them what you want to happen.
15) Be flexible on special day rehearsals. Sometimes there are going to be days that homecoming is taking place, or prom, and the students are not going to be as focused. Plan a rehearsal and be flexible on such days.
16) Show concern for your students as people and make an effort to learn their names. ALWAYS REMEMBER THE HUMAN FACTOR!
17) Establish a reasonable concert schedule. This should be based on age and ability and the amount of time you have.
18) Involve students in leadership roles. Peer pressure can be a positive thing. This also takes some pressure off of the director.
19) Plan for the aesthetic in every rehearsal. Musical rewards felt can motivate students and make them want more musical success. The power of music can have a positive impact on student behavior.
First of all, you are not going to change the kids you need to change yourself. You need to be assertive and develop a thick skin.
A choir is NOT a democracy. If you give kids any slack at all, they will take advantage of you. You are their teacher/director. You cannot be their pal. All of us want to be accepted, however we need to get our acceptance from our peers rather than our students. If the students get mad, fine. If they act out, that's what detention slips are for. There are always a few who are in there for a free ride. These are the ones you need to identify and straighten up or weed out. Remember, you are the director. You have a certain amount of power, and you need to wield it. When you do, the rest of your choir will thank you for it, because it's no fun being in mediocre choir run by a small group of disruptive kids.
The following suggestions are in no way to imply that my classroom management is perfect. The approach that seems to work for me is to meet with the most influential students in my class and get them to understand the importance of a focused rehearsal. If they will buy into it, then they will be disciplined in class and the followers will do the same. I also tell the whole class on a consistent basis that they are not to talk while I'm talking or when I stop them to fix musical things. I'm not big on punishing because I prefer trying to inspire them to be disciplined. I want them to want to be good and to understand how you get there - good daily habits lead to being recognized later for what you have been doing well all along. You don't just wake up one day and you're a stellar choral program. It's a daily process, and it's what you do on the average daily basis that will determine your level of success. I just started at a new school this year, so time, accomplishments, and familiarity will help in the long run.
I teach middle-school choirs and one thing I've found that helps is to start every class with a theory lesson! It seems like a nice bridge from deskwork in the other classes to music work in my class. I have 60 clipboards in my room and an overhead projector. As the kids come in, they get their folders and a clipboard, and we start a theory lesson together (I use an Alfred book). Then we sing for the rest of the time.
I learned a great system while I was doing observations in college that has seemed to help me at the middle school. It is a rewards based system. I have a list of each class in a binder for every week. I make rows net to their names that correspond with the days of the week. I have a red and a blue pen that sit on my piano or stand. When students are doing a great and cooperative job, they get a blue point. When they are fooling around, I don't say a word. I just pick up the red pen and give a red point to those who are not following directions. If the students receive more than two red marks in a day, they receive a school detention. Students who earn blue points get a coupon at the end of the period and I put it in the box for a monthly drawing. Sometimes I give people with no red points a sucker at the end of the week. Kids love positive reinforcement....yet they have
consequences for their choices. I also have a square on the board, where the whole class can earn 60 minutes and get a movie day. Once the system is in place, and you are consistent with it, you can hear a pin drop when you pick up that red pen! I have to admit that when festival season begins and things get nuts, I'm not always consistent!