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But you're just a substitute...

Hello All,
Currently, I seem to be in a peculiar and difficult situation.  I recently graduated college, and am substitute teaching while searching for a permanent placement in a school system.  The choral teacher at one of the middle schools where I regularly sub retired on Friday, and I am the sub (for an indefinite length of time) until they find/finalize a replacement.  I have also applied for the job, but have not been selected for an interview.  My biggest probem at this point is figuring out where to go with the students.  My background is primarily instrumental, so my experince with vocal pedagogy is limited.
I wish the students were already working on pieces, or had an established class routine, but I have nothing to go on.  It is also hard to manage extremely unruly students, in a class they have no interest being in, when you really have no authority or means to carry out consequences.  I don't want to waste their time doing worksheets, but if they aren't working on a worksheet, the room is chaos.  I hate having to yell to get their attention, and all of the rhythmic clapp and response techniques just invite literally 15 minutes of students making their own 'beats' on whatever is near them-including other students.
Honestly, any advice would be great at this point.  Activities, beginning songs for choir, behavioral techniques...anything.
Replies (15): Threaded | Chronological
on October 3, 2013 4:52am
All I have to say is, 62 views and no replies!? That shows you how common your issue is and how many solutions there are with no one being the best. Here are some options you might consider trying.
Anything new you do is best done on a Monday. As to the students being unruly, it is something that happens in every classroom. Yelling at them won't get their attention, but making sure they feel as though they are being left out of a group activity gets em every time. 
First, you have to have a repertoire to know where to go with your choir! Email the teacher who retired. If they taught music long enough to retire in the system, then they have a pretty good idea of what comes next. Better yet, call them.
You have to organize the order of the classroom. Students, as much as they don't want to admit it, NEED, CRAVE AND LOVE STRUCTURE. Give it to them. Don't run your classroom any differently than any other core teacher or as you would with instruments (I was a drum major/sax player as well as a vocal major). There is a spot for everything, it is clearly labeled, and the kids know the procedure. Go over your procedures the first day of school (since we're past that - Monday) Explain your goals for the class and let the kids know you care. They're middle school...they think you don't care at all automatically. You have to let them know...all of the time. :)
I would recommend having something for them to do right away as they come in. Worksheets are not the worst things in the world, but perhaps a more kinesthetic activity that would help them warm up their voices, loosen their shoulders, relax the body, etc... Have a student (volunteers?) lead the activity after a few weeks to get them into the groove by themselves and take responsibility.
Funny enough, I'm a new teacher to music (I taught English and Science when I first started out - loved it!) and am learning all of this as I go. There is one book I know every teacher benefits from and sorely needs, especially if you're new...."The First Day of School" by Harry Wong. Get it. :) Also get "Kodaly Today" and "From Sound to Symbol" by Houlahan and Tacka. Those guys are genius.
Oh, last thing...if there is a local network of music teachers...My God, they're lifesavers!!!
Good luck, and I would love some crossed fingers my way. It's going to be an interesting year.
Applauded by an audience of 1
on October 3, 2013 7:46am
Thanks so much for the lovely advice!  I will try to start new on Monday, but at this point, they haven't told me if I am needed on Monday yet.  As for talking to their previous teacher, I had the opportunity to do so before she retired, and she was adamant about not leaving anything or offering any help once she was gone.  We tried a kinesthetic activity this morning in 8th grade chorus...huge fail.  The students can't keep their hands to theirselves.  As for making them feel left out of the group, none of them want to be in chorus.  This is a school that uses chorus as a 'dumping ground' for kids that didn't get their first choice elective.  So far, I have tried worksheets, games, singing, discussing music history, the 'sit and wait' method to stop talking, the 'write music on the board and remove letters' method of behavior control, yelling, and almost crying. nothing works.  I have also asked the band teacher, who has been at this school for 11 years, for some pointers, but none have been forthcoming.
Thanks for the advice though!
on October 3, 2013 8:01am
Wow, I just realized how negative I sounded in all of my replies.  I am so sorry.
Many thanks to all of you that have replied with splendid advice.  I thoroughly appreciate all of it, and will try all of it that I can.
Sorry to be such a 'Negative Nelly.'  It's been a rough week, and I am sure many of you agree.
on October 5, 2013 7:36am
I truly want to thank all of you for the support and advice you have given me.  Ultimately, after an incedent on Friday, I decided to walk away from this position, for both my safety and sanity.  After all, it was just a substitue gig, and it wasn't worth the stress to me.  I am thankful for this experience, and everything I have learned form it, and sometimes the best thing is to walk away and leave it be.
Applauded by an audience of 4
on October 7, 2013 2:51am
I'm so glad to hear that you are out of such a toxic situation. I was especially alarmed by your comment that you 'don't yet know whether they need me on Monday'. You can get a zero-hour contract at McDonalds and at least the kids would want what you were producing <vbg>. Seriously, that's no way to treat a professional.
On a more general level, it seems to me that you were told so often that 'you are just the substitute' that you started to beleive it yourself! Here in the UK you would be called a 'supply teacher' or, if employed at more than one school a 'peripatetic music teacher'. Both DO give marks (or grades as you call them) and are treated just like the any other teacher. We don't use the term 'substitute'. Maybe your union could push to get the term banned? [OK so the older kids will soon call you the very pathetic music teacher, but that'll be a joke and not a lack of respect!]
Applauded by an audience of 1
on October 8, 2013 6:49am
Mr. Turner --
The term, 'substitute' seems to be a national term for someone who takes the place of another on either a short- or long-term basis. Some situations, like with big business and school administrations use the term, 'interim' for one of their own filling in while a replacement is searched for. I do like the thought of your term, 'peripatetic' and the joke you've obviously found that goes with it.
I have gotten into the habit of when asked by a student, "Are you the sub for Mr. So and So?" to say, "No, I'm a guest teacher." Although seen by some students as a wise cracking remark, it removes the stigma Ms. Faulkner has so blatantly endured. The new phrase also puts me on a level of being an additional voice to what their regular teacher has already been teaching, thus reinforcing what we BOTH are doing. 
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