Middle School Choir
Recently I was sitting in my classroom and thought of sixth-grade choir. I don’t know why I randomly thought of it- but I did. In my middle school, everyone had to take a music class but you elected which one you took. There was band, choir, and music appreciation. My parents said no to band because I quit the piano in fifth grade. Music appreciation was a lot of work with tests and quizzes and presentations. No thank you! In choir, you had to sing and perform one song (as a group) during the band concert. That seemed manageable to me. Middle School Natasha was all about doing the least amount of work as possible. So were many other students in my grade.
It was so obvious that choir was the easiest of the three choices. Our class was packed full of trouble makers looking for an easy out to music class. Since choir was the most popular option there were the most students in that class. I would say there were about 35 but I could be very off.
I don’t remember the name of the music teacher. She was quite small and even while standing could barely see over the top of the piano. She had a great voice and was a great singer but could not handle our class. I haven’t taught middle school in years (if student teaching a semester of middle school even counts) but I do know that if you give them an inch they take a mile. Let’s talk about why her classroom management fell apart.
A note on the term "Classroom Management"
I really don’t like it. I much prefer to think of my classroom as a community. A community where everyone is welcome and has a seat at the table. I don’t manage my students. Just today I was scolded by a student because I interrupted another student during a class conversation. It was true. I had gotten used to interrupting as a teacher and it was a bad habit I needed to break. She reminded me that it isn’t respectful to not let someone finish their idea. I apologized and worked on this as my goal for the rest of the day.
The term management makes it seem as though the teacher is working to control the students. As a teacher, I don’t have control of my students. Gasp! I explain to my students that they can only control themselves. They are just as important to our classroom community as I am. I follow a lot of Responsive Classroom’s practices and building a community of learners is one of them. I wouldn’t say I really have classroom management strategies I have relationship building strategies.
A 45 Minute Period
Let me just paint a picture of a 45-minute choir class just so you know what we’re working with. It was the last period of the day and kids arrived to class around 5-7 minutes late no matter what. To be honest, I even arrived to class late because it didn’t really matter if I showed up on time or not. It’s true!
After we all arrived our teacher would take attendance. This was a long process where she was trying to learn all of our names. I would say the first 15 minutes were settling in and taking attendance. That’s one third of our class time.
Once attendance finished we would warm up. She attempted to lead us through a vocal warm-up and some sassy kids would change the warm-up. They made everyone laugh and then we would all be in a bit of trouble.
During warm-ups, someone would ask to go to the bathroom. I will say that during middle school we had a very strict no bathroom during class time policy. Let’s talk about that one day because it is absurd! So we weren’t allowed to use the bathroom in class… yeah. Once one kid asked kids cycled in and out of class in groups of 2 or 3 for the duration of the class period.
After warm-ups, we would begin to sing. The songs we were singing weren’t particularly interesting to us middle schoolers. So we would change the words and sing silly nonsensical things. We would goof around and laugh and start talking with one another. Then came the yelling. Our teacher would start screaming at us and then we would straighten out for a few minutes only to start the chit-chat up again a little while later.
We might sing a few songs and then it was 5 minutes before the bell was to ring and we would pack up and wait at the door. Our teacher always yelled at us and we always pushed closer and closer to the door. The bell would ring and class would end. We ran out of the room talking very loudly.
Now, maybe your classes aren’t as catastrophic as this one was but let’s analyze where classroom management falls off the tracks
The Break Down
There was no teacher student relationship
Relationships are everything. I like to follow a Responsive Classroom approach to management. I have no idea what my choir teacher’s name was. I didn’t know anything about her. She knew absolutely nothing about me. I showed up to choir, she took attendance and then stood behind the piano and attempted to teach. There were no relationships. Kids who might be considered class clowns tried to form a relationship with her- not in the best of ways. Any questions about her life or who she was were not answered and were ignored. Kids don’t need to know everything about their teacher but they do need some sort of connection.
Figure out what you’re willing to share. So you don’t want to divulge your whole life story, that’s ok. My kids know very crafted bits about my life. They know about my sister and my love for Target. They know about my naughty dog in the US. They know the names of my childhood friends. I know things about them. I know who likes unicorns and who prefers Messi to Ronaldo, I know who likes to read fiction and who likes to read nonfiction. There has to be some sort of teacher/student relationship. Learning is built on relationships. The stronger the relationship between the students and the teacher the better. Teachers- you have to think that each child in your class can accomplish the impossible. They have to know that you care for them and respect them.
Rules were stated but never enforced
We knew the rules. Arrive on time. Listen while the teacher is talking. Sing the correct lyrics to the songs. Rules were stated but there was no enforcement of rules. I notice this a lot when I’m struggling with classroom community and when others are. If there are never redirections or logical consequences for breaking the rules the limits begin to be tested. If I sing the wrong word one time and nothing happens, I’ll do it again and again. If I mock the directions you’re giving and you don’t tell me to stop I will keep going. Kids are always looking for boundaries and when they can’t find them they continue to push the limits.
Instead of rules try building expectations together as a class. We do this in my first-grade classroom. We have three main rules that tie in with our school’s guiding statements be respectful, be responsible, strive for excellence. We also have other expectations. We set up expectations for the carpet, for the bathroom, for getting a drink. There are expectations and there are procedures. Just recently kids noticed that kids were throwing their paper towels on the ground instead of making sure they made it into the garbage can. They asked to hold a class meeting to talk about it. We did and it hasn’t been a problem since. Kids need ownership over their classroom and creating expectations (that are upheld all the time, not sometimes) together is a great way to start.
Behaviors were never dealt with until they were too extreme
15 kids all asking to go to the bathroom one right after the other wasn’t a problem until literally every kid in the class went to the bathroom and we just cycled in and out. True story- we had very strict bathroom rules in middle school. (I once peed my pants in 7th grade because of this policy and was denied going to the bathroom several times. This has stuck with me and I never ask kids to hold it. This is a story for another day. And, I wasn’t the only one that happened to. It was frequent in our middle school. Once the bathrooms were even locked… ok, saving it for later) Singing the wrong lyrics didn’t really matter until suddenly we were being yelled at. Small behavior problems were never stopped because they were small. Does it matter if one kid sings the wrong lyrics? Yes, it actually does.
Try dealing with little problems on a daily basis. Deal with problems right when they occur no matter how small. Dealing with problems when they are small and manageable is much preferred to waiting until they get out of control. Once behaviors are extreme they’re harder to rein in. Even though a student talking at the same time as the teacher seems like a small problem, if it isn’t dealt with right away, it is going to turn into a big problem. Set boundaries and stick to them. Enforce expectations consistently.
Students Talked At the Same Time As the Teacher
When students are talking at the same time as anyone no one’s really being heard. Teachers talk to share important information so if a student is talking at the same time they are missing something and so are other students. What may start as whispers will surely grow if it isn’t stopped. Students will then become frustrated with each other and could start suggesting classroom management strategies to deal with other students. No good will come from this.
Teach that only one person can speak at a time. Students need to listen to you but they also need to listen to each other. Deal with these small behaviors right when they happen. Don’t wait until it is too late to course correct. Sometimes simple redirection is needed. Sometimes I have class conversations around listening. We need to teach listening skills and expectations in the classroom. If it isn’t going well then teach it again.
Yelling was the Only Strategy For Anything
Yelling. Not the greatest tool to use. After some reflection on my own teaching, I realized that I yell when I am tired, when I am cranky, when I am unprepared, or when I need to take a break. Yelling doesn’t work. Maybe at the moment the first time you yell it works but not really. Did you notice that the situations when I yell were all because something was wrong with me not the students? We got screamed at for getting out of our seats.
Actually… I just remembered Freshman Year Chemistry. Our teacher was a chemist turned teacher with no teacher training. He yelled so much that we just tuned it out. Mr. C then resorted to bringing pots to throw at the ground to make a large bang to get our attention. It only worked for a little bit of time. Yelling and extreme actions only work for a short amount of time. They don’t fix the deeper issues.
Take a deep breath. Do a little reflecting and notice the times when you yell. I know I can get short with students when I am stressed or when I am not as prepared as I should be. In college, I realized not getting enough sleep made me a cranky teacher. Once you know what triggers you to yell do your best to avoid those things. I now go to sleep at a respectable hour. I plan my lessons in advance and when things go wrong I learn for next time. I step away from my classroom if needed when I am stressed. Take care of yourself. Whatever you need to take care of yourself and remind yourself yelling just creates more chaos it doesn’t create solutions.
Nothing Was Consistent
Sometimes rules were enforced. Sometimes we had to sing the songs. Sometimes you could do whatever you want. Somedays we followed a structure to class and sometimes we didn’t. Inconsistency is a huge problem. My first year teaching I wasn’t consistent at all. I didn’t always follow the schedule, I sometimes laughed at bad behavior when I should not have, and sometimes I didn’t enforce expectations. Listen we’re all a little inconsistent from time to time but that creates unpredictability in students. If one day you’re using compliments to encourage students and the next day they’re earning tickets and then they’re earning points- the classroom management isn’t consistent. Kids can’t follow along to inconsistent strategies.
Create structure and stay consistent. Show your students that you are someone who is reliable. Someone who enforces every transgression in the same manner. If any kid shoves another kid the same thing happens. If any kids shout out in the middle of a lesson the same thing happens. Keep consistent and follow a structure. Providing your students with predictability is always a good thing. It allows them to focus on the task at hand and it helps them set boundaries to understand the class expectations.
No Follow Through
There has to be follow through. Seriously, if I say that we will have a quick chat after I give directions then we are going to have a quick chat. If I say we are writing an email to mom and dad then we are writing the email to mom and dad. If I say you have to spit out your gum then you have to spit out your gum. Follow through is essential. I know that if I don’t follow through I lose credibility and if I lose that then I have nothing left.
Make guarantees, not empty threats. In college, once I heard a campus safety officer explain to a woman that he doesn’t make empty promises, he makes guarantees. This needs to be the same motto for classroom management. Don’t tell a student something is going to happen and then not follow through. That creates inconsistencies. Follow through all the time, in similar ways, with every student. Don’t worry about being well liked. I’ve noticed that students like teachers who are reliable and fair. Be reliable and fair.
Whole class punished for some
As one of the “good kids” most of my life when the whole group is punished because of one or a few students it is the absolute worst. The bathroom policy I mentioned before came about because some kids were always going to the bathroom and the punishment resulted in several kids peeing their pants in middle school. Why was I not allowed to use the bathroom because some other students abused the privilege? We experience this as teachers too. A whole staff meeting about abusing sick days when really only 2 teachers are doing it. A whole email chain about postings students on social media when it is really one person. It’s frustrating and it isn’t fair.
Try natural and logical consequences for those involved. At a school, I worked at we were trained on Love and Logic. I didn’t like the whole premise but I did like the natural and logical consequences piece. This also ties into Responsive Classroom. The consequence needs to fit the offense. First, determine if a consequence is really necessary. Sometimes procedures need to be retaught and there needs to be a teaching moment, not a consequence. Sometimes consequences are needed. Taking away recess from a student who refused to tie their shoes doesn’t make sense. Having a student clean up all the water they spilled on the ground is a logical consequence. Having them miss PE because of it doesn’t make sense. Make sure the consequence is needed and matches the offense.
What are your biggest classroom management tips?
Where have you shown the most growth in classroom management? (For me, it’s consistency!)
Share your thoughts and experiences below and let’s grow together!