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Music Teacher Tip #42 - If Your Class is a Dumpster Fire

Music Teacher Tip #42:

Lordy, Lordy! Every day someone is posting how terribly their classes are behaving. Here’s what to do if your class is a dumpster fire. 🔥

1. Lay down the law. I don’t mean yell. I mean let them know that today is a new day and that starting today, the following things are expected. Have the expectations written down and posted in the room and refer to them. If the rules are in writing, they feel more legitimate to you students and also signal that you won’t change your mind or waffle on them.

When you do this, you must be confident and assertive. They can smell fear. 👃

2. Be ready to apply a consequence the first moment that someone challenges the new expectation. For example, you tell students that from now on there will be silence every time you stop the music. The next time you stop the music, a student starts talking. You must immediately call them down and give them a warning (or whatever your policy is.)

Honestly, if you’ve let things run amok for a while, you’ll have to be more extreme than a warning at first. I would recommend telling your students that there is no more time for warnings since they’ve wasted so much time already. My example to them was, “If I had to give warnings to each student before someone was moved to time out, I would have to stop 30 times.” (If you say this, just say how many students you have. If 48 students are in the class, say 48.)

3. When you call someone down, you must be firm, assertive, in control, and do not hesitate. For example, student Y breaks the rule you just told them not to break. You say, “Y, go to time out” or “Y, sit over there. Take your things and move now.” Then pause and give a serious look as you wait. Document what happened right then. Don’t wait. Stress will make you forget. 😣

I know what you’re thinking... “But I don’t do time out” or “I teach middle or high school. What then?” I would recommend having many designated spaces on the perimeter of the room (some near you) so that when you need to send someone there, you are prepared. Call the space whatever you want. I once had to do all of the above steps with a middle school 8th grade chorus of 48. Within the first 10 minutes I had all time-out spaces filled, but the other 40 got the message. 😇

4. So what if you’ve tried all of these and nothing is working? You must make a parent contact. Be sure to document these calls so that you can cite them when making a referral to the office later (if necessary). 📞

5. But what if things are still bad? I once had a group of three 8th grade girls who had their own agenda for my class. I was a first-year teacher and they wanted to talk, laugh, openly defy me... anything but follow the rules and sing. I spoke with a fellow teacher who was known as the disciplinarian in the school. I asked her for advice. She said “Send them to me with some work. I’ll make sure they do it and they’ll wish they were back in your class.” So I did. I created 3 lengthy, but content-related assignments and met them the next day at the door with 3 passes and their 3 assignments. 📚I told them that Mrs. So-and-So was expecting them and those assignments needed to be finished by the end of class. They were speechless. 45 minutes later they brought back their work, apologized and asked if they could come back to class. I told them if they could follow my rules and participate they were welcome. I had no more trouble.

Sometimes you just need to reach out for help. It’s OK to need it. We all did at one time or another. Ask a veteran teacher. Ask an assistant principal. Ask the principal. It’s better than pretending things are fine and then having your first observation and your evaluator finds out it’s not fine. 🔥😧🔥

6. You should also always check with a counselor/school psychologist if a student is exhibiting concerning behaviors. There may be and IEP or a 504 plan that you didn’t know about. They may also be able to provide you with some helpful tips in dealing with that particular student. 👩🏽‍⚕️

7. Lastly, if you’ve tried all the above (documenting everything), then its time to write a referral to the office. That’s why they’re paid the big bucks. 💰

8. Remember that changing behavior takes time. It takes a full month to develop a new habit. You will have to remind them of the new expectations each time they come and you will have to follow through every time consistently and with confidence. 🤓

9. I also recommend starting an incentive plan for your classes so that they have something positive to work for. If the students are coming to you with no intrinsic motivation, then implementing a bunch of rules will make them submissive, but a submissive choir is just a quiet choir And while it’s better that they’re not sassing you or throwing things, you can’t MAKE them sing by force. 🤐

10. Most of all, convey that you will not give in or give up. Even though you’re having to be the heavy, let them know that you believe in them and you can’t wait to hear how amazing they sound together when everyone tries. 👏👏👏

Hang in there! ❤️🎶

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