Well my 6th year of teaching is officially underway. Last year was a rough teaching year for me and while I know there are always going to be seasons or years rougher than others, it had really taken a tole on me. I was beginning to doubt myself and if I was really cut out for teaching anymore. I was beginning to doubt that I could transform these middle schoolers into amazing musicians,( I had done it before, but why couldn’t I now), give them a greater appreciation and love for music, and even sometimes relate to them. My 6th grade strings class last year was really rough and it was hard for me to be joyous about teaching my passion when I knew everyday what I was about to walk into. As I’ve been entering this year, I’ve been reflecting more and more about last year and what worked well and what didn’t. I’ve been thinking about my process of teaching my procedures and classroom management strategies, how I taught certain lessons, and what kind of environment I want for the students.
I am an over thinker anyway, always analyzing everything and asking myself why something worked and why it may not have worked, but as a teacher, I do this even more than before! I’ve been thinking about my process of teaching my procedures and classroom management strategies, how I taught certain lessons, and what kind of environment I want for the students. As the beginning of this school year was coming closer, (as much as I didn’t want to do any school work), I began to look over how I handled situations last year ( or didn’t), how I set up the classroom, and if i had really done a good job demonstrating my procedures and discussing my expectations.
So while I’m processing that information, I thought why not write a blog post about what I’m trying this year in attempts to create a classroom environment that is conducive to learning, working together, and of course having fun.So Here are five things that I’m working on this year in hopes to protect my classroom from mayhem like last year.
- Set up your expectations and procedures – demonstrate and remind the students of these procedures and expectations for about a week or two. Make sure they really understand and know them. I thought I did this last year, but apparently not. This year I am really making sure I go over them daily and remind the students. When going over these things make sure you take time to talk about entering and exiting the classroom, during class procedures, like your quiet sign or what students should do upon immediately entering the classroom, how to turn things in, and the overall structure of the class. I have set up a first five system, so when the students enter the class they check the board for instructions, begin getting items out and start their bellwork (this is usually a couple important sections in their pieces that we may go over together that day, or some small music passages in their book). The point of this is to get the students engaged as soon as the bell rings, get the class started after those first five minutes, so we’re not wasting important time, and it allows me to get my attendance turned in and get my mind ready to teach their class. Students have been told unless they have an emergency not to bother me during those first five minutes- still working on this.
- Follow Through and be consistent – If you have set guidelines for your rules and you have talked about your warning/ discipline procedures, YOU HAVE TO FOLLOW THROUGH! Make sure the students truly understand the rules and how your classroom is run. I think this was definitely an area of weakness for me last year and it has always been a struggle for me. I always think, ” well if I taught a core class, like math, something that all the students had to take, I would be better at following through with consequences.” Because I teach orchestra and I always have to be a spokesperson for my craft to recruit students and to hopefully keep those students, I always feel like I have to be super enthusiastic and nice, and sometimes that makes it difficult to follow through with discipline because I so badly want the students to come back. BUT this mindset is one of the very reasons my beginning strings classes were not orderly and behaved. Instead of allowing myself to feel like a bad teacher when I have to discipline a student, I am setting up the dialogue a little differently this year. As I have been talking about my warning systems, I’m reminding the students that there are always consequences in life, good or bad and those are based on THEIR actions. They are in charge of their learning, they are in charge of their behaviors and I have to follow through with discipline protocols when they choose to not follow the rules and expectations.
- Ask others for help or for suggestions- Other teachers are the best resource you could ever have! Talk to them about their strategies, their expectations, things they have learned and lean on them when you have a problem. Asking advise can sometimes be hard, but it can also be so incredibly beneficial. I am teaching a reading class this year and I have never taught this subject, nor do I really understand how to teach it, so other reading teachers have been my best friends. I’ve been gathering lots of resources and information from them. Don’t be too prideful to ask for help, even if its your subject matter and you feel like you’re a pro. Even with my orchestras, I am constantly emailing other orchestra directors around Springfield to ask them what they do in different circumstances, or if they have any suggestions for teaching certain skills or pieces.
- Assume that the students have no prior knowledge of your subject or class. Start off your classes from day 1 talking about your procedures, expectations and the structure of you class, even with students who have had you before ( they were gone for 2 1/2 months and probably forgot). Continue to remind students of the protocols and follow through with your discipline procedures. Start at the ground up and just assume that the students have never heard or understand your subject matter. This is a struggle for me sometimes. I used to assume that my orchestra students knew certain rhythms, how to count those rhythms, how to create the correct bow holds and instrument positions and even how to read music, so I would briefly go over those things and jump ahead pretty quickly. For some classes this worked really well, ( my earlier years) for others I had many students who fell behind quickly or didn’t understand. Over the last couple years I have noticed more and more students not understanding the relationships between certain notes and their instruments and/ or rhythms and how to count them. So this year I have begun teaching everything from the ground up, demonstrating over and over the correct bow hold, instrument holds and how to count and play certain passages, in hopes that my beginner students will understand these things better and be able to become better musicians quicker.
- Think about the environment you want for your classroom and how you can create it. The environment of the classroom takes on all of the items above as well. Making sure you are direct in your teaching policies and expectations and you follow through with your discipline strategies, will help your students know you mean business. This will help with the overall flow of the class. Practicing protocols with your class over the first couple weeks, will help them understand how your classroom is run. Even the look of the classroom and the way you place your desks, tables and/ or flexible seating can help or hinder the classroom environment. Seating charts are by far one of the hardest things for any teacher to get a handle on, but I would suggest placing students in alphabetical order to learn the students names faster. Beyond all of those components, how do you want your classroom to feel? I have always wanted my classroom to be an encouraging place, a place of learning, a place for fun, and a place for working together towards a common goal. I make it a point to discuss setting goals, working towards goals, working together for a common purpose, and how to work hard and have fun. I always want my classrooms to be safe places, a place where all students feel free to be themselves and feel that they can talk or play their instruments without judgement, so I make it a point to discuss this at the beginning of the year. With orchestra in particular, we are a team, so we have to always be working together and working individually on our parts to uplift the team. If we are judgmental or mean towards each other, we are destroying our team and therefore we can’t produce something as beautiful.
I am no genius when it comes to all of the things listed above, but I am working hard to make sure that this year is a really great year for all my students and my sanity. I want to make sure that I hold myself accountable more this year and I feel that the protocols and structures I am putting into practice will definitely help! I would love to hear from you…. Have you done something at the beginning of the school year that helps create a really great classroom environment? Or do you have any tip/ tricks you can add that has made your year go more smooth?