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Discipline strategies for high school

Thank you everyone....I used a combination of several suggestions and my own
ideas, and the class went much more smoothly the next day. Several kids came
up afterward to thank me, because they said this went on all last year and
they were ready to transfer out. I told them I would do my best to make them
proud to be in this chorus. The other 3 choruses are audition-only. Thanks
again to all of you!!!

One word, consequences.

Have 2 simple rules posted on the board. Then the SHORT warning process and
consequences. Apparently this is the one chance they get to blow off steam
(or the last teacher let them get away with this). You need to keep them
moving (up &
down; physical warm ups as well as vocal). Keep them singing or moving
every MINUTE of rehearsal.

You will have to be tough. Nice won't pay right now.
They will keep reaching and pushing until they reach something solid. It's
the nature of the adolescent but you already knew that.

You can only be tough with them. They need (and want) to know where the line
is and what the penalties are. Reasoning with them won't do much. They need
to feel the consequences of their actions very hard right at the beginning.
that's established, they ought to be much better.

One other idea is to work with them to develop a set of rules for
behavior and consequences for breaking those rules. I also used that
recently and it worked very well. However, it does take a bit of tough
enforcement at the beginning to get it into their heads.

You might want to try to get the class moved to earlier in the day. I had
that same problem. By the end of the day, they are wired and nothing will
them down. You might also want to try a points system. If you take away
things, like letter grades determined on how they act, they usually come
around. You have to stick to it though. Let me know if I can help you

Announce tomorrow that you will mark the entire class down a half a letter
grade every time they make you repeat yourself. Put it in writing, and hand
it out. Stick to your guns, do it once if they push you to do so, and watch
how quickly they shut up and take you seriously. Start with action, and then
follow it up with theory later ("good social skills are an essential part of
choral singing...) after you've kicked them in the butt a time or two. If
talking out of turn robs them of that precious 4.0, they will shape up.

At an academic high school, grades are everything, so work the system to your
advantage. They're grade-grubbers or they wouldn't be at that school in the
first place.

You have the power, and they are making you use it, so do so responsibly.
Kids do not respond to "should" these days. They respond to consequences,
which you have the power to enact. It actually has nothing to do with
singing and everything with power. Once you handle that conversation,
perhaps you can make some music that's worth your efforts and theirs.

Sounds as though talking to them doesn't work - how
about keeping them singing so they can't talk -
maybe you have to quicken up your pace - keep teaching them new and different
warm-up exercises, solfege patterns, keep them singing so they can't talk

I've taught both middle and high school choirs. Unfortunately, I don't have
any tried and true except to be more tenacious and loving than they are.
They are much harder to impress than middle school kids. You could call on
them to sing individually and tell them they will be graded on their

The first few days are critical to your sanity and the groups success for
the remainder of the school year. They obviously are poorly trained and
worse yet, poorly disciplined. Many of them probably don't have the
slightest idea of what it is to be in a choir. Try to set your rules and
consequences quickly and enforce them right away. Sounds to me like you
might have to make an example out of a few(remove them from the room)-make
sure you give them warnings before you decide to take action. Then, get to
the music and rehearse right away while they are all stunned. Waiting for
silence may not be the best thing to do since they previously did not have a
director that they had any respect for.

The most important thing is to be firm right away (which it sounds like
you're doing).

Seating chart. Assigning numbers (for attendance and music) to each person.

Pass out written school policies about discipline and consequences and your
own classroom expectations and consequence and how you're going to determine
grades. Ask questions like a "pop" quiz about what you just explained,
giving extra credit for the right answer by calling on the first hand up.

Always stay one step ahead of them by keeping them busy with small challenges
AND successes, ie. rounds and/or warm-ups that are easy to learn, but focus
on singing them well (with your expertise leadership) or the 4-part National
Anthem. Get them focused on doing "constructive" and collectively successful
projects. Standing, sitting, standing, and with you walking around the room
while their singing, listening!

Do little conducting/response fun games to see if they are watching and/or
paying attention. Those can be lots of fun! Just no "down time" on your
part..... or theirs!

If you have a "new" piece of music, have them listen to the accompaniment
only first, stopping at various places throughout the music, calling on
individuals to see is they know where you stopped (will get their attention
and will let you know who can "read" the piano line, and well, will give you
an idea of how good this group really is. It will also give you a "teaching
moment" for those who are clueless (and those who pretend they are not!)
about reading music....and will give you the opportunity to explain meter,
beats to a measure, counting, tempo, etc....even if they can't follow the
actual notes.

This isn't going to change overnight, unfortunately. It may take three to
four years before you get them exactly where you want them. Stay calm,
cool, and persistent. Have a written plan and move at break-neck speed.
Plan your warm ups around concepts in the actual music you're preparing.
Don't let down or they'll start talking. If you keep them singing non-stop
they won't have time to talk. Start calling parents of individuals who are
the worst offenders. Ask your building principal to sit in and observe, or
drop in unannounced frequently. Calmly restate your expectations with a
smile even when you think you're going to lose it yourself. Don't let them
see you lose your cool.

Can you identify any "ring leaders" who are the most vocal (and
usually the most talented)? If you can, talk to them one-on-one outside of
class (don't let other choir members see this) and ask for their assistance
in keeping the class in line. Obviously, you don't want to engage in any
shouting matches during the class, they will get you no where (unless you
are able to "outwit" or "out-mouth" them...but this can be difficult).

Speak to the administration and see if they would be willing to transfer
some of the worst out of class; call home to parents of those who are the
least cooperative and ask for their assistance. It sounds like many of
those kids just don't want to be in a choir...those are the ones you need
to get rid of. Is there a tradition of choral music in this school or have
they gone from teacher to teacher with no consistency? It may just take a
while to weed out those who actually want to be there...just pray you don't
lose the good ones due to the bad.

As for specific examples, I have given out raffle tickets for good
behavior; following rules, sitting quietly, being prepared and seated when
the bell rings, etc... At the end of the week, students could turn in
their tickets (torn in half) and I would raffle off a few candy bars.
Everyone had to be polite, say thanks you and not show disappointment if
they lost. If anyone did, I would stop the raffle until the following
week. Students could save their tickets to hand in later during the
semester. Whatever they wanted. I would not ever take them away for bad
behavior, only given for good. This became a class tradition for several
years and it got them to do things them might not have ever volunteered for
or tried.
What ever you do, you must be consistent. If you give a warning for poor
behavior, be prepared with referrals to send the student out of the class
if they don't heed the warnings. Again, speak to the administrators and
tell them you may be sending a few kids down to the office over the next
few days. They need to be dealt with swiftly and you must follow through
with a phone call home. As soon as the other kids learn their behavior
will be dealt with fairly and consistently, they should start to calm down

Hi! I teach middle school choir as well and I know these things have
helped in my choir when I've needed to use them. I'd imagine these would
work in high school as well. I guess it depends if you have the time and if
you are okay with being labeled "mean" for a while.
1) Assigned seating. Keep the kids who are talking away from each
other. Sometimes I've even gone far enough to put the students that I knew
had NOTHING in common next to each other. Tell them that they can go back
to their regular seats when they've learned to behave.
2) Detention. Nobody likes detention. Pick out the individuals as they
act up. You could even have them do an assignment or stay longer each time
they are held after school.
3) Written assignments. On the few times that I've wanted to pull my
hair out and run away screaming during a rehearsal I have had a written
assignment having to do with the song we were singing. If the group as a
whole was acting up (to the point where nothing would get done) I would give
the assignment after trying a few times to get them working. If they don't
have time to finish it, give it to them for homework and grade it.
4) If you have grades give them a daily effort grade.
5) Our principal doesn't stand for discipline problems and he
encourages us to send students down to him if they are acting up. My class
has a "3 strikes" rule. For every time (well, every time AFTER I've lost my
patience) they act up, are disrespectful or disruptive give the student a
strike. If they get 1 strike they get a warning, 2 strikes is detention, 3
strikes- they get sent to the principals office and I call home. (AND each
strike takes points off of their effort grade for the day)
6) Personally, I would never use this but I know colleagues who have.
Make a public example. I've had many teachers tell me that if you really are
hard on the first student to act up and make it fairly public in the
classroom that many of the other students will then behave. I've had
teachers even ask the student their phone number in the middle of class and
inform them that they're going to call their parents right when the class
was over Of course, for me, I think this would mean losing a lot of respect
that I have earned from the students and it also makes the person you
humiliated really hurt. I guess in some situations it may have to be done
but I try avoiding it.
7) Talk to your principal and ask if he has suggestions (or maybe even
if he'll make a surprise visit in your class to see how things are going- our
principal does that and it really helps.). See if you should contact
individual parents.
A lot of these suggestions sound a bit harsh but they've worked for a
lot of the teachers I've met. I've also found that the kids who want to
learn have a better time when stricter rules are in place for the kids who
don't want to be there.

Don't believe your administration....every chorus can be unruly because you
are dealing with group dynamics. I don't know the chorus situation but the
chorus may be reacting to their former director. They may have had great
rapport with that person and they are testing. Or that the former director
did not have discipline with the group.
You have to be very strict. You must establish in a VERY CALM way your ground
rules from day one.
Try to meet with several students privately to interview them.
When teaching DON"T STOP for a second. Keep them busy with exercises, etc.
until you can get a routine going.
Don't dwell on discipline in the class. Observe who the leaders are and if
they are making trouble get them after class.
DON'T bring this to the administration. Handle eve other faculty, see if they
have similar problems. I have found that a rude person in one class is often
rude in another. Got any athletes? I spoke to a coach about one of his
players behavior and the boy didn't open his mouth for two weeks. Do you have
a few that lead the bad conduct? I'm often amazed at how the removal of one
or two can improve the conduct of a class. What do you know about their
previous director? Twenty-six years ago I followed director who was well
loved. I had to work on not being viewed as a mean step parent. If you don't
know a lot about what this group has performed previously you might let them
tell you. Try having them write about what they have done in the past , how
how the group was run, what the rules were, and what they would like to do in
the future. Also writing should keep them quiet. Reading what they write will
not only give you a look at how they see the group but also whether they are
really as "academic" as you've been told they are.
Once you acknowledge their past you can start to build a future. Tell them
what you would like to see the group be and how you intend to accomplish
this. If you have a philosophy (mine is everyone can and should sing) make
sure they know what it is and that it the basis for what you expect of them.
I acknowledge on the first day that I know that some of them are here by
choice, some were put in the class without their knowledge, and others just
want to remain eligible for the football team. I tell that that does not
matter. They will be successful and that they will never be made fun of or
laughed at. I do things this way because, after 26 years in the same
building, I know the reasons behind my student's behaviors. So, find out the
"why" behind their behavior and then devise your strategy. Write back and let
me know what you find out. I'm going to try to attach a copy of last year's
choir handbook. I believe in putting everything in writing. I also make them
get a parent's signature to prove they have seen it.

I'll give you the same advice I was given today. I had my first day with my
top mixed choir of 50. This is my first year at this school and as a
teacher. I felt it was good advice, because I worried about discipline
issues also even though they're good kids in general.
It is only the first day of school. Kids are so wound up and anxious to see
each other. Many problems will die down as long as you set expectations
right up front and stick to them. I know that if I am assertive to begin
with and I stick to it, the results will be good ones.
I hope that helps! Relax and be firm, but give it some time.

I read with interest and empathy the description of your first-day experience
with a new high school choir. Without knowing much about the background of
this group, it sounds like you've inherited a culture that allows for a very
"loose" discipline in the choral rehearsal, regardless of the "reputation" of
the school. It could also be a "man vs. woman" thing (if your predecessor was
male) and/or age difference. To complicate it further, some older students
may be playing "loyalty games." It's a familiar story that happens just about
anytime a new choir director takes over. The first few weeks are crucial to
the outcome.

Whatever the cause, these students are "testing the waters" to see exactly
what are your expectations and how far they can push the limit. You need to
stand firm on your expectations, and you may have to get tough with them at
first until they figure out that you mean business. This doesn't mean that
you have to turn into a "witch" (although some of them may think you are) to
get your point across. But you do have to be firm.

Here are a few suggestions that might help:

1. Keep them busy singing. The more they sing, the less they can talk. Give
them a chance to sing through the music more without stopping, especially in
the first few weeks. Then, as they become accustomed to your style, you can
stop and start more. Be sure you're choosing some music that is fun for them.
Then you can use it as the "carrot" for when they do other things well.

2. Set up a warmup routine that begins the minute the tardy bell rings. Be
firm about tardiness -- in your seat with your music, pencil, etc. and ready
to sing when the bell rings. Follow the tardy policy strictly from day one
and don't put up with any foolishness. Otherwise, they'll run all over you.
You can do it nicely, but be firm.

3. Never allow students to talk when you're talking. The most effective thing
to do is just stop and wait for them all to pay attention. Stay on them,
don't give up. If they start talking when they stop singing, ask them to be
quiet. Remind them that they are not to talk when you're giving rehearsal
instructions, and if they have a question, they're supposed to raise their
hands. Do it nicely, but firmly, and consistently. You may have to do it
15-20 times in a rehearsal, but never let them talk while you're talking.
Once this starts, it will never end.

4. Be sure you have a plan for every class so you move purposefully from one
activity to another. All that stuff about lesson plans, etc. is old hat for
choral directors! You may even have to have a "minute-by-minute" plan so you
know how long you're going to spend on each activity or piece of music.

5. Try taping a few rehearsals, then go back and listen to yourself and
ask if you might have handled some things differently. You are your own best

6. As you get to know the class better, identify individuals who are positive
and negative leaders. Focus your energy on negative leaders: (a) move closer
to them when giving verbal instructions to "help" them remain focused and
quiet; (b) watch their singing behaviors (posture, jaw position, etc.), make
corrections as needed and compliment them as appropriate, etc.; (c) call them
by name when they need to be warned about inappropriate behavior. The other
students -- the followers -- will begin to pick up on these cues and adjust
their behavior. Most kids don't want to be "yelled at" (that means you spoke
to a student by name) in class, so use the negative leaders as your
"sacrificial lambs." It will make believers out of the others.

7. If/when you have a serious breach of discipline, don't let it go on in
front of the class. When I had enough of a student's behavior, I told them to
go sit in a practice room or my office -- someplace where they were separated
from the rest of the students and I could see them (preferably where they
can't be seen by the other students -- NOT behind your back). I let them sit
there for the rest of the class, then when class was over, I had a
mini-conference with them. This means writing a hall pass and making the
student late for another class, but follow up with that teacher so they know
you don't intend to make a habit of it. Tell the student that, unless his/her
behavior improves radically, you are going to have to take disciplinary steps
(this is where you use your school's discipline plan, which usually involves
calling the parents, meeting with a principal, temporary removal from the
class, permanent removal, etc.) You may have to "go the distance" with one or
two students before the others get the message. It's no fun, but failure to
do it could mean you'll lose the whole class.

8. Be sure to address non-singing behaviors: posture is very important to
good tone production and attention. Don't let them get by with sloppy
posture, sitting or standing. Even after I had taught for many years, I still
had to remind my choirs (even the top ones) to sit or stand tall three or
four times in every rehearsal. They have to constantly be reminded what your
expectations are, and you must never back down.

9. Make sure the kids know you like them. I told my students that they were
always welcome in the choir room, and that if they ever needed to talk with
me about ANYTHING, to come on in my office. I also told them that, when they
were in class, they were expected to try their hardest to do what I asked
them to do, and I would put up with no arguments or bad behavior in class. It
worked pretty well, but not perfectly.

It's been a long time since I've taught on a daily basis. I still do a lot of
choir clinics, and the kids I see aren't much different from the ones I
taught. They still try to "test the waters" with a new conductor, but it
usually takes them about five minutes to figure out that they're not getting
away with anything. But there are always the "hard cases," and those take
more time and effort.

The old saying, "don't smile until Christmas" may have some truth to it,
although I've never seen it take that long for a teacher who was determined
to get the best out of his/her singers. Remind your students regularly that
you're doing this for them, not for you, and show it by your actions. Tell
them that you want them to be the very best, and you know they can!

I've had this same problem in the past. I would go to your administrator and
explain the situation. Any problems will continue unless you have their
support for a plan of action. Set consequences for the students, and follow
through if necessary. Let the administration know your plan of action and
get their feedback to ensure that they will support your decisions.

There are many resources on classroom management that can also be of help.
Unfortunately I don't have their titles at hand. The library is a good place
to start

If it takes me more than a few seconds to settle the kids down, I immediately
begin looking at my watch, and counting how long it takes them to get quiet
(I only encounter this with my boy's class anymore). For every second, they
are held after the bell finishes ringing for lunch. If I have to look for a
third time, I double the amount of time. I don't have to do this with my
girl's classes, and it works real well for my idiot boys!

Keep them singing--if they're too busy, they won't
have time to misbehave!

How about NOT talking (scares my middle schoolers!) but singing a pitch
on "loo" until everyone joins in. Also echo clapping and mirroring
stretching exercises have worked for me. I generally get better results
when they are standing as well.

What about inviting the principal to your class to observe? If these
students are so used to acting inappropriately maybe they won't be able to
behave even when the principal is watching. Is there a policy in your
school for removing students that are unruly? I understand that your
school has "model" students, but there must be some sort of policy
regarding disruptive students. Keep in mind that you are new and all
students like to test the limits. I had behavior issues in my first high
school job but I played hard-ball and the kids came around. (It was easier
to discipline knowing I had the support of my principal and a disruptive
student policy.) It is important to make your expectations clear and
stay your ground. It's no fun to be a meany, but perhaps this bunch needs
a tight lip until they understand what is appropriate choir behavior.
Good luck!

P.S. Parents, parents, parents. Call those parents. Let them know what
you expect, what their child is doing, and ask for help in finding a
solution. Often times this is a successful way in changing poor behavior
Your administration should also be made aware of the situation, not to take
action but to be available to support any decision you make regarding
discipline in your class.

But, before all else, if you need to wait on them to be quiet before you can
begin working music with them then do that. And make it VERY clear to them
that their deportment is the reason they aren't singing.
Unfortunately, I think that a lot of kids tend to sign up for choir thinking
that it will be an easy A. They also all probably have an interest in
music, but may be nervous to show any interest in front of their peers.
(it's a catch 22 really if they all do it!) So, you need to show them that
they WILL be challenged (they'll secretly be thrilled about this, but
they'll want you to prove it to them.), and that it's alright to enjoy music

Assure them that while they are in the class, everyone will be required to
participated. Those who choose not to, will be asked to leave. (perhaps
harsh, but this will make others feel assured that they are amongst like,
and therefore safe company). Another idea to break down any egos (or
likewise, build it up) and bring it back to the importance of the music,
would be to have every single one of them vocalize in front of the class.
This is not to embarrass them, nor to single them out. If all of them are
required to do it, it will be less threatening. It may also remind them
that there ARE challenges to be found in your classroom. If any student
makes snide remarks, invite him or her to come up next or remind them that
they will be doing the same thing. If it gets bad, ask them to leave. This
will greatly increase the trust towards you from your students that it's
"safe" to really try in your class. My guess is that if you only send one
student out, you won't ever have to do it again.

Another idea is to give them a sneak peak of what they will be creating
together. Play a recording of a professional choir. Show them what voices
can possibly sound like. I assure you that behind the bravado and obnoxious
behavior, there are probably several who are dying to dive into and love
music! Show them YOUR love for music, and my guesses are that you'll excite
the students around you!
What about inviting the principal to your class to observe? If these
students are so used to acting inappropriately maybe they won't be able to
behave even when the principal is watching. Is there a policy in your
school for removing students that are unruly? I understand that your
school has "model" students, but there must be some sort of policy
regarding disruptive students. Keep in mind that you are new and all
students like to test the limits. I had behavior issues in my first high
school job but I played hard-ball and the kids came around. (It was easier
to discipline knowing I had the support of my principal and a disruptive
student policy.) It is important to make your expectations clear and
stay your ground. It's no fun to be a meany, but perhaps this bunch needs
a tight lip until they understand what is appropriate choir behavior.
Good luck!

P.S. Parents, parents, parents. Call those parents. Let them know what
you expect, what their child is doing, and ask for help in finding a
solution. Often times this is a successful way in changing poor behavior

My heart truly goes out to you. I wish I had some tricks that have worked.
You might try songs from musicals, with dialogue interspersed -- if you can
get your hands on a script. And with video sections of the same scenes
interspersed. Drama often captures their attention faster than singing.
Whatever you do, keep the sequence FAST!! Assign reading parts FAST!!
Don't wait for volunteers. Assign solo parts FAST to likely candidates!!

I would have music playing when they enter, with a question about it on the
board. Point their attention to the question as they come in. Hold your
grade book and mark behavior and question-answering-cooperation as you go
along, so that they know they are accountable
I feel for you. I experienced the same thing 2 years ago. A lot of
it had to do with the previous director, the resentment they had that she
had left them, and the fact that I ran rehearsals very differently. They
thought because I did things differently, I was wrong. (She was there 19

The only thing I personally can really tell you is to persevere,
make it clear what you expect from them and follow through with
consequences. It will take time. Talk to other teachers who know the kids

I have many groups like that especially at the beginning of the year. We
practice being quiet. For example, I have them sing "My Country Tis of
Thee" while I conduct. I stop in the middle of the song and the kids must
be quiet so I can say something. I do that four or five times in a row and
compliment them on being quiet. Then we go back to rehearsal. When
talking starts up again, we go back and sing "My Country Tis of Thee" and
do the whole practicing procedure all over again. Sooner or later they
catch on.

Obviously that does not work all the time. In many cases, I just ask a
student to leave the room and go sit in a practice room until I come for
them. If they ask why, I tell them they are being rude and disrespectful
to their classmates and I don't have time to deal with it right now since
others want to learn.

I document everything. If I need to talk to parents regarding a student's
behavior, I can pull out my rap sheet and show them specific dates and
behaviors. This makes a tremendous difference when dealing with parents
and administrators.

I think the biggest lesson the kids can learn, however, is respect.
Respect for themselves, for the rights of others, for you the director,
and for the subject matter being taught. I preach that every day. When
students misbehave for me, I tell them that they have the right not to pay
attention to what I am saying but they do not have the right to bother
others who do want to learn. And I pound that into their heads. We cannot
force anybody to learn but we can impress upon them the importance of
respecting the rights of those in the class who do wish to learn.

Even though I am now in a church setting, I have taught public and
private school -- mostly Middle and High School. A few thoughts:
1) It will improve once they get to know you. You are suffering from
"substitute teacher syndrome." They probably miss their former teacher and
you are the lightning rod.
2) When you say an academic high school, do you mean brighter, more gifted
kids? If this is the case, they are not good at working together or
following a leader because they each have their own ideas. It will serve
them in good stead when they are the president of the company or doing
research -- but it can be a royal pain right now for their teachers. ;-)
3) Were the kids actually nasty to you, or just sort of ignored you and did
their own thing? If they seem like basically nice but rowdy, try to figure
out who the leaders are and talk to them after class. This must NOT be a
lecture about behavior. What you want is to get them on your side. Ask
they why they think things are out of hand -- and LISTEN to what they say,
even if it is uncomfortable. This may be one of your few chances to "get
inside their heads." Ask for their suggestions to improve the situation and
try to follow at least one of them.
Good luck with your discipline challenge. Don't believe your
administration....every chorus can be unruly because you are dealing with
group dynamics. I don't know the chorus situation but the chorus may be
reacting to their former director. They may have had great rapport with that
person and they are testing.

(There were a few others....but no room left! Thanks everyone!)

Sheryl Williams

on June 27, 2004 10:00pm
Ok I'm a HS senior now! yay! .. um try this .. this method usally works with my band class because we are a military sytle band our director has the right to put us at "attention" we have to stnad stright, feet together with our insturments at attention position NO MOVING! WHAT-SO EVER . We do this until the director decides we can sit down again and be a band .., and if he catches anyone out of attention we stand there longer... believe me its not fun at all and if you make everyone stand there because one person or presons are fooling around eventuallit peer pressure will set it and you'll have a great sounding gruop of people. I think this is good for choirs too .. especially if kids don't like to stand or aren't used to stnading up. everytime you have to interupt rehershal after a point put them at attention make them stand there like statues until your ready to continue

I'm going to be majoring in muisc education so i'm picking up things form different people so that when I start teaching in a couple years I can use these different methods

Hope this works

on April 4, 2008 10:00pm
This is all very true. I wish I had known a bit more walking through the door as a newly minted choir teacher. Changing over from social science is/was much tougher than I ever imagined, but it's also been very rewarding. I deal with alot of stuff. Find out what it's really like with stories from the trenches.

I keep a blog: