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Desperate for help

I'm a 2nd year teacher and currently teach 9-12 high school chorus at two part-time locations (one general/combined chorus at each school) at programs that are historically been dominated by band. I have 50+ students at each school (106 in total), out of which at each school about 15 signed up for the course because they wanted to sing, and literally the other 30+ of the class is placed in as a "dumping ground" because they had class conflicts, are upperclassmen that need the elective credit/GPA bump, or honestly don't care about being in school. We just finished our first 9 weeks and I had 12 students fail due to their grade or our county attendance policy which is extremely ridiculous for an elective class based off of participation.

It is quite frustrating to myself and the rest of the class when we spend 75%+ of the class with classroom management/sending students out/having to quiet the class/etc. I've had multiple instances where we have to call the campus resources officer due to drugs/fights/etc. The 30+ majority doesn't seem worried when they get 0s on daily participation, fail notebook checks, don't turn in simple assignments, etc. And when I send students to time-out/ISS they might be gone for a day or two, then always return and are resentful towards me. My administration gives me idealistic ideas and say I need to "get the class working" but do not provide me with concrete suggestions. I'm worried about job security and personal image, as the administration also seems to be putting 90% of the faults on me, and is quick to point fingers when they come in to view or listen in to one of my classes.

What do I do when a chorus class is filled with more drama than actual singing? I've tried the method of waiting for them to be quiet (they seem to have little concern about being rude), I admit I've gotten upset multiple times and had to raise my voice, gone over the classroom policies again, and everything I can think of. We've done personal and small sectional singing tests, with little to no positive results.

I can tell some students want the chorus to be recognized as an actual ensemble and not a joke, but the vast majority is just apathetic or downright rude. I want to have a concert but I'm afraid how the community/parents/administration will receive it, and have been told in the past nearly half the kids don't show up for the concert date. It's frustrating because I had some students audition and go to All-County Chorus, and the look of astonishment in their eyes when we had 150+ people attentative and singing in unison was a great feeling. I hate to admit it but it's slowly wearing me down and I feel like I'm losing the battle, and we still have 27 weeks of school left.
on November 2, 2015 4:29pm
This situation has come up on ChoralNet at least three times in the last year.   Each time it makes me so grateful that my first job (K-6) 15 years ago--when I was naive and unprepared--was under an excellent and competent principal who had high expectations for excellence from the music program, from me, and from the students, AND took the time as an administrator to set us all up for success..
 
I recommend you give 30 days notice, pay whatever financial penalty might be in your contract, and leave this position as soon as possible.  You are describing an impossible situation where job security and a positive self image is impossible.  You should delay only if you feel it would be an advantage to further connect with parents and colleagues who appreciate and support what you do, and would write recommendations to this effect, as well as testimonials regarding the utter incompetency of the administrators who "manage" these two schools.  You should document in detail these unworkable conditions and unrealistic expectations, for use in future job interviews.
 
You should also consider speaking (with specific written complaints in hand) to the superintendent, the school board, the press, other music educators in the community, the parents of the students who are serious about choir, and your union if you have one. 
 
Also, have you thought about putting this problem squarely back on the shoulders of the administration, where it belongs?  If sending a student out of class helps for a day or two, send that student--and any others--again and again, whenever necessary.  It is not your fault that students like this are allowed in school and dumped in your classroom.  Have you read the schools' discipline policy?  There should be clear, increasing consequences for these students, and a clearly defined point at which these students become the administration's problem, not yours.  Don't let your inexperience as a 2nd year teacher cause you to take responsibility for administrative laziness and mismanagement.  Your polite but firm attitude should always be, "I am a trained choral director and can provide an excellent program for students who are seriously interested in singing, but I am not trained in managing out-of-control and violent students who bring drugs to school, nor is that part of my job description."
 
Situations of this type should be a lesson to all new and would-be teachers: Do not accept a position just because you need a job!  Investigate it carefully, just like they are investigating you.  Interview them, just like they are interviewing you.  Are you being interviewed by an arts administrator?  Go interview the principal as well.  Is the principal interviewing you?  When he or she asks if you have any questions, say "Yes!" and pull out your list about specific situations like Dave describes.  Find out the name of the previous teacher and call him or her.  Visit other teachers after school and ask them about the school, the music program, and the administration.  If this is against school policy and you can't get in, wait in or near the parking lot.  Introduce yourself to teachers as they leave, say you are applying for the open music position, and ask if they have 15 minutes to talk to you about the school.  Go to other schools in the district and talk to those music teachers.  Teaching can be a wonderful experience, but not all schools and administrators are wonderful......or even workable.
 
Is anyone reading this who is involved with the preparation of music teachers?  What do you do to forewarn your students about the situation Dave is in? 
Applauded by an audience of 5
on November 3, 2015 5:37am
I'm in a similar position in my first semester.  I have about 20 students in 3 classes.  If it doesn't turn around next semester, I won't stay.  One good thing is the principle wants it to work and we have talked to a few students one-on-one about being leaders and doing well in "chorus", it is slowly getting better.  In the Spring I'll get mostly new classes and we'll see how it goes.
on November 3, 2015 5:42am
I was in a very similar situation.
Tell them you will divide the class according to interest and effort.  " I will not force anyone into what they wish to not do, but all of you must have assignments, etc, for a passing grade, or you will fail this course and have to repeat ". Plan a regular rehearsal with fairly simple music; stuff they have seen before, but enjoy....preferably something fun like Pitoni's "Cantate Domino"., or Julie Knowles " O Clap Your Hands". Give them one day where you observe their behavior, posture, interest, etc.  When possible, keep teaching and ignore the drama.  "I'm very sorry, but we must go on."
 The next day divide your class.  Pull the interested ones ( the "learning-activity" group) forward, either seated, or standing around the piano.  Rehearse that group as you normally would, making it as fun, interesting, and mildly challenging as possible.
Give the others a written assignment.  What worked best for me was to assign several chapters in the choral text.  They were to re-phrase it in their own words.  Be sure they understand the ratio of text-to assignment.  Tell them they will be graded on quality and quantity.  Their paper is their ticket out the door at the final bell.  I  said that for every 3 sentences of text, I needed to see  at least 2 sentences that they wrote.  (We either learn it by doing it, or reading it, and proving that we know it.). Needless to say, this assignment was not particularly attractive, and the borderline ones wanted into the activity group.  Be firm.  Ignore their tantrums; you are not a counselor for inappropriate behavior. Tell the ones who beg to be in that you will observe how well they follow directions and do their written assignment today. Tomorrow, or the next day/week/whatever it takes, when they are stellar in cooperation, respect, etc.,  invite them in.  Make it exclusive, attractive, but don't use the word "audition" or "try-out",or " invitational" as many school systems are geared that that is unjust.
 Meanwhile, your interested group will at least feel better, and may actually progress. [Obviously they are the ones who actually deserve your attention, and now they're getting it.]  As they gain a little confidence [not just musically, but in you and the progress of the situation], you can assign a temporary assistant leader to go over words/ rhythm, whatever they are capable of leading.
Say to the interested group, "Please excuse me.  I just have to do a quick check that the others are doing their assignments."  Be sure the "written-assignment" group is following directions and not "summarizing", which is different from the 3-to-2 ratio of paraphrasing.  (Otherwise, they will write one sentence per page and start misbehaving again.) Be extra careful not to call them "slackers", or bad kids, even if they present as such.  We all have issues,and potential, right?
When everyone -each group of students, and the administrators, other teachers, etc - sees that you are kindly-and absolute in you determined vision to teach singing technique and rehearse music, you will regain respect.  Try to get some Beta-club types in there.  It will help to balance the situation.   Get parent support wherever possible, but maintain the best possible relationship with your administration.  They, not the parents, will write your next recommendation.
As concert time nears, do not worry that they have not prepared more than 2 or 3 decent-sounding songs.  The goal at this point is to have a concert; you can improve it in the future, and folks will see that.  This time, invite local soloists, pianists, etc.[ include pop, jazz, classical, etc, a variety for their exposure] and intersperse them between your numbers.  To introduce your pieces, or to carry out your theme, use poetry, or 3-sentence scenes, or a sincerely funny student or teacher to introduce your pieces,
At the bottom of the program, have a place where the parents will check off the best time to meet, and their contacts.  Announce at the concert that this meeting will discuss how we can "offer the best quality experience for your children, with NO  fundraisers or financial contributions."
Best Wishes.  You can do this.  Trust your best self. Feel free to message me for further discussin.
-Lucy
Applauded by an audience of 4
on November 3, 2015 9:27am
You can, of course, take the advice of the teachers who have posted here and resign, to find a new position.  Or you could decide to stay and see if investing in these kids' lives actually might make a difference.  Obviously there's no guarantee, but if you could change even one student, perhaps your investment would be worth it.
 
My suggestion is this:  I would first "combine" the two choruses in that they perform (etc.) together.  Let the students come up with names for each choir.  (You could, for example, choose a common word as the first word in the name and they choose the second.)  The names should reflect the students' cultures.  Then, sign them up for a competition.  It doesn't have to be an expensive one, but they should have something to work for.  If you can afford it, sign up for a competition that goes to an amusement park so they get double bang for their hard work.  Lastly, choose music they are interested in which means you need to talk to them and find out what they like to listen to. 
 
For your first concert, audition for specials within your choirs.  There may be some great talent.
 
For the next few years, choir needs to be fun so that it becomes the class kids want to be in!  Then, at that point, you can focus more on actually teaching music.
 
Robin
on November 4, 2015 7:08am
Hi Dave,
 
Remember, all the problem solving you're doing now will make things better long term. It's only going to get easier. That being said, it sounds like a very difficult situation, and between the problem solving you've already begun and the suggestions of our colleagues, you WILL make progress. I'd add one other suggestion: ask around your building and find out which teachers are great at classroom management. Then ask to visit their classrooms. Observe and steal ideas. Ask them to visit your classroom and brainstorm with you. It'll help a lot to realize you aren't in this alone! Best wishes.
Applauded by an audience of 3
on November 5, 2015 6:01pm
I love Kayla's idea! Regardless of what happens this year, it will make you a better teacher.
The groups you are working with sound a lot like some elementary students I taught last year. If so, these students don't know what choir can be. They have also probably decided that they don't like you. This happened to me after nine years of being everyone's favorite teacher. 
 
This year, I have been able to prevent disaster in my classes with a similar group dynamic  by figuring out what I can take from them that they care about on a daily basis. For my students, it's recess. Maybe yours don't want to be tardy to their next class. Clearly, grades aren't doing it for them. You need something more immediate.
 
I asked the students how many times they thought I should have to wait for 5 seconds for them to be silent. When they came up with a number, I put that many post it notes on the board. When I find myself waiting for 5 seconds, I walk over to the board and take down a post it note. I keep taking them down until I have silence. The visual cues them in in a way my wait time was not. Suddenly, I find that I am able to teach. They are sometimes having fun and I am able to enjoy them as people. Also, I have never had to take a recess away. We've even reduced our number of post-it notes.
     This strategy may sound like one that is too elementary, but your students sound immature. Maybe you can modify this for your situation.
Applauded by an audience of 1
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