Reply To: Starting off the Year

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K-3 I teach them the Hello Song, explain the rules and engage them in a short discussion about why they are important (“we should be nice to e/o, that’s what respect means”). I briefly explain consequences, then we get up and dance usually to Head, Shoulders Knees and Toes. Then we play the name game. This usually means some sort of echo song on sol-mi or sol-mi-la. There are many out there; sometimes it’s easier to make up your own.

Grades 4-8 I have them stay in line, sit in rows and write an info card as the Do Now. This usually asks if they are musically active outside of school or have experience with an instrument. I explain rules, consequences, fire drill and lockdown procedures. (The do now for the second class asks them to repeat this info.) Then we play a name game and learn a simple echo song, if time. Okay, that last part is grades 4 and 5 only. Grades 6+ I ask them to describe music – what does all music have? This is to get them to realize that there’s a steady beat and rhythm in nearly every piece / song.

On one small wall I have “Music Is: playing, singing, styles,” etc. just words backed on construction paper and laminated. I use this to get them thinking about how songs can be very different, yet still classified as Music. Then I pick up an empty oatmeal container and ask if that is an instrument. We talk about how music is everywhere and can be made on just about anything. (At a previous school there was no budget, so I used recyclables as drums. They are great for getting kids’ attention in the first couple classes, or in the middle of the year to reengage them.)

The second and third classes with all levels I begin by reviewing the rules and procedures. The second class we play the name game just to refresh my memory (I see my classes once a week). Also, I’m consistent: kids break a rule once, reminder. Second time they have to copy the rules. Even if it’s just a little slip, I make them follow through with the consequence. why? Kids are likely testing me.

The first two or three weeks of the year are called the “honeymoon period” for a reason. Kids are generally well behaved. They’re paying attention to how things work, testing the waters and figuring out where they could break a rule and get away with it. The teacher has to watch them and make sure that they are learning and understanding how to behave properly and respectfully. When in doubt about a situation, I take the kids out of the classroom, stand in the doorway and talk to them privately. (In front of the class, they are obligated to behave all cool and impress their friends by not letting the teacher tell them off. In the hallway the teacher can look the kid in the eye and find out what was going on and /or make clear that you won’t put up with that behavior.) Rant, sorry. I teach in the inner-city … if that’s not already obvious!!