8th Grade Boys

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    I teach in a very low income area. My particular problem class is an 8th grade Piano class that is largely male. It is a fairly small class of only about 12 students, but that doesn’t mean I have any control over them. We have electronic keyboards in the class which they are “learning” because that’s what they chose to learn. However, I can’t get through a lesson or even a simple task because they will not calm down enough to even let me speak. They will pull the headphones out of the keyboards and turn them up all the way playing those pre-recorded songs. Sending them to the office/detention doesn’t do very much as they go so often (not just in my class) they don’t see it as punishment anymore and they are simply back in class the next day. They are purposefully disrespectful and that’s what bothers me the most. There are students in that class that want to learn music but I can’t even teach them because the entire class is simply crowd control. Half the time they won’t even stay in their seats. I’m not sure what it is about this particular class because I have 3 other classes at the same school and I don’t have any major discipline problems in those classes. Thoughts, suggestions?


    Been there!! Not with keyboards, but this was my first year. I still teach in an inner-city district. …. First of all, understand the being of a middle school boy. They appear more adult (physical changes), they think and act like children — but they want you to treat them like adults. …. Oh! They have a genetic predisposition to talking!! Just kidding. Early adolescents are extremely social beings. My first year I pulled my hair out because I could not get my 8th grade boys to give me the time of day in any given class. One day I happened into the classroom of an experienced teacher. The same students were in her class, sitting in the back and talking. 🙂 That’s when I knew I had to give up!

    What you really have to do here is lay down the law, but at the same time relax with them. They see you getting mad and they have achieved their objective – to get control over you!! If you stay calm and speak to them in a low-pitched voice you will sound in control. They will try and brush you off, but continue with requests in this kind of voice, calm mannerisms (no folding arms, hands on hips or screaming — not that you have done these, but I know I did). Is there a master computer / keyboard which can turn off the student keyboards?? If so, turn the student keyboards off and explain to the boys that you think it’s great that they enjoy exploring the songs and sounds on the keyboard, but there is a time for that. And that time is at the end of class. Explain your objective at the beginning of every class in kid-friendly language. ex. “Today we’re going to identify notes then practice playing a piece of music. Then if you get through that you may plug in your headphones and play around on the keyboards.”

    They may claim to not care (may or may not be true, so much at this age is the appearance of being cool). Tell them that part of their grade is participation and you expect them to participate and TRY! That’s a biggie in my classroom still – it’s one of my rules. It’s an easy answer to the students who say they don’t want to do something or don’t feel like it. After asking if they are sick or sad (I’m talking grades 3-6) I explain this.

    Make sure the activity you give them is simple, but with several steps. The simple part will appeal to all learners and the multiple steps will appeal to the kids who are capable of more. For example: Step 1: use a key to identify the notes of a particular passage / exercise in a method book. Step 2: write notes under staff. Step 3: play notes on the keyboard. If they do this well, allow them to pick a sound effect. Step 4: practice several times and play without stopping or picking up one’s hand!! I don’t know what you’re working on – that was just a simple example.

    Good luck!!


    In addition to Maria’s great suggestions, here are some NAfME online articles that may be of help:

    12 Tips for Teaching Teens — http://musiced.nafme.org/interest-areas/general-music-education/12-tips-for-teaching-teens/

    4 Keys to Success with Middle School Students — http://musiced.nafme.org/interest-areas/general-music-education/4-keys-to-success-with-middle-school-students/
    Consistency is Key to Discipline — http://musiced.nafme.org/interest-areas/general-music-education/consistency-is-key-to-discipline/

    Are You Ready for a Disciplinary Crisis? — http://musiced.nafme.org/interest-areas/general-music-education/are-you-ready-for-a-disciplinary-crisis/

    Good Luck!
    Linda Brown, NAfME Staff


    Although I teach in a school with a vastly different socioeconomic area, I can really relate to a lot of what you say. The students I struggle with the most are the girls in my 8th grade guitar class. I think the thing that has worked the best with my group (refined over a few years of tough middle school classes) is a very consistent routine, that I teach little by little, but as it gets more familiar the behavior gets better. Make sure you teach very explicitly what students are expected to do when they come into the classroom – sometimes a calm, orderly, consistent routine can help eliminate some of the “free for all” behavior. My students know that when they come in, the first thing they do is grab a guitar and sit down – if they do anything other than that, they are called on it, and we try coming into the room again. The agenda is up on the board, we tune, I teach the lesson, they have work time, and depending on the day there may be written work due or a performance (formal or informal) at the very end of class. Of course every once in a while I mix things up to keep things fun and lively, but 90% of our class meetings follow that structure, and students know what to expect. I think keeping kids busy and in a routine can help eliminate the feelings of independence that sometimes lead to acting out.

    The other thing you might try is to establish a very set hierarchy of classroom rules and consequences, and then stick to it every single day with every single student. It sounds like being sent to the office isn’t having much of an effect, so I would try to take matters into your own hands more if possible. Post your rules, post your consequences on the wall, refer to them often. It will feel too authoritarian at first, and like things aren’t “fun”. But once the culture is established, things should be better. I will warn you this may take a month or more to really work though. And as my master teacher told me time and time again, things always seem to get worse with behavior plans before they get better, because they want to see if you are serious.

    My guitar class rules:
    1. Be prepared for class with all necessary materials
    2. Come into class and set up materials/workstation in a timely manner
    3. Demonstrate proper posture and playing positions
    4. Stay on task in class, and remain quiet when not asked to play or create
    5. Show respect for self and others
    6. Participate appropriately during rehearsal

    My consequences for breaking rules (fit into the overall school rules, but with my own twist):
    1. Verbal warning
    2. Loss of participation points (factored into grade)
    3. Moved elsewhere in class (sit in back alone, work alone instead of a group, written assign for a grade instead of practicing, etc)
    4. Loss of more participation points and 15 minute lunch or after school detention in my room (either sit quietly or given a clean-up task)
    5. Loss of more points, detention becomes 30 minutes, phone call or email home
    6. Office referral

    And like I said, these are posted prominently in my room.
    Usually for students who are really testing the boundaries, I tend to print out and show them a progress report so they can see how badly their behavior is effecting their grade. Of course some don’t care, but others will shape up a bit when they realize they are getting a D in music when they could easily be getting an A or a B if it wasn’t for the behavior.

    I highly recommend the book Crowd Control: Classroom Management and Effective Teaching for Chorus, Band and Orchestra by Susan L Haugland. It really shaped all my discipline and behavior systems. Even though your situation is a piano class, I still think you would find her recommendations and systems beneficial. That book helped me a lot – you’ll see a lot of similarities between my rules and hers!

    This is something I’m always working on, too. Try to allow yourself to celebrate the small victories with this class along the way. They may never be perfect angels, but if you can get to a point where some learning and performing is taking place and you feel more in control, even if it still feels a little chaotic, that should still be considered a success!

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