Winning Them Back

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    Due to reassignments at the end of last year (I posted about this on the old forums) I went from teaching K-5 General Music/Chorus to 4-7 Chorus (no more general music for them) and a HS keyboard/theory elective. So far it’s been going really well, except for one class–seventh grade chorus.

    Backstory: These kids were first graders when I arrived at this school. They were always a very hardworking and well-behaved group. As fifth graders, they performed the Nutcracker with choreography in December, a Favorites concert in January, and then learned ten foreign-language pieces plus one with sign language for the May concert. There were hardly ever any behavior issues and we had a really great year. When I cried onstage at the last concert (“Love In Any Language” did me in) several kids stopped to give me a hug and make sure I was okay before leaving the stage. The chorus formed a strong bond and it was a great year.

    Because of a class size issue, 7th/8th chorus had to be split into two groups this year. The MS/HS teacher kept eighth grade, and they go to her classroom in the high school. I have seventh grade, and they come to my room in the elementary building. I was really excited to be getting my awesome group back–but we’ve been back to school for over a month now, and it isn’t like it was. The students are moody and lethargic. There is constant talking, and many remarks have been made about how much they miss the middle school teacher they had last year, or about how awesome the pop concert that they did at the end of the year was. Some kids are putting forth zero effort on written assignments and are just scribbling something to fill the blanks. Gum chewing is a huge issue and some students refuse to spit it out even when I remind them by name (though I always remind the whole class as a group first to avoid embarrassment if possible.) Last week a girl showed up wearing a hat, which is a clear violation of dress code, and argued with me when I told her to take it off. Summary of the situation: This is the worst period of my day. It’s even worse than lunch duty.

    I know what the problem is, at least in part: They physically went to the high school for music last year and had the MS/HS teacher. Now, as seventh graders, they’re back in the elementary room with the elementary teacher. It feels like a demotion. They had gotten attached to the MS/HS teacher, and even though they didn’t DISLIKE me before, they thought they were done with me–and now I’m back. Their last chorus memory from sixth grade was the pop concert, and now we’re trying to do standard choral literature. Of course, I know they’re dealing with the standard onslaught of junior-high hormones. Add to that a before-8AM class time, and you have a group of tired, moody students who feel like they’ve been sent back to kindergarten.

    I can’t do anything about any of that.

    I used to be really, really strict, but based on issues last year I’m not sure I’d have support from the administration if I started clamping down on every single infraction. (The current administration believes everything ought to be “fun,” and one principal has hinted to me that if the numbers drop due to lack of interest–it being my job to ensure there is interest, of course, by always making it fun and exciting–the program may fall victim to budget cuts.) Regardless of how strict I should or shouldn’t be, we can’t keep going like it is now. I feel like the kids hate me and I dread this period even more than I dread lunch duty.

    (I should also point out that I have never taught any grade above sixth at any point in my career, and I haven’t taught above fifth for over half a decade. I’m sure that’s not helping.)

    I am planning to have them participate in the pop concert at the end of the year, and I’m sure they’ll be excited about that, but we won’t start working on that until April. So in the meantime, how do I go about getting them back on my team?


    I am in the exact same boat, but with 8th graders. This year I moved buildings and teach one class (Gr. 8 chorus) at our high school. I was so excited because I had many of the kids for several years and we did some pretty awesome stuff. Like you, I feel like I’ve been socked in the gut with all of the unexpected discipline — I have had girls fighting in my room, endless disruptions by students, and issue after-school detentions up the wazoo to no avail. Gum chewing, food and beverages are NOT ALLOWED in the high school chorus room, but they have no respect. Today I counted 11 students chewing gum during my rehearsal. Also like you, I have been told that I need to keep my numbers up. I am so frustrated because there are about 10 kids who should just be kicked out of this class so that the 45 who want to be there and work hard can have a good experience. I am afraid that I will be losing my GOOD kids because the bad ones are SO BAD.

    If I were a new teacher I would consider it part of the newness, but I am a veteran who is ripping her hair out!

    Hopefully someone will post some good advice!!!


    KBP this is a tough situation. I think that your analysis of the challenges facing you shows both insight and objectivity. For me the early hour would be the biggest challenge. I’d recommend alot of physical movement during rehearsal – as much as possible. Also I would recommend some way of rewarding those that are contributing, and something to withhold from those who are not contributing.
    The most deadly thing in my classroom is me making general statements to the whole class about negative behaviours that are happinging with just a few. You probably allready know this – but it took me awhile to learn it.
    Make sure that there is a reward piece in the folder – one or two that the students love to sing -and save it for the end of the class period.
    Invite a handful of your elementary students to visit and watch the 7th graders perform – tell your 7th graders that you need their help showing the little ones just how things ought to be done.
    Pounce on the first good thing that anyones says or does in any given rehearsal and make a big deal about how well they are doing, how much you appreciate what you are seeing or hearing.
    I have not taught elementary school – but compare how you rehearse the older kids vs. the elementary students – and possibly consider playing up to the fact that these students are veterans.
    Depending on the setting the same set of students will behave and perform very differently. Consider some activities – warm ups, or musical selections and make sure the student know that this or that piece of music – or classroom activity is only for them, and only suitable for them – because of their level of experience and age.
    I hope this helps!
    Alan Scott – Murray High School


    I also sympathize with you; most of my career has been with K-6, but there have been a few years when I’ve had to teach 7th grade and it never went very well. I think that even in the best of situations it is a difficult grade to teach, and as you explained there are several other negative factors on top of it. I don’t know if you will be continuing teaching 7th grade, but for this year, if I were you, I would probably just give in to whatever it is that will make your year more tolerable (and will keep the morale of the class up so the kids don’t end up quitting). Maybe that means programming mostly pop songs with just one or two “serious” pieces. Or maybe instituting a reward system so that if they have good behavior they can earn a class party… being a morning class they would probably think it was the coolest thing if you brought in doughnuts for breakfast. Or planning some kind of field trip just for the 7th grade.

    Good luck!

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