Chorus Handbook . . . in Brief
The Three Pages You Need in Your Music Classroom Handbook
By NAfME Member Elizabeth Fetters
Do your chorus students and parents actually read your classroom handbook for chorus? I inherited a large and unwieldy chorus handbook when I took my middle school chorus position. It was nine pages long. As the years went by I realized that students and parents weren’t actually reading it. Then an issue would come up and usually included confusion and phone calls. I finally revamped the handbook and I was able to whittle it down to three important pages. Here’s how I did it.
Grading, Calendar, Contact Information
What’s the most important thing that students and parents want to know about chorus?
- How the students are graded.
- The dates and times of the concert.
- How to contact the teacher.
Move those things to the first page of your handbook. Dispense with lengthy introductions to the course and instead jump right in with how students are graded, how the grade is divide, and what the expectations are for the course. This is also a great place to put your rubric for grading students. Making your rubric public knowledge to students, parents, and administrators can save you a lot of headaches as the year progresses.
Make concert expectations simple and clear. Many schools view the concert as a requirement of the chorus class and failure to attend will result in a failing grade. State in your handbook the policy for extenuating circumstances that cause a student to miss a concert. Include information about make-up assignments. I have a separate rubric for concert etiquette and performance that I include at this point in my handbook. My students also have a dress code for the concert and that information is laid out here in the handbook.
Finally, you need confirmation that the handbook has made it home and that the parent has looked at it. Make the last page of the handbook a contract for parents and students to sign. Format your handbook so that the last page is single-sided. This page they will remove and return to you.
Here is a sample outline for the simplified chorus handbook:
If you limit your handbook to this information, you can keep it year after year and tweak things only when necessary. Don’t include information that parents and students can get elsewhere such as school opening and closing dates, dates report cards are distributed, or how to register for classes next year. This information just weighs down your handbook. Dates like these also change every year, which makes editing the handbook for the new school year a time-consuming and mistake-ridden process.
I have also stopped including information about field trips or other special events in the handbook. By the time the field trip comes around in May, most everyone has forgotten that it was spelled out in the handbook in September. Instead I distribute that kind of information as needed.
Most schools have some kind of online media presence, whether it’s a social media page or a district-supplied website where parents can log in for school-specific information. That’s the place where I now post information about additional singing opportunities, audition information that comes my way, information about honors and select groups, and daily classroom expectations. I also post a short biography and the best way to contact me. My school district has a “Statement on Music with Sacred Text” that I post every year. That is an especially helpful letter to make available to parents around the holidays.
Before you photocopy your now-much-lighter chorus handbook make sure you run it past your administration. Principals usually don’t like to be blind-sided by a parent phone call about a chorus handbook that they have never seen. My school requires a form at the start of each school year that explains teacher’s grading policies. How easy! I just attach a copy of the chorus handbook.
Lighten the load this school year with a lighter chorus handbook that everyone will read!
About the Author:
NAfME member Elizabeth Rusch Fetters holds a music education degree from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, a master of music in performance from Kent State University, and a library science degree from the University of Maryland. Her articles can be found in The Double Reed Journal, The Instrumentalist, and The Maryland Music Educator Journal. She is a founding member of the Hunt Valley Symphony Orchestra and freelances as a soloist. She currently teaches middle school general music and chorus for Harford County Public School, Bel Air, Maryland. She tweets at @TeachMusic2001.
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