We've all had "that" class. The one where half or more of the students are misbehaving and some are actively trying to undermine the progression of class. It's frustrating and makes teaching miserable if not impossible. To make things worse, this kind of class is rarely addressed in teacher trainings and there isn't a ton of information about how to handle these types of situations.
So what can you do?
1. Divide And Conquer
One of the biggest difficulties in dealing with half or whole class misbehavior is the momentum that is built up by the number of students and their ability to hide in the crowd.
One of the best things to do is to give energy and attention to positive behavior and this can be done by separating those who are doing the right thing from those who are doing the wrong thing. If you have a line with only some students who are ready, you can start a new line by pulling those students out. Very quickly students who were not ready will get ready and eventually you will only be left with the students who are purposely ignoring the directions. Once you have isolated the students that are causing the behavior problems you can handle the behaviors more effectively.
2. Try The "Write" Way
Sometimes having written alternative activities is an effective way to eliminate problematic behaviors or at least delay them. By having a "cool-down corner", or a "reflection section" of your music classroom you can give students who are having trouble following your classroom expectations a written refresher that will break the momentum of the unacceptable behavior and give the students that are ready to learn a chance.
3. Give The Instruments a Break (Or They Will)
If the class you receive can't follow directions to stand in a straight line, then they have no business playing instruments. (There, I said it!) Your behaviorally challenged classes may have to show consistent improvement in behavior before you allow them to play instruments again because not following directions leads to misused and broken instruments.
4. Structure, Structure, Structure.
Classes that are behaviorally challenged need plenty of structure. This includes precisely crafted instructions, positive narration, and a reward system that is consistently utilized. Also I use compliance tests like having the students line up on a taped line upon entering my classroom to see if they are ready to learn. When the students can know what the expectations are, they have a better chance to successfully meet them.
5. Reset and Review
Resetting and reviewing expectations gives students a fresh reminder of what they should be doing. This may involve walking through classroom entering procedures and the rules of your classroom. Going back to square one may be what your students need to enable them to be successful in your music class.
6. Respond, Don't React
Many times students do things just to see if they can get a reaction from you. If you keep a neutral, yet firm tone and do not react to negative behavior, it sends a message to the students that "you can't get attention from doing the wrong thing".
But what if other students laugh and react?
If this happens you can address the whole class letting them know that it isn't funny when "some students" are acting up because it wastes their music time, and you can instruct your class not to pay attention or laugh when others are behaving badly.
7. Strengthen Yourself Before You Get "That Class"
Your mental state will determine much of how each class responds to you. Your level of certainty and confidence in what you are doing and saying will let your class know if they should listen to you or not. Practice confident delivery of instruction in the mirror if you need to, because it will transfer into the classroom.
8. Know That Their Behavior Is Not Your Fault
The behavior of the "wild-child" class you receive is usually not your fault but it is your responsibility to conduct you class in a way that shows them that their behavior is not acceptable in your classroom. Keep your boundaries firm but don't blame yourself if you have to spend most of your class time working on behavior. That just may be where they are and what they need.
9. Build Relationships
Ever correct a student and have them say "how do you know my name?" Sometimes students misbehave because they can blend into the crowd, and if you are newer, they may think you don't know who they are and that they can get away with bad behavior. By getting to know your students and building relationships with them they will know that they can't get away with things because they will be held accountable because you know them. Building relationships also creates mutual respect which will cause students to want to do the right thing.
10. Find Out What They Love And Make Them Earn It
I have a class reward system in my classroom that is student led. I let the student choose the reward based on two simple criteria: Low or no cost, and can be done at school. Most of my students voted on having Takis, a snack food in the same category as potato chips, or a movie day, but one group sprung for having a piñata party! Once the class agrees on what they want and knows the expectation to move toward that goal, they will start to hold each other accountable to try to earn it.
These are only some suggestions on how to teach a class with a high percentage of behaviorally challenged students. There are many other factors that make teaching difficult some beyond the scope of training of your typical Elementary music teacher. While this list isn't meant to be exhaustive it is meant to give you a starting point to deal with difficult classes.
Do you know other ways to deal with difficult classes? Leave them in the comments below!