Thursday, September 29, 2016

Ten things performing arts teachers wish parents would understand

In the every growing popularity of Mama Roses and Stage Moms, parents and teachers are bound to have conflicts.  As our stage parents become more involved, there needs to become a better understanding between parents and teachers. First let me say that I think it is very important for parents to be involved in their children's life and Fine Arts experiences. I also think that it is very important for you to advocate for your child. Sometimes things are genuinely not fair and you need to make sure you are doing what is best for your child. I also think that having wonderful relationships between parents and teachers benefits the whole program and makes everything run smother. The better relationship you have with your parents, the more help and support you get in your productions. I think it is very important for parents and teachers to "play nice" Now here are a few things that Performing Arts Teachers wish that parents knew.

1. We want what is best for your child.  I have one son, but I realistically have 500 children. When your child is with me, they are my kid. I love them and I want what is best for them. I am there cheering them up before tests, encouraging them before they go onstage, and celebrating with them when they succeed. Even when something doesn't go your child's way, we are still pushing for them to succeed. 

2. We are trying to be fair to all children. I once had a parent yell at me because I would not let their child redo their audition three times, because they didn't do well the first time. I tried to explain that it wasn't fair to let one child repeat their audition numerous times if we weren't going to let everyone else repeat their audition. We try our best not to play favorites. That being said, we have to try to teat everyone as equally as possible and sometimes that means setting a hard line.

3. We wish we could let everyone in the production. This year I had over 150 elementary students audition for the play. If I could, I would have had everyone in the show. But for the quality of the shows we have to put a cap on our numbers. Our stage just can't handle that many kids dancing at once, and my patience can't handle that many kids in the gym for rehearsal. Most teachers try to offer many different opportunities to perform, there will always another way for your child to be involved.

4. Tech is very important. Tech is a wonderful way for children's to develop leadership skills and independence, It is also a great place for students to contribute who aren't quiet ready to be onstage. I love tech crew. It was where I found my "Place" in the theatre world.  It always breaks my heart when parents down tech theatre because their kids won't be the "star". Without tech, the actors would be standing silent in the dark. 

5. We spend more time with your child then we do with our own. If you break down the amount of time I am at school (roughly 8 hours) and then add that to the amount of time we have rehearsal (usually about 2 hours) that is almost 10 hours when I'm away from home. Given that my child goes to sleep at 8PM. That really only leaves me 2 hours if I am lucky. I spend so much more time with your child on any given week. I do it because I love and care about your child. But please be respectful of my time, nothing hurts worse then when you are 2 hours late picking up your child from a rehearsal and I miss my 2 hour window to see my child.  

6. We have a family and sometimes emergencies happen. I know that it is a huge inconvenience when a rehearsal gets canceled. No director cancels rehearsals "just because" but sometimes emergencies come up. My husband and I both work, sometimes when my child gets sick I have to stay home from work to take care of him. Most of my students' parents understand this, but occasionally I will have a parent who goes and complains to the principal when an emergency happens. I know that if the situation was reversed they would want understanding. That is all we want as well.

7. We love pushing your child artistically. Directors love to see what their students can do. Often these kids amaze even us with their talents and abilities. All we ask is that parents trust the process. Just because a kid comes home and says their part is too hard, don't automatically go to the director and try to get them to make it easier.  We know what our students can do.  No director will put an unprepared child onstage, we will get your child ready. They might just have to work harder than usual to achieve this goal.

8. We try our best not to play favorites. I do my very best not to put the same students in lead roles every show. I know students think that directors always choose the same kids but that is rarely the case. For example, I have a student who played a very minor role in the musical last year. It was a very very small role but she did a wonderful job with it. She did so well that she was one of the main characters everyone remembered.  So when she was cast as a main character in the next play everyone complained that we were playing favorites.  It wasn't the case, but that is how people viewed our casting because they all remembered her from the last play. 

9. Your child feeds off your reactions. It happens every year. We announce the cast of every child is thrilled with their parts. Even if they have a small role in the chorus they are so excited to be a part of the production. Then they go home and their parent makes a comment about how that role is not that great. The student starts to question their part and aren't as excited when they arrive to the first rehearsal. Please remember if you are excited about a small part, they will be too. The kids just want to make you proud, show them that you are proud of their accomplishments (even if you do think they should have been the star). 

10. We love what we do. Must fine arts teachers become directors because we grew up in school fine arts programs. As students, this is where we found our place and our extended family. We do our best to provide this same experience to your child. All Fine Arts students form a bond that you don't usually find in the regular classrooms (very few people talk about how their math class is their home away from home). We want to provide a place for your child where they feel safe, loved, and accepted. We want your child to feel like they are needed at school. That is why you child loves their fine arts classes so much, we help create a home away from home while your child is at school. 

Bonus: We need parents' help! Being a parent of a fine arts child is rough. We know that we demand a ton from the student and family. Rehearsals after school require extra transportation requests and time away from family. Depending on the school, sometimes you need you even have to pay to rent the instrument or be in the play. We recognize your sacrifices you are making for you child and we really really appreciate it. We also really appreciate all the times parents volunteer. I cannot tell you how amazing my parents are. So many of them have come in on Saturdays to help me build sets or stayed late after plays to help load up cars and take down back drops. They have helped sell tickets and concessions, and even applied makeup and costumes. Our parents are amazing and we could not do what we do with out them. 

So what did I miss? What do you wish you could tell your parents as a Fine Arts teacher?

Thursday, September 15, 2016

How the Arts Shapes Future Citizens

Recently Wells Fargo came under attack from the Fine Arts community for the ads they published to promote their teen day. People claimed that they didn't respect Fine Arts as an ultimate career goal. That these ads said that when kids grow up they must choose "real jobs" and stop trying to be dancers or actors. Many people were outraged!
Wells Fargo Teen Day Ad
While I agree that arts for art sake is very important, we should not diminish students who dream of becoming actors and dancers. However I would be very naive to say that only students who want to grow up and be actors should attend my classes. As Fine Arts Budgets constantly get cut, it is up to Fine Arts teachers to find ways of advocating for the importance of their classes. The simple fact is that Administrators and County Office will not see the importance of Fine Arts if we are only creating great actors, we have to create great students.

More than any other subject, I think Fine Arts has the ability to create amazing scientists, teachers, CEOs and many more careers.  As teachers today, we are helping to shape students who must be prepared to work in a 21st Century environment. The arts help shape students' future. There are so many wonderful benefits to the Arts. 


As you can see arts are so important. Students who participate in the arts: 

-are more likely to graduate high school.
- are often more able to empathize with other who are different from them in some way (racial, gender, socioeconomic)
- often have better attendance records.
- are less likely to use drugs
- participate in more community service projects and are more politically active

The Fine Arts help create better citizens. These students are creative, critical thinkers, who have confidence and resilience. The Arts helps develop all of this.

Yes as Fine Arts Teachers we hope that our students will grow up and win Tonys, Grammys, and Oscars. However, no matter what students decide to be when they grow up, whether actor, singer or scientist, the arts will have helped shape that student into an amazing citizen. As teachers that is our job to create future world leaders. So whether our students are Actors yesterday and botanist today or dancers yesterday, today and tomorrow, Fine Arts teachers should be proud of our contributions to the world!

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Scripting Word Problems
Combining Theatre, Wrtiting and Math into one awesome lesson.

Math, my least favorite subject. I do not like math, when we had to take math in college I literally took a class that was nicknamed among the Fine Arts students as "math for actors and their goldfish." I do not like math, but I realize that I and my students need to be exposed to more math. So I am trying to step outside my comfort zone for some of my assignments this year.
Students love turning Math word problems into scripts. 

Last week my third grade students were working on elements in a script. They learned the parts of a script and how to compose simple scenes. Then it came time for the closing assignment. Students had to form groups of three and write a script. Typically I just let students pick their topics, but as I said I'm trying to push myself this year. So I walked myself down to the math teacher to see what they ere studying in math. Turns out in math my students were studying two things (oh good more challenge!) 

The students were studying 100s grouping and greater than less than. So when we set about creating our scripts they had a choice in topics.

Here is how I organized this lesson. I am including my instructions and one of my student's scripts. I will also link to my TPT store for the rubric download for acting and rehearsing.
Basic Theatre Rubrics

1. Choose a standard- students needed to choose what type of math problem they wanted to solve.
2. Write your numerical math expression- I am not sure if this is the correct terminology but basically have your students write and solve the math problem they want to tell a story about (7 groups of 100=700 or 27>25). If you want to control how hard a problem you give, you could also assign them a problem from a textbook or worksheet.
3. Brianstorm your story- this is where we start integrating in story elements students had to write out their characters, setting, and conflict. Beginning, middle, end, etc
4. Rough draft of script- have students write out their script. To help ease problems I make sure to tell them that each student is responsible for writing their own lines. Helps stop a lot of fights.
5. Check your math- this is a very important step that I skipped when I first was assigning this problem. Students sometimes get so excited writing their script, that their math goes wonky. 1,200 becomes 12000 or something else. Just make sure they go back and double check the math.
6. Rehearse the play- remind students about finding entrances and exits and useing levels to create stage pictures.
7. Perform the play- let students perform the plays and have the audience solve the math problems. 

I love how they use stage directions and that one of the characters makes a mistake in the math. These scripts don't have to be long, they just need to solve the problem!

Well this is my idea for math word problem scripts. I love that this assignment integrates math, writing and theatre. It was a great way to get some cross curricular lessons for my kids. I hope you will give them a try! Let me know if they worked out for you! What math problems did your kids solve?

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Fine Arts Teachers and Finding the Balance

How to find the balance between friend and teacher.  Fine Arts teachers have the difficult task of creating a class where students feel free to express their creativity while still maintaining order. How do teachers create that balance?

One of the most common pieces of advice that veteran teachers give newbies is "don't smile until Christmas" I can't tell you how many people told me this when I first began teaching High School English. The Theory behind the no smiling rule is that you want to students know that you mean business.

A friend of mine from college recently began her own blog. In the blog she talks about how she has become ok with being "the mean teacher". She talks about how she demands respect from her students and she doesn't mind calling students out for the way they are behaving. She doesn't let anything fly in her class. She is a firm believer that students don't need to like you, they just need to respect you. You can check out her post here.

Her post got me thinking about my own teaching style when it comes to how I relate to students. In some ways I completely agree. I hold my students accountable for their behavior and I try very hard to improve student behavior throughout the building. And yes that sometimes means calling them out in the hallway or sending them out of class. I have a reputation for kicking students out of plays if they get written up for serious misbehavior in any class. My students think that I am "hard teacher" but my students don't typically think I am mean. So this got me thinking. How is my approach different from the typical "mean teacher".

Fair and Firm
One thing that I pride myself on is that I am both fair but firm. When we create the classrules. We hold everyone to the same standards. Students know that I do not tolerate rudeness or disrespect in class. Any student caught doing so will recieve a consequence. Student know that I do not play favorites. It doesn't matter if a student is the lead in the play or "tree number 2" they are all held to the same rules and standards. I think that students appreciate this approach and it helps them understand the rules to a better degree.

Demand Excellence but Earn Respect
This is a huge teaching point for me. I make sure that the students know that I believe in them. I want them to know that no matter how difficult of an assignment I give the kids, I do not give them any assignment that they cannot accomplish. Students are used to being challenged in my class. The most exciting part of this is that students begin demanding more and more challenging assignments. For example, my 4th grade students are very very talented. I have been assigning them plays several grades above them for a few years now. At the beginning of this year, they asked me if they could start doing 8th-9th grade assignments. We had a to have a discussion about how they were talented enough to handle the material, a lot of the material was not appropriate for an elementary student :)
Demanding excellence helps students reach their full potential.  How do teachers find the balance?

Be Silly
Students must be able to relate to you. I firmly believe that it is ok to smile once in awhile. Let them get to know your personality.  Students are actually people (I know shocking) and they want to be able to relate to the people that they spend 8 hours a day with. Sometimes you are the only adult that pays any attention to them throughout the day.  Don't make it so the only attention they get is you yelling at them. I love being silly.  Especially when we are rehearsing. Laugh, make jokes, put on a silly costume. Do what you can to make learning fun... Just don't use sarcasm. They don't understand it and you can end up hurting someone's feelings. 

Learn Together
One of the most effective strategies I have found for relating to students is learning together. Students need to know that we are not perfect. That we are constantly striving to do better as well. This can be small things, like Googling an answer to a question you don't know. It can be helping them do research for the play you are working on together. it can also be working together to help complete a task. My kids know that I cannot sing roar dance. When we put on musicals they know that I rely heavily on my music and dance teacher to get the job done. They also will see me sitting in on these rehearsals learning from the teachers. They see me working alongside them to learn new techniques. Sometimes they even become my teacher experts when they conquer a skill before I do. I think that letting students see you as not perfect helps them to relate to you.

Get to know the kids
Make sure you know your students. Not just their name. Now I have over 500 students. Do I know every single students name? absolutely NOT! I have found several ways of politely asking for names again and again.  My kids probably think I am a memory spaz. My most common phrase is "oh no your name just ran out of my brain help me out!" I know that it is hard enough to learn everyone's name let alone any facts about them. I will tell though, if you can get to know your students. What they like, what is going on in their life, what they are good at. It goes a long way towards classroom management and how you can relate to students. If kids think that you are interested in them... not just how well they do on a performance or test... they will do better overall. Kids spend so much time with their teachers. They want their teachers to be proud of them. I will never forget one of my top students (he is a great actor) running into the room one morning because his baseball team had won the world series for his division! He was so proud! It was great to be able to share some excitement for something not related to school! And because he knows that I care about how he does overall, he definitely tries even harder parts in my class now! 

As a Fine Arts teacher we have the distinct challenge of finding the balance between friend and teacher. Students have to be able to relate to us and trust us or they will not be willing to try different, challenging, or unusually plays. They won't be able to give us their best artistically if they don't trust us. But we are also their teacher not their friend. We cannot simply laugh with them and have a good time. It is our job to teach them. It is our job to enforce the rules and keep the peace.  How do we find that balance? How to you create an environment where students feel free enough to be themselves and try new things, while still understanding that you are their teacher not their friend? What balance do you find as a Fine Arts teacher? Are you more of a "mean teacher" "cool teacher" or somewhere in between?

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Classroom management in the theatre class

Classroom Management techniques for the Theatre Classroom.

As a theatre teacher classroom management is a very unique challenge. On one hand, most of my students love my class and want to be in it. On the other hand, most of my students are performers and love being a class clown/ center of attention/ never stop talker. It is a fine line managing the silliness and talking without stomping their spirit.

Theatre also has to be a safe space. You cannot foster creativity and risk taking if students do not feel safe. Creating a safe space is something I work at almost every day in class. I think that sometimes students don't realize how much lower their words have over eachother. They say something trying to be silly or sarcastic and their words stick with eachother and make it so the actors don't want to want to "look silly" and try new things. So how do we create a space that fosters creativity and risk taking? Here are a few of my ideas.


In class certificates
This is something new I am trying this year. I want students to be able to take home some "good notes" this year. I created several different mini certificates that I plan on keeping in a folder by the stage any time someone does something great on stage I'm going to give them a quick certificate to take home. I also created certificates for audience behavior (something I am always working on) and line memorization. I am hoping these certificates help motivate students. You can check out my certificates on my TPT site if you are interested.

In-Class Certificates

Theatre games
Like most theatre classes my kids love theatre games. I have started to use theatre games as a class motivation. I have the letters of the word game magnetized on my board. The rules are that as long as there is at least one letter still on the board AND we have finished our lesson we will play games for the remainder of class. This works really well for me. Anytime the students start getting to silly or rambunctious I just have to walk near the letters and they quite themselves down. I very rarely have to say a word to them. This has been one of the easiest management techniques I have ever used. It is also nice because it is free and very simple. 

Student choice
When possible I like to allow students to choose different part of the lesson based on their behavior. Whether it is the 3 best audience members get to choose their partner for the next scene. Or the most focused group gets to choose their costumes first. Using behavior to allow students to take ownership of their performance has a two fold reward. You get student behavior under control and you get students to have more buy-in in your lesson. It's a win win!

Think about it sheets
In general I have found that I don't have to many extreme behavior issues in class. Typically it is just talking and being silly. Most of the time, a reminder is all students need to get back on track. If students won't redirect themselves after a warning I send them to the side to fill out a behavior sheet. You can get a FREE copy of my behavior sheets on my TPT site. These sheets serve a double purpose in that they remove students from the situation and they create a record for you of what the student did and why in their own words. These sheets are also nice because it makes the students say what behaviors they are going to change. Excellent if you ever need to have a parent teacher conference about behavior.

After students have filled out a sheet if they keep acting out I contact their parents. It really helps if you develop a good relationship with your parents before you contact the with an issue. Typically all I have to do is mention an email to parents and my kids start to straighten up. They know that I know their parents and I don't mind contacting them if I need to. The most common reason for parent contact for me is line memorization. Why do students  not want to memorize lines by the due date!??

Loss of performance 
This is reserved for extreme cases only! Every student performer and technician signs a contract before they are allowed to work with me after school. If student behavior gets out of control they know they can loose their space in the play. "Everyone is replaceable" students know they must behave to keep their space. Like I said this must be the absolute last resort for behavior but it does work to keep behavior in check. Just know that if you threaten to take a part, you have to really mean it. If you back down this will never work again.

School Responsibility 
I am a big believer in creating a school environment where students know that you care about them. I know my theatre kids. I know when my kids have sports games, what other shows they are working on outside of school. I know my kids. I am their "school mom" . This also means that if any other teacher has a problem with one of my kids, the theatre kids know that I will hear about it. Teachers know that they can come to me with any problems (academics or behavior) and I will address it. I think that as a school we need to be a team. If I can talk to a kid and encourage the to do their math homework. I should take advantage of that and encourage them to do their best in all subjects. A word of caution, when a teacher brings a concern to you, be careful how you address the student. You want to hear the student out instead of just laying into them. I have found that students hear what I am saying more after they have explained themselves. 

Make sure to download my FREE rules poster and Think-about-it sheets at my TPT store! 

 Well those are my ideas for managing student behavior. What do you do in your class that works?  

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Welcome back- How I organized my theatre classroom How to Organize a Theatre Classroom
Well it's time to welcome back students for a new school year! I had a wonderful break from all things school related (including this blog) but I'm back and geared up for a new year. I am so excited about all of the fun adventures we are going to have with my students. This year I have 125 theatre students come to school specifically to learn theatre! That is the most I have ever had! I know we are going to have a great year.

For the last few weeks I have been busy setting up my classroom and I can't wait to share all of the fun changes I have in store.

The stage-
Some very nice men in our maintence department built me this a few years ago. My students love it! The dance teacher and I then took some PVC pipe and shower curtains to make curtains for our stage. I think it looks very cute now!

I always struggle with how to set up my class table. We do enough writing and project to need tables but I like to keep a ton of floor space for movement activities. I think this U shape gives me the most floor space. Also note I moved my desk to the back of the room. I've never had it here before, so we will see if it stays.

Word wall-
I have updated my word wall to include the word and definition. Since I teach all grades K-5 I am hoping this will help with a quicker review so we can get on with the business of learning new things.

Playwright of the month- 
In elementary school, I only see my students once a week for 40 minutes! That is not enough time to learn much theatre history (also many of the plays aren't really appropriate for that age). The solution- playwright of the month! Students get a basic introduction to different playwrights without delving too deeply into any one play.

Rules- I saw on Pinterest where a ton of art teachers had created rules based upon being an artist. Well I look it upon myself to create the theatre version of the rules. Make sure to visit my teacherspayteachers site to download a copy of the rules!
Display Board/ Call Board- 
This year we are putting on the musical Seussical (I am so excited). My principal has agreed to use the musical as a theme for the entire school! The whole school will be using Dr. Seuss as a theme for lessons, parent nights, and student writings. My call board I am really excited about. My students are always needing to pick up papers (tech forms, audition sheets, scripts) This is a great place for me to put papers outside my classroom so that they won't interrupt my class. The kids love it! 

Well that is a short tour of my classroom. It is not quite Pinterest ready but it is getting there! How close is everyone else to having their rooms ready for students?

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Tips and Tricks for a Great Kindergarten Showcase

Well the year is very quickly winding down. Last week we were very busy preparing for our first ever Kindergarten only showcase. We combined all 7 (yes we have seven K classes) to create this wonderful performance. Each class learned two songs and either a short dance or play performance. It turned out so well. In addition to the kindergarten show, we also hosted a school-wide art show. All 1,000+ students had an art piece displayed. We used a wonderful company called Artome that shipped us custom paper, students create their art then we ship the paper back. The night of the show, they show up with all the artwork framed, they set up the show, run the show then take it down. It is such an easy /awesome show.

Well after the kindergarten show/art show here are a few things I learned.

1. Practice the little things.

Kindergarteners know very little about performance routines. They need to practice walking on and off stage, sitting, standing, transitions to their speaking places and such. I know as directors we sometimes try to skip these simple things to focus on the bigger picture. Don't do it. Kindergarteners need this practice.

2. Use older siblings as ringers

As mentioned before, Kindergartners do not adapt well to change. When someone doesn't show up it, really makes it hard for them to perform. I enlisted a couple of my older theatre students to help fill in for kids who were no show. They followed the script and when someone wasn't there they said the line. This totally lead to the show's success! 

3. Your homeroom teachers are your biggest helpers

We only had a half an hour each day to rehearse the show. We had to rely on our homeroom teachers to help out. My teachers were awesome! They rehearsed in the classroom, helped during our rehearsal and communicated with parents about the show. We could not have done it without them!

4. Help teach the parents.

 Part of your job is to help teach the parents about your job and arts integration. Parents often don't realize the work and effort that goes into seemingly simple shows. I like to talk about how students work on memorization, blocking, and body control. I also like to point out any core integration that might be occurring. For example one of the plays focused on types of clouds and what they meant. This was a great integration piece to point out.

5. Sit back and enjoy.

The best part of a Kindergarten play is that they are Kindergarteners. No one expects the kids to be perfect. If they mess up crazy bad, it doesn't matter because they are so cute!  Simply enjoy the show, this is the one show with no pressure! Parents are always happy when they see their babies perform in their first school play. Enjoy it. They are soooo cute!

What successes have you had in getting Kindergartners to perform? What other tips would you add?