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?