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?

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