Doing More with Less

Mary Land | September 2008

    In many middle schools the entire school program is built around efforts to improve standardized scores. In addition to lengthening the daily class time most schools are encouraging students to take part in after school tutoring, a development that cuts into time available to take music classes. As a veteran educator I understand that educational fads come and go and the pendulum will eventually swing back in favor of the arts. I have developed some strategies for doing more in less time.

Room layout. Have the room set up before students arrive. The exact number of chairs and stands should be properly placed in each row. I have found that placing the music stand touching the front seat of the chair allows students to pass easily without knocking over any music stands.

One-way traffic. If the room has two separate doorways, designate one as an entry and another as an exit. This avoids the chaos the can develop when students pass each other and stop to talk and horseplay when they should be moving towards their instrument. My room moves like a one-way roundabout with students merging into the traffic flow as needed. The teacher should also follow the one-way street procedure. If there is only one doorway, once students enter the room move them all together in the same direction. This traffic flow is especially helpful with large classes that meet back to back.

Instrument Storage.
Instruments should be stored evenly throughout the room avoid a bottleneck in each class. I stagger the instrument storage locations for each class throughout the room to keep my students from cramming into one tight area. Never allow students to take their cases into the rehearsal set-up. There simply is not room for instrument cases or backpacks around the chairs.

Binder and Music Storage.
I have several music folio cabinets located against the wall in different areas of my band room. Each slot is numbered in alphabetic order of the entire band program, not by class. This avoids the traffic jam caused by everyone going to the same folio cabinet at once. The number on each slot is the student’s number for the entire year and is written on music, books, tests, and all forms. If a folder is left on a music stand anyone can return it to the numbered slot.

Starting Class.
As students enter the room I project the rehearsal schedule and announcement on the white board behind my podium. I do this using a slide show from my computer that is connected to an LCD projector. Recordings of music we are preparing play as students assemble. Students are to read the daily announcements, get the music in order for rehearsal, and begin to air play silently. You must designate the exact minute class begins if you do not have a tardy bell. I start class by stepping on the podium; students respond by standing, facing me, and stopping any air playing or talking. One I have attention, I indicate for students to sit and we begin rehearsal.

Dismissing Class.
I stop class two minutes before the bell rings. Students are to stand, push their music stand into the chair and file out of their row. They return their instrument and binder and leave through the designated exit. This happens as the next class is entering the room.

Band Blog Box.
If students have questions or concerns, they write the question on a special form along with their name and ID number. I will write an answer during my planning time and return the slip to their folio. This approach avoids taking up playing time with individual problems. Stud-ents have learned which questions are acceptable during rehearsals.

I have a locked post office style box for students to drop forms and payments. A small table next to the box has envelopes and pens. Everything is to be returned in a sealed envelope labeled with the student’s name and ID number. 

Consequences for Breaking Rules.
If a student breaks a rule, I use a pre-printed pad that lists the most common infractions and send a copy home to be signed by a parent. I keep a carbon copy for my records.
    Good organizational skills do not automatically make an accomplished, passionate teacher. However, with limited class time, it is particularly important to spend every available minute working on music. In my case it took the help of a colleague to develop my class procedures. When it comes to finding new ideas for teaching my classes, I try to make up the best and steal the rest. This approach has served me well.