We Are Not Special | by Sherry Gilpin Printz

To be respected as an educator and to get along with the faculty and staff of your school, please realize that as a choir director you are no more or less special than any other person in your district.  Set an example for your students.  How many of us really like being around those students who are so “special” (in their opinion) that the rules and expectations don’t apply to them?  The same thing applies to the choir director.


The following are statements that I feel are important to our success as an educator:

  • I am an educator first.
  • I am a music educator second.
  • I am a choral educator third.
  • My program is no more important or less important than football, winter guard, band, math, English, etc., etc.
  • Yes, I have to write lesson plans (and hand them in if the principal asks).
  • Yes, I have to attend faculty meetings and be on time (show choir rehearsal is not an excused absence – just as basketball practice shouldn’t be either).
  • Yes, I have to write curriculum.
  • Yes, I have to serve on M-SIP and other committees.
  • Yes, I have to work the concession stand, sponsor the prom, and help build a float for homecoming. (I don’t have to like it, but I do have to do it)!
  • Yes, I need to belong to NEA or MSTA and the local teacher’s organization.
  • Yes, I need to belong to MENC/MMEA and attend the convention.
  • Yes, I need to belong to ACDA/MCDA and attend the summer convention.
  • Yes, I need to go to the Friday TGIF’s and associate with other teachers in a social situation.  (If you don’t go, don’t complain that you have no teacher friends).
  • Yes, I need to learn about the people with whom I work, so I’ll ask them about their interests/family/pets/grandchildren, etc.
  • Speak to and even smile at every teacher you meet in the hall.
  • Yes, I have to share my students with sports, band, field trips, etc.
  • Yes, I have to do mid-term reports, grade cards, write requisitions, do budgets, etc.  These things need to be done legibly and in a timely manner.
  • Don’t wait until the last minute to call your music dealer to order music unless your mother works there.  Sometimes they don’t have it in stock, and it has to be ordered.  If you want it immediately, go to the store to pick it up, or be prepared to pay $$$ for overnight delivery.


It took me 31 years to learn some of these things.  I hope my thoughts will be helpful to you and make your career easier.  Also, please remember to ask for help when you feel over-whelmed, frustrated, and don’t know what to do.  There is an incredible amount of knowledge and experience in our state.  Call on choir directors or other teachers in your district for help.  All of us are more than willing to share what we have learned.


Philosophy of Teaching | by Paul Drummond  

Much is said and written about developing a philosophy of teaching but for me there was one change of paradigm that most significantly impacted my daily choices on behalf of my students sand my career.  I stopped thinking of myself as a performing artist with the choral ensemble as my instrument; I stopped thinking of myself as an expert who provides information to students and colleagues.  I began thinking of myself as one who facilitates the successes of other people.  The ramifications of that change are many and almost all of them have improved the quality of my life both personally and professionally.


In order to get participants to invest “discretionary effort” (more than what is required) in your class or choir create a “safe space” in which they feel free to contribute and to risk without fear of criticism or ridicule.  Affirm and encourage their efforts.


Investigate a marvelous book from the business community entitled “Bringing Out the Best in People:  How to apply the astonishing power of positive reinforcement” by Aubrey C. Daniels (New York: McGraw-Hill, Inc., 1994).  To insure that a productive behavior continues, craft a consequence of that behavior that is of value to the individual.


The best way to avoid discipline problems is to keep the students actively engaged.  Keep them singing!  The time WILL be filled in one way or another and if you don’t insure it is used productively they will fill the time with something that may not be.  Keep them singing!  “Free days, “ “Days off” and so on are an invitation to chaos, especially for a new teacher whom the students may be testing anyway.


Tim will be spent in one of three ways – invest it wisely:  Productively:  the activity moves you and the ensemble toward your goal(s);

Non-Productively:  the activity does not move you toward the goal;

Counter-Productively:  the activity actually inhibits the accomplishment of your goal.


I strongly recommend that a new teacher become intimately familiar with Barry Green’s “The Inner Game of Music.”  This resource is most helpful to me in choosing rehearsal language that is encouraging, affirming, non-threatening, and non-judgmental.  Particularly effective have been what the author calls “Awareness” instructions as opposed to “Do-this” instructions.


I realized at one point that I was assessing my students and expecting them to develop as I wanted them to as singers, but I hadn’t actually told them what I wished them to do.  So I developed a series of rubrics on singing (describing in language that is simple and easy to understand what I consider poor, fair, and excellent posture, breathing, phrasing, etc to look and feel like).  I now hand one out at the beginning of each rehearsal and ask the students to concentrate on that one item during that rehearsal.  At the end they assess their own success for that day on a 1-5 scale, which is then entered into my grade book.  This process helps focus their thinking during the rehearsal and provides a certain part of the grade.  These rubrics are available on the MCDA website at:


In addition to the self-grading provided by the rubrics described above, I ask the students to grade each other according to the descriptors in the rubrics.  Further assessment is assigned according to a syllabus that lists such categories as attendance, Performance Exams, Reading Exams, and Singing Exams.  All of this should be presented in as cooperative and non-threatening an atmosphere as can possibly be achieved.


Accountability for grading and avoidance of grade inflation will become increasingly important for all of us.


The key to successful sight-reading (especially at contest) is that the students have regularly, periodically been taught to decipher the elements of a musical score.  It is not difficult but it does require time and persistence.  Some effort in this regard should be part of every class or rehearsal.  Which particular methodology the teacher chooses to present (I prefer Solfeggio syllables and Curwen/Kodaly hand signs) is much less important than that some system is presented and consistently practiced in class.


Embrace the traditions of your school.  Anything less will alienate a significant population in your community and among the alumni.  In the event that you find some traditions untenable, you will gradually be able to shift the emphasis to something more in line with your own thinking and philosophy.


On Recruiting | by Kathy Bhat

Of course, the best recruiting tool any of us have is a quality program.  However, when you are just starting out, here are some thoughts:


High School

  • Get to know the students!  Lunch duty, whether official or unofficial can work to your advantage.
  • Offer to keep score at a football game or basketball game.  Don’t sign on for the whole season, but these are the kids in sports that really carry a lot of weight in a high school.  They are the ones you need to get to know and get involved.
  • Take a choir trip.  It doesn’t have to be a big trip at first.  Could be just a local tour – or to a festival such as Six Flags or Worlds of Fun.  This will not only act as a hook to get the kids in the program, but a “carrot” to keep them involved.
  • Invite choirs to your school.  Make sure you have heard the choir first!  A GOOD visiting choir can be a great recruiter.
  • Do a musical.  All kinds of kids come out for musicals.  You never know where a singer might be hiding.

Middle School

  • Get to know the students!  Lunch duty, whether official or unofficial can work to your advantage.
  • Be a FUN person.  Middle school kids want to enjoy what they are doing.  More often than not, they will join groups because of WHO is leading it, rather than what it is.  Fun doesn’t mean no-work, but having a good sense of humor and the ability to “play” with the kids. 
  • Take a choir trip.   A local tour, Six Flags, or Worlds of Fun.
  • Offer to “clinic” at the elementaries if they have choirs – or make sure to attend some of the musical performances they have.  It is impossible to make all of them, but in order to build the program it helps to be visible.


For both levels:

  • DO NOT make promises that cannot be kept.  Don’t tell kids it is an easy grade, or that they won’t have any homework.  Statements of that sort might bring kids in initially, but inevitably, your words will come back to haunt you, either by your own actions, or the ill will it will create with the rest of the faculty.
  • DO NOT accept misbehavior because you think the kids might leave the program.  Some might, but the kids who want to work will stay and will respect you more for your work ethic.  Even if they don’t say so.
  • DO NOT beg students to be in the choir.  Encourage….offer great rewards…be a fun person….Students that feel YOU need THEM more than THEY need YOU are not good for the ensemble (or you)!

Discipline Tips | by Ann Taylor & Brian Reeves


Ann Taylor


  • Sing “do” on any pitch (they will join in)
  • Have them echo clap
  • Sing scales using hand signals
  • Start singing a round – split into parts
  • Have a responsible student take roll
  • Plan breaks during the rehearsal
    • Do the “rain forest”
    • Sing “My Bonnie” sit or stand on all “b’s”
    • Echo clap, Echo sing
    • Break into groups and do rounds
    • Tongue Twisters
    • Buddy back rub
    • Exaggerate text by “Tasting every bit of the word”
    • Have them imitate body movements (non-verbally)
    • Examples:  Touch toes, roll shoulders, etc.




Brian Reeves


There are many, many ways to establish discipline.  You have to do what fits your personality.  It is easy to scoff at the old adage “Don’t smile until Christmas” but there is truth in that.  What you let go in September will be unbearable by April.  The kind of April you want needs to be set up in the fall.


60 Suggestions to Improve Classroom Discipline | by Beth Enloe Fritz

            The career of many a potentially fine teacher has floundered upon the goal of pupil discipline.  While good disciplinarians are not necessarily excellent teachers, excellent teachers are necessarily good disciplinarians in the enlightened sense of the word.

            Not only is good discipline imperative for the establishment and development of the successful teacher’s career, but it is also imperative to the success of the school.  Education cannot proceed without good discipline.  Youngsters encouraged to lawlessness by one weak teacher make the work of their other teachers just that more difficult.

            Good discipline may be described as a friendly yet businesslike rapport in which pupils and teachers work cooperatively toward mutually recognized and mutually accepted goals.  Distractions, frictions, and disturbances, which would interfere with the optimum functioning of the pupil, the class, and the school, are held to a minimum.

            The ultimate, unique achievement of good discipline is self-discipline on the part of the pupils.  Experience tells us that not all groups or all individuals are likely to become completely self-disciplined within the school years.  Yet that is the goal toward which we must strive.   Any philosophy of discipline that does not teach and instill the ideal of self-discipline within the group and the individual will eventually prove weak and ineffective.



  1. The first requisite of discipline is order. 
  2. Maintain the correct physical environment. 
  3. Have a place for everything.
  4. Maintain a neat classroom.
  5. Establish a set procedure
  6. Use seating arrangements
  7. Leave the front desk in the middle row unassigned. Use it as a “hot seat”.
  8. After 2 warnings, break up “talky” combinations of students.


     9. Set behavior standards immediately.

     10. Whatever your individual room standards may be, make sure they are reasonable, kept to a minimum, and well understood by the class.

     11. Insist on the general rule of only one voice talking at a time.


     12. Get down to business with the bell.

     13. Prepare your plans beforehand.

     14. Be definite.

     15. Set class goals.

     16. Sell your subject matter.

     17. Motivate your classes and individual pupils by every technique at your command, and keep them motivated.


     18. Much of the good morals and good discipline of the best classrooms is to be found in the inexplicable chemistry of personalities as they interact day by day.

     19. Be yourself.

     20. Act your age.

     21. Insist at all times on respect for grown-ups, for authority in general.


     22. Be positive

     23. Be kind but firm.

     24. Be consistent

     25. Be fair.


     26. Don’t be thin-skinned.

     27. Do your utmost not to dislike a child because of his actions.

     28. Don’t argue.

     29. No one is perfect.

     30. However timid, unsure, and ineffectual you may sometimes feel inside, try to project confidence.

     31. Don’t be afraid to show your sense of humor.


     32. Don’t make an issue of everything.

     33. Don’t threaten.

     34. Don’t make deals and don’t compromise your standards to win popularity.

     35. Understand pupil’s fads and don’t belittle them.

     36. Reject undesirable pupil behavior but never the entire group.

     37. If unacceptable behavior is widespread in your group, concentrate on the ringleader.

     38. Don’t punish the whole group because of the misbehavior of one or a few individuals.

     39. Action is more effective than words.

     40. Never give additional homework as punishment.

     41. Try silence as a means of checking misbehavior.


     42. Recognize unacceptable behavior for what it is – a symptom.

     43. Try to get at the root cause of antisocial behavior.

     44. Be patient.

     45. Don’t put off contacting the parents.

     46. Identify yourself with the class as a whole when dealing with a specific individual.


     47. Make the punishment fit the individual.

     48. Refrain from using penalties that are personally and publicly humiliating to a pupil.

     49. Avoid punishing in the heat of anger.

     50. Solve your own discipline problems before they need to be sent to the office.

     51. Give a pupil additional responsibility for remedying among his fellow pupils the very offense for which he is remiss.


     52. Visit the home in extreme cases.

     53. Communicate by letter or phone with the parents.

     54. Have the pupil write the letter to his parents informing them of his unsatisfactory behavior.


     55. Call a pupil on unacceptable conduct.

     56. If it recurs, move the pupil during class to the hot seat.

     57. If it continues to recur, move pupil to an isolated seat in the rear of the room.

     58. Get all information that is available about the student – counselors, former teachers, etc.

     59. Face to face conference with the parents and pupil.

     60. Referral to the administration if all else fails.