Don’t Give Up on a Tough Class

I have one class that is very tricky. It is a very large class with a lot of emotional, physical and academic needs. It is the two periods in the week that I wish I had a clone of myself so that I could meet everyone’s needs immediately all the time (with this class I might need an army of clones).

I would rate the autumn with this class as alright. We have had our ups and downs. Some periods have gone well. Some have not. The thing that has been most consistent with this class is that I refuse to give up on them and their ability to do well in Music.

I feel at this point in the year, I have tried so many strategies to get the classes running smoothly and find ways to support my weaker students. However, it wasn’t until this past week that I feel like I have made a breakthrough!

I have finally landed on a combination of whole group instruction, peer-supported creations and individual choice.

Getting to know the students has been an important factor in this positive change. I have had several conversations with many of the students about sports, animals, music and all of their interests. I have used that knowledge to help build a relationship with them and inform my decisions around content for upcoming classes. I know for one of my students who is having the most difficult time at school right now, he really loves sports. I am planning to do a basketball dance this term to incorporate his interests.

I also have some students in the class who are significantly below grade level. Many of these students are embarrassed to ask other students for help. They are weak in reading and writing and therefore, they are very reluctant to work with many of the students in the class. Last week, I went to each of them individually and asked if they felt comfortable with anyone in the class. I let them choose who their partner was and since they all had a say in who they were going to work with, they all had a level of comfort in working in the class.

I met with the classroom teachers about good accommodations that I could provide for their students with upcoming assignments. I have also conferred with the classroom teachers about medical needs and emotional needs.

I have built in the usage of many of my student’s strengths. Everyone has so many amazing skills and I have tried to highlight them. I have a student who can’t read but is great at tech. He is my technology advisor and the kid I send everyone to when we have problems. Another student can’t read either, but is an incredible singer and rapper. He can improvise at the drop of a hat and can generate ideas at a speed I cannot match. When we need lyric or rhythm ideas, we know who we can count on.

I have continuously worked on trying to improve the climate. Last week, before we started our partner activity, I had the students do the game Two Truths and a Lie with their partner to build a relationship with their new partner. Taking time away from curriculum to build climate has been worth the investment.

Using choice as a motivator has also worked exceptionally well. Students begged me to allow them to listen to music of their choice when they are finished their compositions. “For sure!” I said. We are developing a pre-approved list of music to listen to.

Ultimately, the most important thing is not to give up. Have a good cry, a particularly big piece of chocolate cake and a long phone call complaining to your friend about your difficulties. After that, analyze what is going on that is not working, and start a plan tomorrow. And if that doesn’t work, try something else on the next time. It might take time, but it is worth it!

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The Author

Tammy Axt

I am a teacher of students with special needs in the Peel District School Board. This is my first year in the role and I am in the middle of a steep learning curve! I am loving every minute of this new experience with my amazing and cool students.

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