Teaching young musicians can try your patience: they often need individual attention, they talk a lot, and it’s difficult for them to remain on task. However, understanding them will lead to good classroom management.
Young musicians have relatively short attention spans: no longer than half an hour, and often closer to ten minutes. Set up your class so that you change to a different subject or area every five to ten minutes so that your students are obliged to remain interested.
When your students talk, it isn’t to annoy you or to see what they can get away with. It’s because their focus has wandered. Issue calm, gentle reminders to pay attention. Something like, “Okay, we need to be quiet and listen now,” is enough to bring them back to you. Don’t let yourself get frustrated with their behavior; in a lot of ways, they can’t help it.
The same is true when students get off task. They may be looking around the room or trying to play their instrument instead of looking at you. Gently say, “Johnny, can you watch me right now?” If you are calm, Johnny is unlikely to be embarrassed. If you are angry, Johnny will likely be angry and will be less likely to pay attention.
Sometimes you will have to help individual students. If you can, simply give instructions from the front of the classroom: “Jenny, can you check your bow hand?” “Billy, can you make sure your third finger’s in the right place?” If this isn’t possible, go to the student and help him/her individually. Try to do it as quickly as possible, and give the other students something to do while you’re helping. If you have young string players, ask them to put their instruments in rest position and practice their part pizzicato. Make sure you’re keeping part of your attention on the class in general while helping the individual student, and don’t hesitate to interrupt yourself — “Excuse me, Johnny. Class, could you practice a little quieter?” or something to that effect.
If you ever have a student who is determined not to do what he’s supposed to, pull him aside after class. He will be more likely to listen to you without his buddies around him for support. Recommend a plan of action to help him correct his behavior, and consider phoning his parents if his behavior doesn’t improve.
Make sure that your expectations are completely clear — students will immediately take their seat upon arrival and get their instruments out. Students will play only when the teacher says to. Students will try to keep talking not about music to a minimum. Students will never set their instruments down on the floor. Students will have their instrument, music, and a pencil at every rehearsal. You will likely have other rules or expectations. Write these in large print on posterboard and put them up somewhere in the classroom where the students can easily see it.
It’s a good idea, also, to have practice charts and “homework sheets” for your students, so they know exactly what you expect from them at home. Check their practice charts frequently and send a letter home to all their parents, asking for help in filling it out.
Display as much patience and competence as you can. Children will naturally follow your lead, so what they primarily need is understanding and patience. Talk to all your students, encourage them to talk to you (ask questions, tell stories — preferably before or after class). Give your students a definite structure during class, so that they know where the boundaries are. Remind them often of those boundaries (whenever they start to step outside them).
If you remain calm and pleasant, your students will respond well and will generally be well-behaved.remain