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Be Prepared (Total Teacher Transformation Day 8)

This is an article in the Total Teacher Transformation series. Click here for a complete table of contents.


I took the day off from blogging yesterday because it was Mother’s Day and I play in a mariachi. If you don’t know what that means, I started playing serenatas (Mother’s Day Serenades) at 6pm Saturday afternoon, wrapped up a little after 8am Sunday morning, then played for another 4 hours Sunday afternoon. We played three songs 40 different times, and also had a one-hour gig in somewhere along the way. With a church service thrown in on Sunday morning for good measure, it probably goes without saying that I was exhausted yesterday when we finished up. But now I’m back and ready to go!

Be prepared
One of the primary reasons we lose our temper and los control of a classroom setting is because something surprises us or catches us off guard. If we can predict our reactions to these recurring, yet unpredictable events, we will be in much better shape to respond appropriately, maintain our cool, and maintain classroom control. Just as it is the Boy Scout’s motto, “Be prepared” applies well in most every setting.

When I was student teaching, my cooperating teacher was out one day and a sub was in there. While the students wereall quietly  watching a video, one of them screams out profanity and drops a big ol’ “F-Bomb” right in the middle of class. I didn’t know how to respond, so I called the teacher and she walked me through the process.

When I was a first-year teacher, I had students who just flat out argued with me at every single turn. Nothing I did was right, everything the previous band director did was golden. Even though the band got straight 4s before me, and I brought them up to straight 3s. I had one student whose mother worked in the district, but no amount of emailing her produced effective changes in his behavior.

We’ve all been there. Some unexpected thing happens, we don’t know how to respond, and we just lash out with some sort of reaction. The difference between a response and a reaction is that the response is premeditated, and the reaction is instinctual.

Today’s assignment
Plan how you will respond in the following situations:

  1. A student chews gum or willfully violates some other clearly stated school policy.
  2. When a student’s misbehavior is brought to his/her attention, the response is ambivalent at best (“So what?”) and insubordinate at worst (“No way!”)
  3. Two students get into an argument that escalates (or almost does) to the point of name-calling or violence.
  4. A student confides in you that another one is picking on him. One day in class, you observe it happening.
  5. You have a student who is repeatedly tardy to class.
  6. A paper airplane is thrown across the room, but you didn’t see who did it and nobody else is willing to tell you.
  7. As you are sitting down, a student makes a “fart noise” with his mouth; the entire class begin uncontrolably giggling for minutes.
  8. A student loudly and clearly uses profanity; everyone hears it.
  9. You are walking down the hallway and see two students making out.
  10. A parent interrupts your class and begins asking you questions about his/her child.

There’s no right or wrong answer here. But having a plan gives you so much more confidence when this type of situation arises. After you plan through some of these things and begin to actually see them happen, your reactions to unplanned events will fall much more in line with how you had planned for different circumstances. Planning is the key.

Joel Wagner
Joel Wagner (<strong><a href="">@sywtt</a></strong>) began teaching band in 2002. Though he had a lot of information, his classes were out of control. He found himself tired, frustrated, disrespected by students, lonely, and on the brink of quitting. He had had enough. He resigned from his school district right before spring break of his second year and made it his personal mission to learn to be a great teacher. <strong><a href="">So You Want To Teach?</a></strong> is the ongoing story of that quest for educational excellence.

3 thoughts on “Be Prepared (Total Teacher Transformation Day 8)

  1. Mariachi, no way! Sounds like a great hobby. These are some great questions. I have had many of these come up and since in my previous teaching position the kids barely talked, I’ve really struggled with all of these (except the making out). I will need to really do some more self-reflecting on what to do. I’m trying to find some professional development classes to take this summer to give me more tools to utilize with conflict resolution.

  2. Great post, as always, Joel. Very thought provoking.

    I had a mentor who used to ask us aspiring teachers, “Then what?” in regards to discipline. For example, you tell a kid to stop chewing gum and he doesn’t. Then what? You proclaim that anyone who misses the next rehearsal can’t participate in the band review, but your percussion section leader doesn’t show up. Then what? Your principal offers little support for the discipline problems in your class, and you reach a breaking point. Then what?

    No easy answers, but it gets you thinking.

  3. These questions definitely get you thinking…… I know I’ve been in situations where I’m not quite sure what to do. I’d love to hear what some experienced teachers would do in these situations. Sometimes it’s difficult to relate to kids that do this type of thing when you were the kind of kid that just did what they were supposed to growing up!

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