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Pacing: What Every Great Band Director Knows

Pacing: What Every Great Band Director Knows

750090_big_daddyOne of the greatest challenges that I had as a first year teacher was with classroom management. I’ve mentioned that a number of times before and I think most first year teachers go through that.

As with most, I noticed that I had some days where the kids were good, and others where they were bad. It was just so unpredictible. But why?

What made those days so unpredictible?
I honestly think it was a combination of things. But the most important factor in the behavior of the kids had to do with how much dead time they had. How much time they were unoccupied and had to find something to do to keep themselves occupied.

How do you keep them occupied?
The academic term for keeping kids occupied is pacing. Essentially, this means that we have to learn how to run our class (or rehearsal) as seamlessly as possible and make the most effective use of time.

Sometimes this will involve almost entertaining the students during a lecture (my buddy Jonathan compares teaching to being a game show host). Sometimes, it will involve keeping a class occupied while you work with one or two students. It always involves structuring the time to avoid completely dead time. This is usually accomplished by teaching bell-to-bell.

Some keys in pacing
As a band director, much more of my job is improvised than a lot of other teachers. I have to respond immediately to diagnose, prescribe, and eliminate problems. Some basic guidelines I use in keeping the flow moving include:

  1. If I’m hearing individual students play, I will hear them play, make a brief comment or two, and go on
  2. Humor will usually keep the entire class focused
  3. I point out unoccupied students who have found a valuable use of their time such as numbering measures, working out difficult fingering passages, or oiling valves
  4. If I’m working on a section of music and I hear no improvement after three times, I’ll generally issue some comment like, “Wow! We all really need to practice that section! We’ll come back to it another day. We have too much to do today, though.”
  5. Every single rehearsal is important, no matter how close or distant the concert or contest is
  6. “Thanks for being quiet. We have a lot of work to do today.”
  7. Find something great going on in the room and point it out; have the students applaud for something great
  8. Start class as quickly as possible, announcements can come later on or throughout the period
  9. Assign students to take attendance
  10. Procedures, procedures, procedures! When we answer a question that was asked without permission, we merely encourage that behavior.
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When I first began to really get a handle on classroom management and pacing, I realized how much more calm I was able to be in the classroom. The result ended up being that I have less problems and actually have to teach more.

Most of the pacing problems can be controlled by good lesson planning. But sometimes, life is more important than lesson plans. When life happens, the pacing skill can be supremely important!

Joel Wagner (@sywtt) 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. So You Want To Teach? is the ongoing story of that quest for educational excellence.

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.

7 thoughts on “Pacing: What Every Great Band Director Knows

  1. Thanks for a superb posting. Classroom management my first year was a disaster. Your analysis was right on target: dead-time produces disorder. Completely agree with you about the importance of pacing and procedures. Appreciate the quality of your writing, and your specificity.

  2. I am in my second year of directing. I am currently rebuilding a program someone else ruined a few years ago. After coming on board last year, most of the baggage has been removed whether by the students or by me and we’re starting fresh. Although this is all well and good, my 7th and 8th grade band is lacking in a core ares: classroom management. I do enjoy these people’s talents and energy but my room is not an indoor playground.

    Joel’s story has hit home with me. I do not want to leave this job especially since I uprooted my family and relocated to an area of the country I’m not super familiar.

    My class meets right after lunch and is comprised of mostly boys, I know, end of story. But I’ve had most of these kids last year and didn’t have this problem at all. So, what’s different?

    I may have a solution to that question in that I gave them too much leeway at the beginning of the year because I feel they’re not small children and the benefit of being older is to give a little more. I think that’s where I went wrong wrong wrong! Now, I’m having to pick up the pieces and regain control of my class.

    How does one grade in band? is my next question. I have been using a the attendance, prepared for class method as well as giving extra credit for showing up to outside of school events (pep rallys, football games, etc.) My principal thinks it’s too much to ask of them although the kids aren’t complaining and neither are the parents. When she asked me to remove those grades from my book, most of the grades fell and now parents are asking why their kid’s grade is a “B” instead of an “A” like it was. There’s no winning.

    The 7th hand 8th band really is the hub in my school because it’s larger than the high school band so to beef up the numbers, I have my younger kids learning pep music and the like in order to help out. It boosts morale and the whole group has a good time because they play music they like. So, what’s wrong with that?!

    Since I am the only music teacher at this middle sized Christian school, a lot gets dumped on me and I don’t have any help. It also doesn’t help that my classroom is the only one on the third floor at least a flight up from everyone else. I feel, it really isn’t agood situation and probably the reason other music have not made well at this school. We’re back burnered and when something really doesn’t work, they just give up and get rid of them rather than finding out what the problem is and fixing it. I don’t feel important and alone, misread, misunderstood and unfortunately, because of the grade thing, defeated. I tried to make things better than last year and it blew up in my face.

  3. Emily, I really want to dig into your comment much more in-depth. Hang in there and look for a response coming soon…

  4. @Emily – you have encountered an unpleasant reality of Christian school education. The school continues based upon the continued tuition payments from parents. The parents continue to pay when they are satisfied with how things are going. (Property taxes pay for public schools, but the connection is not as direct as writing out that monthly tuition check)All it takes is for ONE parent to go first to the principal instead of the teacher to protest/complain about a teacher’s policy that s/he perceives to be unfair/unreasonable for their precious one. I’m NOT defending your principal’s command to remove the grades from your book. (I hate that that happened to you) Perhaps someone complained about the extra credit opportunity to the principal and your administrator envisioned tuition dollars flying out the door with the departure of a disgruntled parent (and said parent possibly influencing several of their friends who send children there to do the same.) Perhaps no one complained to anyone about it, and the principal decided on her own to object to your extra credit opportunity. You may never find out the truth in this case. I have learned the hard way that a Christian educator must figure out how to please parents without compromising educational morals. You can’t just hand out A’s to make everyone happy (believe me; the temptation has presented itself to me more than once-thankfully I just can’t do it.) You have to break the news that darling didn’t earn an A gently enough that Mom & Dad don’t knee-jerk react and make you or the powers that be think that they are going to pull their kid out. That said, I think part of your answer is first to take advantage of the freedom that our public-school colleagues don’t possess: prayer in school. You may not be able to get your ornery after-lunch crew to implement it right away, but if you can identify a leader and appoint to him the duty of leading prayer before class, your class will change. Try it in the other classes first-you’ll probably have to model it for them. Make it quick, sincere, and relevant to the class. Of course, pray specifically in your personal life. Do not give up hope! Watch Facing the Giants (I’m gonna have to watch it again tonight) I can’t imagine praying in class in a Christian school would offend parents (why are their kids there?) so try it if you don’t already do it. Implement a DEAP (Drop Everything And Pray) time at random moments. I will commit to pray for you and your classes. I wish I didn’t, but I know your pain, hon. I first came across your comment last night and you’ve been on my heart ever since. I can’t help with the band grading/class structure thing, but many others can. I can share my experience surviving as a Christian school teacher; it IS different from public ed, much of it for the reasons I stated in the beginning. If you are a people person, take advantage of that gift to build as many positive relationships with parents of your students as you can. (you’ll have an easier time when bad news must be delivered.) If you’re not a people person, then you’ll have to “fake it til you make it.” (that’s where the prayer comes in handy:-) If the parents support what you do, and the administration knows it, then it’s harder to put your program on a backburner. (or get rid of you) Self-promotion (of your program) without being obnoxious could be a key to help your position in the school, with your parents, and with your principal. You are sort of in product advertisement as an aside to your primary teaching duties. Your school is big enough to HAVE 7th/8th gr band & HS band- I’m impressed! You’re up on the 3rd floor with no neighbors-when you get those ornery boys back on track- you can be loud/use the hallway without bothering anyone! (If you don’t have lunch duty and can beat them there-meet ’em somewhere on the stairs as they come to your class.) I hope this helps. I hope other band directors speak to your situation as well.

  5. Emily (and Margaret),

    I just wanted to let you know that I stumbled upon this website this morning and was touched by what I read. As a Christian (teaching in a public school) I don’t know personally what it is like to deal with Christian school students but I do understand the importance of giving this situation some serious prayer time and consideration. I realized very quickly that regardless of whether my own little world seems in my control, it is not. However, it is in God’s. Part of the beauty of that is the knowledge that if I was in control that things probably wouldn’t be in as good of shape. God influences all of us, certainly your students included and nothing is too small for him. Don’t be afraid to petition God often, daily perhaps or as often as you think about your classroom (a lot of prayer, right?). It is important that you do not try to carry this burden on your own. Don’t believe that you can do it. Believe that God can do it through you. If you REALLY believe that (and not just pray it..actually convict yourself of it) then God will intercede. Margaret is very very right – you need to pray. Do not be ashamed to do it in front of your students, particularly in a Christian school! Be God’s vessel! Don’t be abashed and certainly don’t be shy. After all, we as music teachers are not usually the type to shy away from being in front of crowds. Just make sure that you trust that God will take care of it. You must believe that. And he will take care of you. Always. You are in my prayers.


    1. Thanks Dan. I haven’t been on this site a while. My contract was not renewed for this coming school year. that left me with a very empty feeling. I prayed with the band parents who have supported me over the past two years, I prayed withthe middle school princpal for God to giove me direction on what to do next. I haven’t lost my spark for teaching music but this left a blow to my esteem.

      I am now taking methods classes and learning tons on whatI could’ve done better in my previous teaching experience. God is giving me a path that will lead to much better situations for me. And to boot, I have an interview set up with the local school district. Even though I don’t currently hold a state certification, I can still be hired on premise that I will have it before the end of the next school year.

      I have been teaching privately all summer and have made some new contacts along the way. Continue to pray for God to put people in my life that will help me toward my goal.

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