Title One or low SES is a label. You can use it as an excuse as to why your students can’t or won’t succeed, or you can understand that it simply means your students have challenges in their lives that may need to be considered and addressed as you are teaching. The goal of this article is to provide those who are new to teaching or new to Title One, insight into some of the challenges that your students may be facing, and ideas on how to deal with them.
Your students may not have a home or may live in a home with many other people.
Your students may be living in a shelter, in the family car, or on the street. They may be living with extended family members where work schedules dictate that people are sleeping at different times of day due to shift work.
Asking some students to practice “at home” simply isn’t a reasonable request; asking that student to come in to practice when they get to school each morning after they have breakfast? That’s a reasonable request. Provide your students with ways to be able to meet your request for practice time. Our band hall opens at 7:30 a.m., and school starts at 8:30. Students are welcome to be in the band hall as long as they are practicing or doing homework. Does some socializing take place? Of course. However, a lot of practicing takes place, as well!
Your students may not have easy access to transportation.
My top beginning bassoon player informed me a couple of days before a solo festival that he would not be attending this mandatory event. When I pursued the reason, it came down to the fact that there simply wasn’t enough money to put gas in the family car for one extra trip up to school. He wanted to be there. It simply wasn’t financially feasible for his family.
What did we do? We recorded his performance and had his judge evaluate him that way. He still got a judge’s sheet. He still earned his rating, and he still felt like he could participate in some way. Would we have preferred that he perform live? Absolutely. Were we going to set him up to fail because of something out of his control? Absolutely not.
For full-band performances, we ask students to stay after school so that they don’t have to worry about getting back. In addition, we feed them dinner and take advantage of that time for our various ensembles to spend time together as well as to warm-up in our performance area. This also means that parents can come straight from work to the student’s performance. Not only is that a money saver for parents, but it’s also a win for concert attendance. We generally have a full house for our concerts!
When we know we have students in our competitive ensembles who struggle with transportation, we request a mid-day performance time for our UIL performance. This means we can get our kids to school through their regular routes, and home the same way.
Do all of these strategies require a little bit more effort on our part? Absolutely. However, our concert and competition attendance is generally 100%, and that’s what it’s all about!
Many of your students get their only two solid meals of the day at school.
Breakfast at school is a vital part of their nutrition. As a result, having them skip breakfast for a sectional is asking the child to skip one of their two guaranteed meals of the day. You may need to work with students and the sectional schedule to ensure that they can do both.
Does this mean that you don’t have sectionals? No. It means that you have a more flexible sectional schedule than you may otherwise. It may mean that you have a clarinet in your brass sectional. If it’s the only day that the clarinet player’s parents can get them there, welcome them in and do as much as you can for them in that setting. Please understand, that student and family is showing their commitment to your program by making the effort to get their student to a sectional, even if it’s not the sectional of your preference. Honor that effort and appreciate the time that you’re gaining to help that student.
Our full band rehearsals after school always come with a snack and a bottle of water. We have snacks in the office, and if a student tells us they’re hungry, they’re going to get something to eat. With a bit of food in their belly, they jump into rehearsal and generally do the best they can for us.
Your students may not be able to see their music.
Many students who need vision care simply don’t have it. That means that if you want posture to be correct, you need to blow up that student’s music. Or you need to allow that student to sit closer to the music than you normally find acceptable. Does this mean you allow bad posture or hand position? No. It means that the stand is closer than you would like.
Don’t assume that dental issues you see during beginning band evaluation will be addressed.
Simply asking if braces are in a student’s future will help you to place the student where they will be successful. That gap between their front teeth may not be fixed in middle school or ever, so placing that student on flute may not be the best bet. Chipped front teeth may not be fixed and need to be considered, etc.
Your students may have poor social skills.
Every school is different, so what poor social skills look like will vary from school to school. For us, it means that we teach our students to look up when being spoken to. We teach them they don’t need the security of a hood being up always, or that their hoodie doesn’t always need to be worn. We teach them to take their backpack off in class. These seem like small things, but they’re all signs of insecurity, a lack of trust in those around them, or fear.
Your students may have poor communication skills.
Looking up and meeting the eyes of those you’re speaking with isn’t only a social skill; it is essential in communication as well. Learning this skill will help students in job and scholarship interviews and in any other situation where they must present themselves in a positive light. In our classroom, it means that we can better check for understanding. With proper eye contact, we can do a better job of giving students feedback, and it helps with playing posture as well.
Verbal and written communication skills are a major teaching point for our program. We work with our students on this through our weekly grade checks and any other opportunities we may receive. What does this look like? When a student has a failing grade they know that they need to be able to tell us why that grade is a D or F and what they are doing to fix it. They learn that a shoulder shrug or “I don’t know” leads to further questions from us and that we won’t accept that as an answer. Instead, they begin to understand that taking responsibility for that grade and having a plan will result in positive feedback, support, and follow-up. In addition, we may coach a student through how to ask a teacher about a failing grade, what follow up questions are and how to use them, and how to approach a teacher with whom they’ve made poor choices to begin to make amends.
Is doing this type of student contact time consuming? Yes it is! However, we are concerned about their success in all areas of their education and 98%+ of our students now pass all of their classes every 6 weeks.
On the flip side, in our classroom, we coach students on vocabulary, both music and general. We use academic vocabulary and permit the students to ask for clarification when they don’t understand something. We have students restate their responses to us with coaching if it helps them to communicate effectively. Because it’s something we do every day, students take it in stride, and we have seen a big step forward in how students are communicating with both us and others.
Your students may have poor coping skills.
Behavior that is unacceptable is often based on what is going on in the student’s life away from school. The homeless student who is constantly challenging authority, being disruptive, and refusing to work may suddenly become completely different when his family finds a way to get into an apartment.
Do you accept bad behavior? Absolutely not. However, how you deal with that behavior becomes much more direct. We always start with a conversation with the student. That may mean that the student sits at the back of the room, or in our office until the end of class, but we will be talking with that kiddo. We try to never argue with, yell at, or place a student in a position where we’ve backed them into a corner. We will open the conversation with the student by asking them if they understand our expectations and, if so, why they’ve chosen not to meet our expectations. We don’t accept “I don’t know” and we do call parents, guardians, and grandparents. There will be a consequence of the behavior. However, our end goal is to figure out what is causing the action and how we can help the student to change that behavior.
Every school has its own environment and challenges; however, the issues discussed above tend to be universal to any Title One/low SES school. Do these strategies require us as directors to rethink some of our more traditional expectations and ideas? Absolutely. Do these strategies allow students to experience success in the band setting with additional supports from their directors? Yes, they do, and isn’t that what this thing called band is all about?
Effective Band Director Techniques for Teaching in Title I Schools
Improving Section Rehearsal and Concert Attendance at a Title One School
So, I Teach Band at a Low SES School…Now What?
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