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Managing a larger program

I teach 6-8 choir in a middle school. I just found out that next year's projected enrollment for my school's choir program will exceed 220 students. Five years ago, the program had 70, and this year we have 175.Tthings have changed a lot! Admittedly, I am not the most organized person and I'm feeling a little overwhlemed at the prospect of handling that number of students AND maintaining balance with my family life (I've got a great hubby and two young daughters). Unfortunately, there's no money in the budget to staff another position for assistance. This will be the largest choir I've ever taught. So... I am looking for some advice here!
How do you organize paperwork/student data? 
How to you handle grading? Theory assignments? 
How do you manage money/fees?
Is there a time-effective way to assess students individually? Some of my classes will exceed 45 students- I know that many teachers teach much larger classes than this, but it's new for me.
How do you evaluate your students' singing and ranges during class time without the class going completely off task?
My classes are generally well disciplined, but they aren't as large as they will be next year. Do you have any great tips for managing a larger group?
Any tips for dealing with a crowded room? 
Thank you!
Replies (13): Threaded | Chronological
on April 22, 2012 7:51pm
I looked Mr. Seelig up, and I've seen his books at TMEA but I've never purchased one. Thanks for the recommendation.  I'm also going to look into SmartMusic for assessing students on the computer (has anyone on her used Smart Music like that?) Thanks!
on May 10, 2012 7:55pm
Well, the good news is that my principal thought a parent service group was a great idea, and I already have a mother who wants to be the president! Also, the high school director has committed to helping with all of our concerts, and the students are very interested in forming a choir council. A retired friend of mine has verbally committed to assist students in preparing for region choir auditions and solo and ensemble. I think learning to delegate will help me survive. It's hard for me to let go of my control and trust others to get stuff done, but it's necessary. 
Thank you again for all of the great input!
on May 10, 2012 8:47pm
That's terrific, Tanna.  Just keep remembering that professionals trust other professionals.  That's what makes the musical world work!  We're gearing up for our 21st annual Summer Musical ("Peter Pan"), with a community organization that is 100% volunteer including the creative staff and the orchestra, and as I sat in on the auditions and casting session last weekend I realized that everyone on the creative team understands their contribution to the total effort and respects everyone else.  Professionalism is an attitude, not a union card in your pocket!
All the best,
on March 15, 2013 1:11pm
Quick update. This year has been a whirlwind! While there were many commitments for assistance, not everyone was able to follow through... That's life! We live in a busy society. 
I have found that a student organization was a good thought, but I have had difficulty in following through with keeping it meaningful. I suppose that is a learning process. I am terrible at knowing what and how to delegate. It doesn't help that our new principal is very by-the-book, and I have been told in no uncertain terms that volunteers canot help with things like fees, grades and student data (it makes sense, but those are some of the biggest areas where volunteers would help!)
Meaningful grading and individual student assessment have been very big obstacles. My largest class, non-varsity treble, has 52 students. I feel there are too many students falling through the cracks in regards to vocal development. But I haven't figured out how to give them individual assessments in a timely and effective manner... I'm open to any suggestions! 
The choir is at 222 right now. The projection for next year puts us somewhere between 260-290 (we'll see how that pans out, it's hard to really know what the numbers will be until the first week of school is over!). The principal wants to hire an assistant- he's told me that more than once- but it's no guarantee! 
on March 21, 2013 7:49am
Congratulations on your great success building a program!  If I could turn this thread on its head a little, I'd love to hear what you did in order to achieve such large growth?  I teach in a large middle school and I've had trouble building numbers beyond my current state (school is 1,200, choir is at 120).  They are great kids and work very hard and sing very well, but I would love to bump the numbers up (especially the boys!).  Orchestra at my school is at 200 and Band is at 250, so I know its possible.  I'd appreciate any advice you can give!
on April 8, 2013 8:38pm
Thank you, Steve. There are several factors that have helped in the growth of the choir program. Some of which I had absolutely no control over! I'll do my best to share...
- Be involved with your feeder elementary music programs as much as possible- and get your high school director involved with them too. Strong vertical alignment really grows programs. I clinic their choirs, accompany them at concerts, and attend their programs when possible. Once a year I'll have a concert that involves the elementary feeder choirs. We sing a big finale song at the end with everyone on stage. We used to have a rehearsal at my school with the elementary kids there. They get pretty jazzed. 
- My first year at the school, several popular and athletic boys signed up for choir in 6th grade. I honestly have no idea why... I think one of them wanted to try it out and his friends followed suit. Recruit from the football team. After those "cool" boys signed up for the class, it became socially acceptable for boys to join choir. 7th/8th grade boy numbers grew dramatically from 3 in 2007 to 61 this year. 
- Being visible at community events has helped get the word out about who we are. We have caroled at nursing homes, community events, sung at elementary carnivals, etc. The varsity ensembles perform at the Texas Capitol Rotunda every year before Thanksgiving and we try to get their picture in the community newspaper. My varsity girls have twice entered (and won!) a contest held by a local radio station. Be relentless with publicizing the choir. 
- Build traditions. The Capitol Rotunda performance,  Veteran's Day Assembly, caroling in the community, pizza "practice" party, fall choir social, spring water park trip, choreographed Pop show... (especially the pop show!)- the choir does these things year after year and younger kids look forward to being a part of it. The pop show is a huge draw. It's just one concert, but it is the one concert attended most by students at the school that are not in choir. 
- Build a reputation of excellence. Keep your standards of performance high. Parents will notice when a performing group excels in concerts and a contests/festivals. If you have region choir or solo and ensemble, encourage as many students as possible to participate. Parents want their children to be in a successful organization. 
- Be visible. This kind of goes along with the vertical alignment thing, but also beyond... Go to the elementary and high school choral events. Introduce yourself shamelessly to parents. Attend basketball, volleyball and football games. If a student invites you to something, find a way to be there. 
- This year, I hired a production company and made a recruitment video (cost $400). The video features students talking about their choir experience, audio clips of formal music juxtaposed with pictures of concerts, a brief pop show clip and a photo montage of fun social events. Over 150 fifth graders signed up for choir this year, so it seems to have worked. I plan on using the video at least 3-4 more years so the value is excellent. 
- Be positive in the community and in rehearsal. Parents are much more likely to encourage their child to enter the choir if the director is kind and reasonable. It's important to remember that middle school kids are often at the mercy of their parents and that choir may not be a top priority. Responsible planning and scheduling on your part will be greatly appreciated by your students' parents. You cannot be successful without them. 
Wow... Sorry for the novel!  I guess I'm more passionate about this than I thought! Best wishes. 
-Tanna Bills
Applauded by an audience of 2
on August 31, 2013 10:36pm
The choir has an assistant teacher for the two 6th grade ensembles! I'm so thankful! Thanks again to everyone for the great advice earlier in the thread. This year I have to do a better job of communicating with parents and keeping student leaders involved. That's the plan, at least.
Now... about what to do with that many kids when I'll be out of school for four consecutive days. Glad there's time to plan! 
Hope everyone is off to a fabulous new year!
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