Working the Scheduling Kinks Out

Every year as I prepared to return to school, the foremost thing on my mind was what my schedule was going to look like. A schedule can make or break and entire year. I’ve had schedules in which for one or two days, I’ve taught seven classes straight through with only a lunch break, I’ve had schedules that afforded me preparation time at the beginning and end of the day and then went straight through, and I’ve had schedules that allowed for preparation time during the course of the day. I’ve had schedules with no time between classes, and schedules with 3-5 minutes between classes. Although I really never received everything I wanted in a schedule, it helps to be on good terms with whoever does the scheduling for your building. In my case, it was an instructional coach who used to be an art teacher, so there was an understanding of what it would be like to live a particular schedule. But even she had to work within parameters, and could not avoid giving me some unfortunate scheduling situations. This week, many of you, especially in New England, will be returning to school, and receiving your class schedules. In this post, I will offer some suggestions that it won’t hurt to ask for.

First, have the scheduler evenly distribute your classes across the week. One year I had a schedule given to me that had only one class on Monday, two on Tuesday, and then no breaks at all Wednesday through Friday. I put up quite a fuss over it, because with a schedule like that, it could appear to an administrator that they really didn’t need a full time music teacher; that the whole job could be done in 4 days. It also would have made for a very difficult week after Wednesday. After a lot of complaining, I finally got the schedule changed so that it was reasonable. With the light schedule on Tuesday I was left with, I added a chorus period, which was something I’d been trying to do for a couple of years. It all worked out, but I had to work hard to make it happen.

Second, if you teach instrumental music and yours is a pull-out program, have the scheduler build in full band rehearsal periods. That way, when you have your band rehearsals, it won’t be conflicting with a literacy or math block, which often is protected from any pull-outs. Then, you can schedule your small group lessons as normal pull-outs at times mutually convenient, but you know up front you will also have your full ensemble rehearsal.

Third, explain to the scheduler that because you have different classes arriving and departing from your room all day, you need transition time. While students can be assigned “jobs” when they arrive to set up instruments, arrange chairs, pass out papers, and so on, it really makes for a better experience for you and the students if you have even just a few minutes to reset your room, straighten chairs, pick up papers left behind, and whatever little chore needs to be done so that the next class enters a classroom that immediately looks ready for them. When students find you or the room in disarray when they arrive, it encourages unwanted behavior and distracts students from quickly being ready to start your class. Also, every class is not picked up on time by the receiving teacher, so you need a buffer to minimize two classes at your door at once. I like to have 3-4 minutes between each class to help with smooth transitions.

Fourth, try to have your most difficult classes scheduled early in the day, first thing if possible. All classes are more sedate and focused early in the day. If you are accustomed to struggling with managing a class and find them in your schedule at the end of the day or right after lunch, then you are going to continue to have a tougher going than you need to. Seeing these classes early in the day makes a big difference. If you have some chronically tardy students, you may need to accommodate them due to lost instructional time, but I have not found any other drawbacks to this.

The fifth suggestion isn’t really about the schedule you receive, it’s more about the schedule you live out. Don’t work through your lunch time. I have friends who are exhausted and irritable at the end of the day and think it’s due to any one of a variety of reasons. But I see these teachers work through their lunch time day after day, and then jump right back into teaching when the lunch time is over. Stay after school or arrive early if there is work you absolutely have to get done and can’t complete during your preparation period, but give yourself a break for lunch. Even if you don’t eat lunch, or don’t need the entire time for dining, relax with what time you have left. Get outside in nice weather and take a walk, or just walk around a wing of the building where the students are also at lunch. It will be quiet and peaceful there, and just moving about outside your classroom will do you a lot of good.

Before I conclude this discussion, I’d like to add the scheduling recommendations that are part of the “Opportunity to Learn” standards published by NAfME.

  • At least ninety minutes of instruction in General Music are given to each student each week in grades K-2
  • Time is scheduled to meet with individual students to meet their needs.
  • Music classes are scheduled with the same teacher-pupil ratio as general education classes.
  • Planning time is commensurate to that of other core academic courses.
  • In grades 3-5, all students have the option of electing ensemble participation in addition to their required general music class.
  • The inclusion of ensemble experiences is not scheduled to routinely pull students from General Music classes.
  • Classes in General Music are no larger than classes in other subjects of the curriculum.
  • Class durations for General Music are commensurate with other core academic areas.
  • For programs at the secondary level, at least one performing group of each type (such as band, jazz ensemble, orchestra, chorus, guitar) presents one performance yearly at a premiere venue. This venue may be a local concert hall or may involve travel out of the school district.
  • Every performing group presents a series of performances, open performances, or “informances” for parents, peers, and the community. The number of performances is sufficient to demonstrate the nature and extent of the students’ learning but not so great as to interfere with the learning process, to reduce the amount of time available to achieve instructional objectives of the ensemble, or to suggest an emphasis on entertainment rather than education.

Instruction in ensembles is provided to students in durations commensurate with other core academic subject areas:

* Every effort is made to avoid scheduling single- section courses in music against single-section courses in other subjects.

* Scheduling is arranged so that all members of each ensemble can meet as a unit during the school day.

  • At least ninety minutes of instruction in General Music are given to each student each week in grades K-2
  • Time is scheduled to meet with individual students to meet their needs.
  • Music classes are scheduled with the same teacher-pupil ratio as general education classes.
  • Planning time is commensurate to that of other core academic courses.
  • In grades 3-5, all students have the option of electing ensemble participation in addition to their required general music class.
  • The inclusion of ensemble experiences is not scheduled to routinely pull students from General Music classes.
  • Classes in General Music are no larger than classes in other subjects of the curriculum.
  • Class durations for General Music are commensurate with other core academic areas.
  • For programs at the secondary level, at least one performing group of each type (such as band, jazz ensemble, orchestra, chorus, guitar) presents one performance yearly at a premiere venue. This venue may be a local concert hall or may involve travel out of the school district.
  • Every performing group presents a series of performances, open performances, or “informances” for parents, peers, and the community. The number of performances is sufficient to demonstrate the nature and extent of the students’ learning but not so great as to interfere with the learning process, to reduce the amount of time available to achieve instructional objectives of the ensemble, or to suggest an emphasis on entertainment rather than education.

Instruction in ensembles is provided to students in durations commensurate with other core academic subject areas. Every effort is made to avoid scheduling single- section courses in music against single-section courses in other subjects. Scheduling is arranged so that all members of each ensemble can meet as a unit during the school day.

  • For Elementary through Middle School grades, the inclusion of ensemble experiences is not scheduled to routinely pull students from General Music classes.

We know that we will not always get everything we want in a music teaching schedule. I have provided first some suggestions of important things to work for at the beginning of the year, and then secondly, with the opportunity to learn standards, an overriding framework to be worked on with administrators and department heads to improve the potential for excellence in your music program. Have a great school year, and don’t hesitate to contact me to provide professional development for your music department during the course of our new school year.

NAfME (2014). Opportunity to Learn Standards. Accessed August 27, 2019 at https://nafme.org/my-classroom/standards/opportunity-to-learn-standards/

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