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Improving elective classes in the high school

Updated on November 27, 2012

Choir hams acting goofy

Back in the day

When I was in high school, it was considered an honor to be in a vocal performance group. We learned songs, from various genres and languages, selected by the teacher. We contributed to school spirit, volunteered in the community, had fun trips on school buses and respected authority. Our choir was in a healthy competition with the high school on the other side of town for first place in regional and state festivals. Our grades and citizenship were factors for placement in choir.

Music became less important in the education system

There was obviously a time warp from my high school days to 1994 when I started teaching. Maybe a version of George Orwell’s 1984 really happened! When I first began teachin, I was rudely awakened by the composition of my choir classes and the behavior of the students. This was when I first heard the word “dumping ground.” At that time I thought it was a term coined by the union representative with whom I was speaking.

As time went on, I realized that it was a process used to fill the schedules of students who were not academically inclined. Dumping Ground, written by Barry Croom and Gary Moore describes students dumped in vocational classes as “incorrigible and lazy.”

Such students do not magically become interested in challenging and rigorous instruction because they are in an elective. On the contrary, dumped students can affect the productivity in the class by intimidating or discouraging others. One cannot build a choral, drama, technology, or vocational program on a weak foundation of failing students.

Talent Show Winner Gloria

Growing a program requires teamwork

Three years ago, just as I was becoming encouraged by the cooperation I received from my vice principal, our whole administration changed. My fifth period class, right after lunch and adjacent to the lunch area, had 59 students and at least 15 of those were incorrigible. I was fortunate enough to be assigned to a new vice principal who listened to me and helped strategically schedule my classes to be productive.

A successful program is a collaborative effort. Elective teachers need

1. Support of counselors – Getting to know counselors has been a tremendous help for me. Help the counselors understand that you are looking for good cooperative students and need to have them strategically placed. In the spring I provided a list of students appropriate for specific classes. As a result, I have continuity from the previous year and kids are able to sing songs on the first day of school.

2. Support of parents – Parent advocacy is crucial for a good choral program. Parents like to see their kids perform well. They have a special voice that teachers do not have!

3. Support of students – Students who are interested in the program will be excited and talk about the program to their friends. Include student-produced programs and activities. They will want to see the program grow because that means increased opportunities for them.

4. Support of administrators – This is a critical area. Administrators should respect teachers as professionals and listen to their valid concerns about program obstacles. Unless classes are scheduled for program growth, there is no program and there will be a vicious cycle of classes that will cause you to give up on building a program, request a transfer or quit!

Talent Show Jamaica Babies

New teachers don't suffer in silence

As soon as possible, meet with teachers who are teaching the same discipline in other schools. Get students to tell you about exciting activities they participated in before you arrived. Listening is part of the information gathering process to determine what has been done, who is successful and why and strategically planning to succeed. It will be necessary to raise funds for what you need to make your program successful. Our talent shows draw more students to the choral program than any of our other activities. Throughout the year students stop me to ask the date of the next talent show.

Please share challenges and/or successes you have experienced.

Talent Show - Abby and Janna

Elective classes do not have to be dump classes

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    • dianetrotter profile image

      G. Diane Nelson Trotter 5 years ago from Fontana

      Nell, you betcha they regret it. Every student who has left over the years has wanted to come back. One of my babies got mad at me in 9th grade. Two days later she came back and asked if I would let her come back to my class. She has been with me every since and graduates this year.

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 5 years ago from England

      Hi diane, Not heard of that saying before, yes I think its down to the teacher to get them involved but sometimes the students just don't want to know and it disrupts the others, the thing is, when they leave I bet they wish they had got involved! interesting hub, nell

    • dianetrotter profile image

      G. Diane Nelson Trotter 5 years ago from Fontana

      Great Lwelch. Sounds like the school I attended. Elective classes have been considred the "salvation" for the incorrigible and lazy student. The rational is "well maybe they can sing!" A version of "since they can't do anything else" is uttered in the same breath. Failing students should have classes that teach them life skills and the danger of not getting an education.

    • Lwelch profile image

      Lena Welch 5 years ago from USA

      My electives gave me a chance to take lots of art classes. I learned lots and it influences my art analysis, critical thinking, and hobbies. Many people in my art classes went to college seeking an art degree. My other electives included typing and mechanical drawing. I hated study hall. For me, it was the dump class. I went to a very regimented high school. We couldn't choose the core classes that we took. English was English, math was math. We could choose which language that we took and how much of it we took, whether we did 4 years of math and science, and 1-2 electives/semester. I like that system better than choose everything. I got a solid foundation and my handful of electives were meaningful.