When Teaching Guard Gets Hard

| November 3, 2009 | 5 Comments

author: Darcie GudgerThe first article from our newest regular contributor Darcie Gudger.  Darcie gives tips for how to maintain professionalism through some of the toughest challenges coaches can face – unhappy students!  No need to lose your cool – read more for tips on handling these challenges with grace!


They wait along the sideline, hands shoved deep into the front pocket of tattered hoodies, eyes darting everywhere except in contact with yours.

“We need to talk to you.” The section leader steps forward looking over her shoulder at the others.

A voice shoots from the rear of the group. “We don’t think it’s fair that you just gave Alyssa and Melanie those solos without holding tryouts.”

“Yeah. It feels like you’re playing favorites. The rest of us should have a fair shot at a solo.”

The attacks keep coming. Your work is too boring. It’s too hard. Your practices are too long. Not long enough. You don’t care about them because you don’t allow them to down five Monster drinks before rehearsals or a show. The band director has coffee breath and one guard member is allergic to dark roast.

Teaching students how to spin, move and do it at the same time in the same way is hard enough. But when you’re facing a wall of unhappy teenagers, hard feels like an understatement.

Conflict is inevitable

If it hasn’t happened to you, it will – especially if you are new to the program or you’ve lost a heap of students to graduation or aging out, meaning your kids are young and inexperienced. Don’t be fooled by early season excitement. You’re in a honeymoon period. You’re getting to know them and they’re getting to know you. When the heat of the competitive season flares, conflicts will pop up. Expecting conflicts and being prepared will mature you and your performers.

Why it happens

Conflict happens for countless reasons. Often it arises from a program’s sordid past – something you have no control over. Other times stress in the students’ lives outside of guard hits you front on.  Or you’re new. New teachers are always tested. If a program had a revolving door for instructional staff, the kids will test your commitment. Can they trust you? Why should they trust you? Are you different from the last instructor who walked out on them when they failed to place at championships?

Gut reactions

When cornered by angry, hurting kids it’s tempting to react in one or more of the following ways.

  • Attack back and throw it back. When kids get mean and disrespect you to your face it’s easy to get mad, but getting mad sucks you into a power struggle. Allowing yourself to get hooked once will invite more of the same in the future. Resort to belittling or calling names – you’re toying with abuse…a serious charge. Not only could you lose your current job, but you may be shut out of a career working with students altogether.   Besides, calling students names and making them feel horrible about themselves is a surefire way to kill a program..
  • Go on the defensive. So in their eyes, spending an hour of rehearsal time in basic block is boring. Time would be better spent doing show stuff. But, an exposition on foundation building and educational philosophy might stretch that crack in your guard-instructor relationship to a chasm.
  • Take it personally. We all want to be that beloved teacher talked about for generations. Nothing stabs the heart of a caring teacher more than angry words or a pointed finger.  However, breaking down in tears and running to the nearest bathroom doesn’t help build their trust in you as a professional.
  • Go home. You think you’re making a point but they are high-fiving in victory. They just called the shots.  Now they know how to end a rehearsal early. Make you mad.

Proactive approach to conflict

Conflict comes without warning. Be prepared.

  • Have a plan. You know it will happen. Talk to your team of staff. Involve your director. Come up with a protocol. Who should be present? Who runs rehearsal if only a handful of kids are involved? What is the school or organization’s discipline policy?
  • Hear them out. Kids need to be heard. Make it clear you only hear respectful speech.  If someone is bent on arguing, assure them you care too much about them to argue. Every time they jump in, “Yeah, but…” tell them again you care about them too much to argue. Ask leading questions, “How do you plan to handle this?”. Interview kids individually or in small groups. Does the Whole Guard really feel that way about you or is it a bad attitude of an individual?
  • Save decisions for later. Good decisions are rarely made in the heat of conflict. Let the kids know you heard them by reviewing the main points of the conversation. Assure them you will think about what was said.
  • Remember YOU are the adult. You were hired to teach guard because you are good at it. Being an adult in a leadership position assumes a certain level of responsibility and professionalism. You bring experience to the table that will enhance the program. Screaming, “I’ve been teaching guard for twenty years and marched six years in drum corps, so zip it and do what I say,” steps you out of the professionalism zone. There are ways to assert your expertise, but screaming may make them more resistant. On the other hand, don’t second guess yourself because your students don’t like the way you operate. Be confident. Hold your head up and remember your job is to make them as good as they can be. Students learn attitude and behavior from watching the adults in their lives.  Model behavior that will reflect positively of you and your program. Seek support from higher up if needed.
  • Filter out tone, hear the message. Is there truth to their concern? Are you being unreasonable in expecting your freshman to catch a six perfectly every single time? Do you anger easily and blow up at the kids who show up for rehearsal instead of confronting the ones who ditch? Do you answer your cell phone in the middle of teaching a new set of work? Each group, each season is different and what worked for one group/season may backfire in the next. Great teachers always evaluate their own methods and manners.
  • Plug into a color guard educator community. Put aside your competitive nature and befriend other instructors in your circuit. Nurture a group of people to brainstorm with and bounce around ideas. Visit sites like www.colorguardeducator.com, which is rich with articles and a live forum. Celebrate the success of others and let your kids see you shake hands with the instructor of the unit that just beat yours.

Most importantly, don’t sit on conflict letting it fester. Face it with heart and courage. Remember the program will outlast the season. Reward will come when a former student sends you a message thanking you for not giving up on them in guard, and giving them a work ethic that helped them get ahead in Life After Guard.


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Category: Instruction, Professional Development, Rehearsal Planning & Management, Team Management

About the Author (Author Profile)

Darcie Gudger has a B.A. in psychology from Houghton College and and M.A. in Education from the University of Colorado at Denver. In high school, Darcie marched outdoor and indoor guard for Lake Lehman High School in Lehman, PA. She instructed an award winning color guard at Sheridan High School in Denver, Colorado for eight years. Currently Darcie teaches color guard at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado and will be starting her 8th year as an Individual Analysis Equipment judge for the Rocky Mountain Color Guard Association . In addition to teaching guard, Darcie is the Outdoor Recreation Examiner for Examiner.com and has completed her first young adult novel which includes the world of color guard. Currently, Darcie’s agent is shopping her manuscript to potential publishers. Hobbies include hiking, camping, biking, knitting and singing.

Comments (5)

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  1. Kristina says:

    I LOVE this article! I re-read it every season and it has helped me avoid a lot of the typical teenage drama. Thank you :-)

  2. Aridare says:

    I’m already in love with this website!! This is exactly what I’ve been needing to read and see! I’m a first year color guard instructor and have been overwhelmed and lost at many times. I honestly didn’t expect to be having this position, but the band director (also new and very dedicated) needed a new color guard instructor. I was so excited when I found out I had the position. I just sent an email offering to volunteer and help out with the color guard, but received an email back of an offer of a full time color guard instructor position. Years back the marching band and guard were doing great, but in about the last 5yrs both the marching band and guard have gone through numerous different directors and instructors. Because of this the students suffered.
    My problems that I have encountered are the following: I officially got the position about the second week of September. Therefore I wasn’t able to have any practices during the summer. I had zero students show up the first week and at the end of the second week I finally got one student. Since then they’ve been trickling in every practice and I’m happy to say I’m at 7 students now! But because I just started official practices at the second week of September I haven’t been able to show the students all of the show work. And I’m glad more showed, but it would have been easier if they all showed at once instead of trickling in week by week lol. They have show work for the first half of the 1st song and 2nd song of their show and nothing for the third song. They have their first official performance on Tuesday and luckily it’s a band festival with just 4 other bands. But I would like to show them alil something for song 3, but they really can’t even do the work without me standing in front of them and doing it with them. They are struggling to count while spinning and I haven’t even attempted having them march.

    Someone please help! I never a lot of tips!! :0) thanks!!

  3. Outstanding article!

  4. Thank you. I just returned to teaching guard after an absence of 10 years. Half my new guard was new. The reason the Band Director wanted me was because I was an adult not a college student. I’m former drum corps I want them to learn fundamentals. I have run into every item you have listed including having the vets tell me repeatedly how great their program used to be. I’ve seen the videos, we will have to agree to disagree on that point forever. But my point is this: thank you for your article because it gives me hope, lets me back into the community of CG, and lets me know I’m not alone.

    Thank you sounds too simple for so much gratitude.

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