You use REAL candles? Classroom Management

In 1996, I began teaching at South Orange Middle School in South Orange, New Jersey.  It was my 6th year teaching.  I knew that I needed to find a holiday song that was appropriate for the diverse community in which I was teaching.  

Enter "Light the Candles All Around the World" by Teresa Jennings from one of my favorite resources for great songs for this age group called Music K-8.

I love the resource for so many reasons.  The students love the songs.  The writers for the magazine give suggestions for ideas of what you can do with choreography and staging.  They provide tracks.  Everything is reproducible.  It is easy on the budget!

After performing it for the first time, I knew I'd found a keeper.  I've performed it with my students every single year since that first year, and my students still love this song!

Recently, I posted this picture on social media.

A parent took the photo during "Light the Candles" at our concert on December 11, 2018.

Several folks commented on the photo, but one comment in particular stuck out to me.

"Where do you get your fake candles?"

I wrote back...

"They are real!  I get them on Amazon."

I completely understand why some teachers would never feel comfortable using real candles with this age group, and I total get why administrators would never allow it. 

But for me, the real candles are critical to the magic of the moment, but more importantly, the magic for the KIDS in that moment. 

Middle school aged children are often met with distrust, so when they don't meet that lack of trust and are given the proper tools and information they need to succeed, in my experience, they step up to the plate.

I don't take the use of real candles lightly at all.  I prepare them.  I teach fire safety.  We review "Stop drop and roll".  We talk about how important it would be to speak up if they saw something happen during the concert.  I tell them about the importance of securing their hair.  I have three parents sitting close by with fire extinguishers ready for use if needed.  I share with them that if, at any moment, they feel like the wax is dripping onto their hands passed the protective shield and it makes them uncomfortable, they can blow the candle out.  ...And I don't tempt fate!  We only rehearse with the candles one time. 

I go on and on in the preparations...I work to dot every "i" and cross every "t" about how to handle the candles properly in order to create this special moment for themselves and for the audience. 

...And it is a moment they never forget.   Use this link and go to the 25 minute 33 second mark to experience it.

On the day I teach the candle safety lesson, I tell the kids about how many times people have said to me.... "You trust 300+ middle school children to light actual candles with real flames?!?"

I tell them that the answer is yes.  I trust them. 

My students always laugh and say things like, "They are right Mr. Duncan.  Not sure you should trust us."

But at the same time they tell me that I shouldn't trust them, amidst the uncomfortable laughter, there  are important moments of realization that are occurring.   They've been entrusted with a responsibility...the type of responsibility that middle school children long for..."OMG.  This adult person trusts us.  And because he trusts us, we have the chance to prove we are trustworthy, and we get to enjoy this amazing moment.  My parents and friends get to see me do this."

It's huge.

It's stuff like this that changes the dynamic between us and our students in all the right ways.

I would never recommend that a teacher use real candles if the teacher is struggling with classroom management or has a strained relationship with their middle school students. 

But if you feel ready and prepare them responsibly, it's powerful for everyone involved. 

And speaking about changing the dynamic in your classroom...

S-Cubed Bundle Special through Dec. 22!

January is a great time for a fresh start with sight singing, and I am offering specials on S-Cubed Bundles for one week starting today!  

Until Saturday, December 22nd at 6 PM Eastern, here are the specials:

Level TWO, normally $159, is $59.
Level ONE, normally $269, is $99.
The MEGA Bundle, normally $369, is $149.

If you already have the S-Cubed Bundles, tell a peer about the specials!  Also, if you post a video on social media of your students and you using S-Cubed, email me the link at, and I'll send you The Middle School New Chorus Teacher Starter Pack bundle for free!  It's normally $89.  In the subject line, put "S-Cubed Video Post".  Please use #sightsinging #scubed in your post.  The offer is also valid until Saturday, December 22 at 6 PM.

Happy Holidays!