Dear new music teachers…
It’s your first job as an elementary music teacher. We’re a few weeks into school and you think you’re living the dream. Now don’t get me wrong—teaching is what you have always wanted to do, but you’re too busy riding the high of this experience that you’re overlooking that your life is a hot mess. And you need long term strategies to survive this life.
I know you’re busy. We’re all busy. It started as music majors in college. We practiced before our 8 a.m. classes when our friends slept until noon. We overloaded our schedules with 1 credit classes, classes deemed only as 1 credit so that we could fit everything into four years. Theory. Aural skills. Music History. Oh boy, was that one a treat. We spent our nights in rehearsal. Large ensemble rehearsals. Chamber ensembles. Jam sessions. We didn’t sleep.
Just because you have the shiny prize at the end doesn’t mean all the work gets to stop. You’re just starting. And there are things you need to know. Things you need to do. Even though you think you don’t have time.
- Join an ensemble. Repeat after me. JOIN. AN. ENSEMBLE. When you’re trying to fall asleep and can’t stop thinking about that parent’s email or an outburst from a student you need to remember why you’re doing this. It doesn’t take long for the memories of your globally touring college ensemble to fade. And when it does, you’re in trouble. JOIN AN ENSEMBLE. Ta ta ti ti ta can only sustain you for a little while. And though I love my ta-ta-ti-ti-ta, it’s not the music I crave to make. JOIN AN ENSEMBLE.
- Read “Classroom Management for the Art, Music & P.E. Teachers.” You think you have a plan now, but it’s the honeymoon phase. These kids are on their best behavior. Just wait until January. February. March. April. That long long stretch of indoor recess and no breaks. The author, Michael Linsin, is a former P.E. teacher turned administrator. He gets that classroom management of a “special” class can’t and shouldn’t follow the classroom management that goes on in other rooms. YOU NEED TO IMPLEMENT THIS BOOK. It will save your vocal chords. It will save your life.
- Make connections. With students. With staff. With parents. Learn names right now, scratch that. You should already know the names. Take 5 minutes at the end of each day to email parents for good behavior. Congratulate their child’s success. What we do in the music room is not the same anywhere else. We make music. We make magic. And we need everyone else to see it to!
- Teach your students how to read music. I’m talking time signatures, bar lines, treble clef line and space notes, eighth notes through sixteenth notes. Every good boy does fine. FACE. Teach them and then teach them again. It’s hard to pass on all this beautiful music through the generations if they don’t appreciate the hard work it takes to be a musician.
- Tell stories. Don’t just teach your students the words. I know there are a lot of them. We give so many concerts a year that it’s draining. Each grade needs to know 6 songs. Memorize 6 songs. Know complex Orff orchestrations for 6 songs. It’s so easy to fall into the pattern of, “Echo after me. I sing a line and you sing it back” Don’t do that. Please, don’t do that. Don’t teach words. Tell stories.
You may now resume another 10 hours of lesson planning! And if you’ve made it this far, please send me a cupcake or donut or really big bag of candy!