Message to New Teachers

I see a lot of new teachers in my summer Orff Schulwerk course, student teaching, on Facebook, and elsewhere. Many have incredibly valid concerns that they ask about. As a teacher with a lot of experience in varying different schools, I’d like to offer some unsolicited general advice:

  1. If you see a problem, there probably is one. Despite your lack of experience, you are still the music ed expert in your school.
  2. If there is a problem, talk to your administrator. Their job is to help you do your job, so students can learn. Be friendly and polite. Come up with a solution to suggest before you bring up the problem. Talk to other teachers in the building or other music teachers in the district/area to see what they think.
  3. You teach a class that is part of the school (and probably state) curriculum. As little as you feel valued at times, if they really didn’t want you there, you probably wouldn’t be there. Ask for some parity in scheduling, at the least with other “specials”/”encores” and with other buildings in your district. Find the best schedule and show it to your administrator, as a suggestion.

    If you see kids once a week for 30 minutes, that averages to 6 minutes per day. The kids spend more time than this in the restroom. At twice a week, you would average 12 minutes per day. Compare this to 90 minute reading blocks every day, and 60 minute math. Even if there’s no way to fix it right now, point out the extent of the disparity, and ask your administrator to consider expanding music time when possible in the future.

  4. Be aware of your rights. We all want to do what’s best for our kids, but that doesn’t mean that you should be asked to do an exorbitant amount of extra duties, concerts, etc. Make sure you have appropriate planning time, and are paid for extra evening concerts if they are above what is required for other teachers. After you have approached your administrator with concerns, talk to your union rep (yes, join the union!) for help.
  5. Build something! Create an upper elementary choir or percussion ensemble. If you’re a ms/hs choir director, schedule lessons. Again, don’t assume you can’t do this. Make a plan for how you can. In one of my jobs, I created a fifth grade choir, a sixth grade choir, a sixth grade percussion ensemble, and 7/8 sectional choir
    lessons, by working with the principals and helping draft the schedule, finding possibilities, and asking. Which brings us to the next one:
  6. Volunteer to be on the scheduling committee. No one else is going to find the solution for your scheduling problems. Offer to be on the team that reviews it for next year. Learn what the constraints are that cause you to be limited, and look for alternatives to suggest.
  7. Be in charge of your classroom. Make lesson plans. Set high expectations, and enforce them quickly. Be kind but firm. Students will sing in your class and follow directions. Students willnot talk over you when you give directions. Teach them how to do everything as if it was the first time, but be quick with directions to keep them engaged. Follow through with disciplinary warnings, by calling home, conversing with the student, or bringing in the principal. Add in positive praise as often as possible. Love your students and laugh with them, but be their teacher, not their friend.
  8. Make your students make music. They do not need a cd to sing along with. They can sing, play an instrument, learn solfege and rhythms, and leave your program an independent musician who can perform without you. I don’t mean the “talented” kids. I mean this should be your grade level expectations!
  9. And finally,

  10. Continue learning. Take a summer Orff Schulwerk or Kod├íly training course. Go to local, state, and national workshops. Teach out of the book only as long as you need it, and not a second more. Look for new ways to enhance student creativity and skills. Don’t “settle” for being an average music teacher! Be the best, for your students.

3 thoughts on “Message to New Teachers

  1. This is helpful. I taught 5th grade for 10 years and was put in teaching music. I knew little to nothing. I had supplies and primary instruments. I talked and met with other music teachers in the county (helped a lot). Even after 4 years, I still feel really inadequate, but I do it and the kids have fun. This year an extra day was added (Friday) and since it is hard to compete with PE, I made it dance party Friday using different dances the whole class time. The kids love it. We discuss the history of the dance, the music, rhythm, tempo and dynamics. It has gone over really well with the kids, They look forward to it. I would tell others -hang in there, it gets better, try new stuff and have fun. Kids don’t get much fun these days.

    1. Thanks, Martha! I love your idea of dance day! Something I’ve done at my current school and a previous job is a unit on dance co-taught with the PE teacher. Since our schedules rotate with the same grade at the same time, we take the two classes together into the gym and do big folk dances. The PE teacher is still learning them, but he loves being a part of it!

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