11 Things a New Music Teacher Should Know About Their First Year

So you landed your first gig as a school music teacher. What now? I went from teaching part time at a very small rural school of 53 students to teaching over 400 students in my second. So essentially, I had two first years. In those years, I experienced a range of emotions, learning moments, as well as good and bad times.
Advice and Resources for your first year!

Your First Year Teaching

So you landed your first gig as a school music teacher. What now? I went from teaching part time at a very small rural school of 53 students to teaching over 400 students in my second. So essentially, I had two first years. In those years, I experienced a range of emotions, learning moments, as well as good and bad times. Here are a few things that you should expect for your first year teaching music:

  1. You will feel overwhelmed and you might even want to quit and it’s OK. There is a usual pattern that first-year teachers go through. It starts with excitement and energy in the first couple of months. Then, as Christmas or Winter concert prep begins, you start to stress. After the holiday season, you will lose energy fast and you might even want to quit (this feeling might even come before Christmas). After your Spring break, things will begin to look up and you will feel more invigorated to teach. The problem is, this pattern never goes away in the following years, the feelings are just much less intense and you know how to deal with them.
  2. You will be planning a lot. I remember taking home all the resources for each grade so I could plan for the next activity. This happened for at least three years. All you need to do is keep about a week ahead of your learners to keep your sanity.
  3. If it is Elementary or Primary, you will feel absolutely exhausted after just a day or two. You’ll understand. It’s just something about how young kids can literally suck all the energy out of you.
  4. If you are in Primary or Elementary, you will get sick—a lot. Let’s face it, kids are gross!
  5. The end of the year will come faster than you think. The longer you teach, the faster it comes every year.
  6. It’s OK if you don’t know what you are doing.  I didn’t—I was trained as a secondary band teacher exclusively. I had to think on my feet and figure it all out on the fly as a primary and elementary music teacher. I mean, lots of planning went into that but still. This is why it’s called your teaching practice.
  7. You’re not going to change the world the way that you think you will. I know that you’re keen, but all you can do is build your empire from the school you are at. This only works if you are at one school for multiple years. It takes a long time to get a program to where you want it to be. I was working on it for 10 years and I just got my program in a place that I like in my ninth year. Then, by the time I got it there, there was more I wanted to change. If you are a forward thinker who wants to change the whole system like I do, do it one school at a time. Change will follow you. It happens over a career, not a year.
  8. Your philosophy of music education will change over time. It may stay roughly the same or completely different but it will change.
  9. Classroom management exists. I know you probably learned how to teach in an ideal situation and your practicum probably gave you a taste of what schools are actually like. This will likely be one of your biggest challenges in your first couple of years. This also means that the best-laid lesson plans will go awry on a semi-regular basis. Focus on classroom management because this is what will make or break your success. Content and teaching ability are secondary to good classroom management skills.
  10. Lesson plan like mad now so you won’t have to later. It should become automatic. When I am teaching drummers to play 4-measure phrases on the kit, I tell them to count like mad now until they don’t have to.
  11. Celebrate the small victories. This positive mindset will keep you sane…and coffee.

First-Year Teacher Resources to Help You Survive

Here are some resources that have been a lifeline for me and for others, but especially for new teachers:

  1. Any of Denise Gagne’s material. She has some great books and series of books called “Singing Games Children Love” and “Movement Songs Children Love.”
  2. Gameplan. This is a full curriculum for K to 5 that includes lessons for each day and month of the year. It is a resource and curriculum all-in-one. Pretty expensive but if you could even get a look at a few lessons from it, it would be helpful for you.
  3. MusicPlay (Denise Gagne). I’ve not used this myself but I have heard great reviews.
  4. My website: StevesMusicRoom.com. I’m assuming you’ve already found it if you are reading this. If not, you should really check it out. I originally designed the site for beginning teachers so there are a ton of resources and unit plans that I have created and used successfully at multiple grade levels. Also, there have been lots of movement toward teaching rock ensembles at the elementary and secondary levels but no resources for supporting it, so I created one! Check out Rock Coach, available on Amazon and it’s very affordable. It works for Grades 4 through 12.
  5. Classroom Management for Art, Music, and PE Teachers. I’ve not used this one myself either but I have heard great things about it. It has great reviews on Amazon and it comes up regularly on the Music Teacher Facebook site. Oh, and…
  6. The Music Teachers Facebook page. There are 10s of thousands of music educators at all levels on this page. That speaks for itself. You might even get me replying to your question!

Until next time, Happy Musicking!

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