What I've Learned in 5 years as a Music Educator
Make time to practice
It’s tough, I know, we have millions of things to do, thousands of copies to make, and hundreds of kids to take care of. But it really is important. Carve out a little bit of time each week, or maybe every other week to practice. It keeps your skills sharp, and reminds you why you love music and why you got into this profession in the first place.
Join a community ensemble
This is another great way to keep your skills sharp and remind you why you love music. This is based on location of course and whether or not you have the means to join such a group, but if available, I highly recommend it. Most adult ensembles only rehearse once a week in the evening.
Go to collegiate or professional concerts
This is yet another way to remind yourself of why you love music and why you have such passion for teaching it.
It really helps to have piano chops
Being able to lead a group of 30 first graders in a vocal warm-up while demonstrating good vocal tone, accompanying on piano, and constantly scanning the room for behavior issues is no easy feat. If you are pretty comfortable with chords and can for the most part play without looking at your hands or music, that helps a lot. Another benefit is to accompany students yourself for solo and ensemble.
Memorize “Happy Birthday” on the piano and be able to perform it at moment’s notice.
Download sheet music for free at bryankujawa.weebly.com/happybdaypiano
It really helps to be able to sing (even for instrumentalists)
Students MUST learn/know how to READ music at a high level
The better you can teach your students how to actually read the music, the better off everyone will be. It must be broken down and reviewed time and again until a high level of understanding is reached. Especially with older student ensembles, the ability to hand out a new piece and have them learn it in a relatively short time is very valuable. Much time is lost in rehearsal when you, the director, is repeating over and over again “that’s an F#”, “second finger”, etc. Once you can get past the notes and rhythms, then the real music learning begins such as adding the expressions of dynamics, articulations, passion, and more.
DON’T MAKE A RULE UNLESS YOU ARE 100% PREPARED TO ENFORCE IT!!!!!!!!
I think this goes without explanation, but it is really really really important!
Routines routines routines!
Establish a routine for your students as they enter, what to do, what to set up, what to expect, how to tell when class officially begins, etc.
Insist that students have a pencil
I don’t think this needs any explanation either. Here's the PDF sign that I put up.
Get your paper organized, figure out a system that works for you
I really like these inexpensive Officemate letter trays from Walmart.
Make sure you have Kleenex and Band-aids
You’ll probably have to buy them yourself.
Invest in a printer for your classroom
I can't tell you how many times I've needed something printed in a hurry and didn’t have time (or motivation) to run across school to get the copy. It helps tremendously to invest in a good quality printer. I have the Brother - HL-L2360DW, which has since been discontinued. The HL-L2370DW is the next closest product.
Have an extra phone charger at school.
Be overly polite in emails
Get trained as a Google Certified Educator
This is quickly becoming the new trend in education. Get Certified. Get Googly.
“People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.” - John Maxwell
Every student (and every person for that matter) is so wonderfully unique and different. They have their own fears, doubts, ambitions, questions, curiosities, joys, concerns, problems, and interests. Embrace those things that make a person unique. Listen to them. Help them. Be there for them. Care about them.
You rarely know the challenges a student is going through
You might be that one teacher who is nice to them, who doesn’t doubt them, who encourages them, who acknowledges them, who talks to them. Be that teacher.
Don’t change anything right away when you’re new
Seriously, don’t, change is hard. Your presence alone is change enough. Quoting a band director friend of mine, “ride the wave”.
Have a reception with treats after the concert
Who doesn’t love treats after a performance?
Solo & Ensemble
Start students on their pieces MONTHS in advance. S&E is a huge beast to host, if you’ve never done it before, get help.
Don’t start beginners on instruments right away
They’ll be super excited to get started, but take some time first to learn theory, breathing, embouchure, stick/bow technique, note reading, etc.
When collecting student money, have them give it to you as a check, in a sealed envelope, with their first and last name on it.
This helps immensely with record keeping.
I have taught all grades K-12, band, choir, orchestra, general music, guitar, and piano. I have been in large districts with a city population of over 100,000 and I have been in small districts with a population of 400. I graduated from the University of Wisconsin - Eau Claire in 2013 with a Bachelor’s in Music Education. This blog post is intended for undergraduate music education majors and music educators in their first few years of teaching. I am by no means an expert, however, I feel there are a good number of things I have learned thus far that I wanted to share. I also wanted to give this blogging thing a try. Thanks for reading.