Rookie Music Teacher Do’s & Don’ts

As so many of you are heading back to school soon, I thought it might be fitting to do a post on starting a new position.  It is so exciting to begin that journey with a program that may be brand new to you, but unique challenges often accompany the exposition of these journeys.  So, here are a few helpful tips from someone who has started at many a new program 🙂

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Rookie Music Teacher Mistakes:

  1. Insulting the Former Teacher – There are so many reasons not to do this and I never can figure out why new teachers feel the need to insult the former teacher…. But it nearly always ends in a tyrannical music program.
    1. Students quickly become attached to their music teachers.  It is likely that the former director was beloved by the students and they will not take nicely to you insulting their teacher.  Students can even sniff out indirect insults.
    2. Sure… They might have thrown a ball at students when they played out of tune (seen it!).  Do not comment on this in front of students.  Well, who hasn’t conducted with celery sticks and carrots?  NO NEW TEACHER COMMENTARY!  And of course, when the students tell you, “We just used to take naps in here…” Do not disparage nap time during class (as much as you might be dying inside).  Instead, try saying this to the students:
    3. “I know you must have loved your last teacher.  She clearly did _________ so brilliantly!”  (Find SOMETHING to complement him/her on & the students will immediately have a bit more trust in you)
  2. Changes, Changes, Too Many Changes
    1. For the first year, try to stick with the general schedule for rehearsals, concerts, meetings, etc. to attempt to have a smoother year with your students.
    2. Once they adapt to you and your style, then start SLOWLY changing the program to fit your vision.
    3. You will often find that students have attachments to the strangest things in a music program (perhaps a recruiting concert in the fall, or a rock concert at the end of the year, or perhaps it is just a little old rat named Johann), life will be much easier if you respect that relationship between the students and the former director and try to make it work for a year before you start making major changes.
  3. Besties with the Students
    1. This is especially difficult for younger teachers who want so badly for the students to like them.  Don’t worry, they’ll like you eventually!
    2. Giving them everything they want at the beginning will result in an avalanche of recorders with you cowering beneath them as the students dance around the mountain in an unusual ritual called “Trash the Teacher.”  I see you have never heard of this… Well, it’s reserved for the new teacher who wants to be besties with all of the students.
    3. INSTEAD – Try enforcing the rules from the previous teacher.  Be sure to communicate with him/her so that the rules are not coming from the students.
      1. Be stricter than you normally might be at least at the beginning.
      2. Once the students understand the procedures for your class, then you can begin to lighten up
  4. Becoming that Spinster Strings Teacher…   MAKE FRIENDS INSTEAD!
    1. with the Secretaries – you will NOT regret this one!
    2. with the custodians – Make them your BEST friends!
    3. with the previous teacher – you may find this immensely helpful at first, but you will definitely want to start weaning off of them toward the middle of the year so that you can really build the program yourself.
    4. with other teachers (and NOT JUST THE MUSIC TEACHERS!)
      1. They will respect you so much more once they know you!
  5. Becoming a Hermit in Your Classroom…
    1. It is so easy during your first school year to be work-obsessed.  Force yourself to take some time at home!
    2. Schedule time with your hubby/partner/someone you enjoy!
    3. Continue to take care of yourself.  If this means working out, or doing yoga, or just enjoying the city life, be sure that you continue this during the first year.

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Enjoy!  Teaching music is the most enjoyable “work” I could ever imagine.  Enjoy every moment.  Take pictures, journal, and smile even when youd on

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