By Marilyn Floyd
A new school year brings excitement among students and teachers … but in 2020, a school-year that follows the great Quarantine of 2020, it brings fear of the unknown, especially for new music teachers. With school districts planning in-person and online classrooms, or somewhere in between, challenges for teachers, new and experienced, are especially unique.
As a new teacher, you want to be competent, have a good reputation, and be better than the last one, right? This fear bubbles up every single time I get a transfer student … and, I’ve been teaching for two decades!
Whether your school or studio is teaching in-person or online, many of the same principles apply: Relate. Educate. Create.
Your relationship with your student and parent are paramount. As you meet your new parents, ask, “What are your expectations for your child?”
Does this align with your expectations of your student?
Ask, “What are your performance expectations?”
Are your parents on-board with your expectations of recitals or concerts? Most teachers agree that at least a few performance opportunities a year is beneficial for any musician. Learning music is particularly self-gratifying; but what's more, is the pleasure of sharing it with loved ones.
These two questions will set a scaffold for conversation and connection for the upcoming year.
Give Yourself Grace
It takes time for most new music teachers to ‘get it all together’. Give yourself grace if your classroom/studio isn’t exactly the way you want it. Let’s face it, this year is going to be a little helter-skelter for everyone. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Creating a good rapport with your student and their parents is more important than a perfect bulletin board!
So you’re a new teacher. Why did you choose this profession?
One of the most common reasons is that you want to make a difference in the lives of students! Perhaps you want to influence their decisions, their behaviors, their imaginations. Music changes lives; as a new teacher, you’ve set yourself up to do just that.
So, go change the world. But, while doing this, know that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel.
Resources for New Music Teachers
Use the resources that are available to you. Your teacher toolbox may not be as full as you’d like right now; download, adapt others’ ideas, find templates on the web, and modify. Tried and true ideas will save you time and give great results. An invaluable source for music teacher materials is Teachers Pay Teachers.
Plan, Plan, Plan
Organizing your studio or classroom can be daunting. Whether you write your weekly lesson plans over the weekend, on the first day of the week, or a plan a day, plan!
Perhaps you’re a private teacher with 30-minute lessons. Why do you need a lesson plan?
- A plan gives your lesson/class a direction.
- A plan helps your student know what to expect.
- A plan helps you to make the most of your limited lesson/class time together.
- A plan tells your students what they need to do outside of class time.
Each teacher uses their own planning method; often the application of planning differs for each classroom/student. Consider these types of planning:
- Time - Five ten-minute increments for each activity are used for the lesson plan structure.
- Goal - Lesson plans are based upon goals for the class/student (i.e. to sit for an exam/contest, record a video, learn a new piece).
- Category - Use categories (i.e. old music, new music, sight-reading, technique, creativity) to build a lesson plan.
- Simultaneous Learning - Create a lesson plan where all learning comes from within one piece of music (i.e. scale, improvisation, theory, technique, sight-reading).
Tools for planning will vary based upon your style of organization. Perhaps you are old-school: Consider using a notebook or folder for each class/student. Add Post-It notes as you plan.
For digital organization, try these free resources: Google Drive, Word, Excel, or my personal favorite, Airtable. Finally, a music education platform like Tonara is also an excellent resource for integrating planning into your teaching days.
Ultimately, planning will save you from feeling overwhelmed and burnt-out. It will also let your students know what to expect. If they know what’s coming, they’re less likely to be scared, they can relax, and they will play their instrument more freely.
Let’s face it, organization is a constant dance of urgent vs important. Just because you’re organized once doesn’t mean it won’t stay that way forever. Managing your time effectively will help the ‘urgent’ from running your life and keep you organized throughout the school year.
Can you never seem to get on top of your to-do list? Learning these time-management guidelines early and practicing them often will help you stay on top of your game:
- Keep a to-do list
- Manage distractions
- Nix the procrastinations
- Learn when too much is too much
- Forget the multitasking
Being aware of time management pitfalls is the first step to a more productive school year.
Use a calendar to keep track of events, like fall and winter recitals/concerts, lessons, birthdays, vacations, and the like. Whether you prefer paper or digital, a calendar is important for a productive school year. Google Calendar and Microsoft Outlook are digital, of course, but other scheduling apps, like Tonara, or 10 to 8 are capable of sending reminders, and scheduling and even running virtual lessons. These music sites are particularly effective for new music teachers.
Are you teaching online this fall? Use platforms to store videos, audio recordings, PDFs, images, and more. Dropbox, Google Classroom, and other cloud platforms are invaluable for storage. With online platforms, you can download online music, jot down next week’s lesson plans, or organize videos from anywhere. Edmodo, TeacherWeb, Tonara, or any other teacher sites that allow you to host your own materials are great.
Most importantly, create TIME for you! Don’t forget to recharge your own battery as you recharge your laptop for the umpteenth time this month. Find time to set some personal goals, exercise, read a book, enjoy a creative outlet--like playing your instrument.
Students, parents, and colleagues will be looking to you for guidance, especially during these uncertain times. Most people don’t understand how much work and intentionality it takes to be the exceptional teacher you are. So, be intentional about creating time to fill yourself up.
You are amazing! Now, go change the world; as you do, relate, educate, and create. Give your students the gift of music for a lifetime.
Marilyn is a freelance blogger/writer who has raised two neuro-diverse children. Her oldest son was diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder at age 11, and her daughter with an Auditory Processing Disorder at age 6.
In addition, Marilyn has taught piano to hundreds of students for over 23 years. She has owned her own successful music studio and currently teaches piano at School for the Arts, Brighton, Michigan. She is skilled at pinpointing her students’ interests and at helping them achieve their next steps in music. She studied music at Julliard and the Richards Institute (Education Through Music - ETM). ETM promotes physical, mental, and social growth through language, song, movement, and interactive play. In recent years, she holds a B.S. in Journalism with a minor in voice at the University of Kansas.