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If you’re reading this, chances are you are a first year elementary music teacher– or about to become one. You probably just got hired, and you are so excited. But…. Also a little bit scared. Don’t worry– all first year elementary music teachers feel scared, anxious, and overwhelmed. All first year teachers feel that way. Heck, most five year teachers feel that way!
To help calm your anxiety, in this blog post, I’m giving you tips for first year music teachers. Some of these are quick things that you can do. Other ones include more effort, but all of them will help you in your first year as a music teacher.
Still feeling anxious? I have a FREE Getting Started in Elementary Music mini course that you can take here! It is one week long. Each day for seven days, you’ll get a (short) video that explains one of the keys to teaching elementary music– what to teach, how to plan, classroom management, tons of lesson ideas, and more!
1. Focus on relationships
You’ll hear this a lot in education, because it’s important.
Here’s the deal– students learn from teachers they like. That doesn’t mean you have to be cool (I’m certainly not!), but it does mean that you need to show them that you care.
One thing that I hate about people saying this is that they usually stop here. It’s like, “Focus on relationships,” and then they stop. But how do you do that? Especially when you have 700 students?!
One thing you’ll learn about me (especially if you join the free Get Started with Elementary Music free course) is that I am all about PRACTICAL advice. I will ALWAYS give you something concrete that you can do.
So here are some practical tips for building those relationships– with a ton of students.
Use their names
This is one of the most important– use the kids’ names, and say them correctly. If makes a GIGANTIC difference in engagement and behavior, because the kids feel seen and cared for.
Now, if you teach music, you probably have a ton of students. So here’s a few ways to help you learn names:
Use a seating chart: This is basically cheating, but it works! Make a seating chart. Check the seating chart when you need help on a name.
Use your duty posts: Chances are, you will have car rider duty or bus duty or lunch duty or something along those lines. As the kids go past you, say hello or good bye to each student– with their names. At first, you may have to stop kids and ask their names. You may only get one of two names the first day. That’s ok. On the second day, try to get three names. On the third day, add one more. By the end of the year, you’ll have all of them.
Be super consistent
One of the best ways to build relationships is to have students know what to expect when they see you. If you have one day that you are super high energy and the next day you are basically asleep, it’s confusing. If one day you are happy and let the kids talk and the next day you’re grumpy and you yell at kids when they talk, it’s confusing.
Try your best to be consistently pleasant.
Now, you won’t always be in a good mood. So what do you do? Fake it.
You teach music, so you’ve been performing for years. Take those performance skills and act like you are in a good mood even when you aren’t. Put a smile on your face when you don’t feel like it
That doesn’t mean YOU have to be fake, but it does mean that you need to be consistent in your attitude each day.
Also be consistent in your rules. If you enforce them one day and not another, it’s confusing. Don’t confuse students.
Look kids in the eye
This is super simple, but it makes a big difference. As you are teaching, look the students in the eye. Making eye contact helps student to feel seen, reinforces that you are watching them, and helps you to create connections with them.
Try your best to look each student in the eye every day. Watch what a difference it makes.
Especially at the beginning of the year, have fun with the kids. That will reinforce the idea that music is fun and students will want to come to music. They will feel that you are fun and will enjoy being around you.
2. Have a classroom management plan
Classroom management is one of the most important things new elementary music teachers can focus on.
Basically, classroom management includes all things from routines to organization to behavior.
And they don’t teach it to you in undergrad. Yay.
But seriously, you cannot teach music if students are not paying attention. You really can’t teach music if students are throwing things or yelling or running around.
Here’s the basics of classroom management:
- Routines: Having routines in your classroom will allow your students to know what to expect. They will form habits, so you don’t have to tell them what to do all of the time. And best of all, routines all you to stop thinking about little things. You’ll want routines for…
- Entering the room
- Exiting the room
- Passing out supplies
- Picking up supplies
- How to ask a question
- How to get something (can they just get up to grab a pencil or blow their noses?)
- Annnnnd more (learn more about routines you should have here!)
- Rules: You will need to have a few rules in your classroom. Pick rules that are simple to understand and cover a variety of behaviors. Watch this video about how to teach the rules.
- Consequences: When students don’t do what they are supposed to do… Then what? My suggestion is to have a time out, a time out for the rest of class or alternate activity, then a parent phone call coupled with a lunch detention or after school detention. So if something happens, they get a time out. If they do better, they will come back. If not, they move to the next step. Make it super simple to understand.
- Stick to it: the most important thing about a classroom management is that you STICK TO IT. Kids know if you follow your plan or not. They know if they can get away with being bad or not. If you allow them to break the rules with no consequences, it will continue to break the rules. Be. Consistent.
- EXPLAIN EVERYTHING IN EXCRUCIATING DETAIL: This is the most important classroom management tool other than building relationships. Many times, teachers get mad because students aren’t doing what they are supposed to. Oftentimes, it’s not that the kids are being bad; it’s because they don’t understand. If most of the class does something wrong, that’s not on them– it’s on you. You need to explain your directions better. So it’s not, “Get in line.” It’s “Create a single file line with your hands in your pockets and sound level at 0.”
3. Fast paced lessons!
Bored students are students that don’t learn… And then they act up.
One of the best tools to fight against this is to have fast paced lessons. By fast paced, I mean you don’t stay on an activity long enough for it to get boring, and you switch activities quickly.
To help with pacing, make sure you have all of your supplies ready so that you don’t have to think about where they are and go looking for them.
The other hack for this is to create a Google Slides presentation for each of your lessons. Even if you just have one slide that says “Twinkle Twinkle” and then one that says “triangle”, having a presentation with everything in it will save so much time. As you teach, you can just click through and then you have all of the visuals you need, and you remember what you’re doing next.
Plus, you can add pictures, Youtube videos, and more to enhance your lessons– and you don’t have to have 50 tabs open.
4. Make a (tentative) long term plan
I will never forget the first time that I sat down to write lesson plans.
I was all excited to decide what we would learn. I sat down with my coffee and got my paper out (ya girl is old school and loves notebooks over everything else in life).
Then it dawned on me.
I had no idea what to teach.
None. I had about ten lesson ideas, and they all came from my cooperating teacher during student teaching. And since I taught at the school where I did student teaching… The kids had done all of the lessons.
I took a while, but after bumbling around, I figured out that I needed a long range plan in order to figure out what to teach every day.
I talked about finding a sequence in this post about how to make lesson planning easy, but basically I just looked through some sample sequences and then adjusted from there based on what my schedule looked like, how much I thought we could get through, and where me kids were.
You may not know what your kids can get through or how much they know, so your first long range plan will be very tentative.
You can check out my (tentative) plan below. This is based on seeing my kids 4 time a month for 45 minutes, and knowing where they are.
Every year is different, so sometimes we don’t get through everything that I want to get through. That means that next year, we start behind where I would like to start. That’s why this is tentative. It’s better for your kids to learn less concepts more thoroughly than to get through everything but they actually know nothing.
Also read: Tips to keep on top of lesson planning
5. Find new elementary music teacher friends.. Or old elementary music teacher friends
Finding elementary music teacher friends is so important. These are people you can relate to, that you can bounce ideas off of, that you can vent to, and get advice from.
If possible, I’d suggest finding someone that has been doing this longer than you so that they can give you ideas, suggestions, and basically act as a mentor.
I would also recommend a new music teacher or newer music teacher as well. These are the people that you are on a similar level, so they REALLY understand what you are going through.
Not sure where to find people? Here’s some ideas:
- Your undergrad classmates
- Call or email music teachers at neighboring schools
- Take a music course
- Join a Kodaly or Orff chapter
- Find people on Instagram (seriously!)
6. Don’t reinvent the wheel
When you are lesson planning, chances are, you will feel some pressure to come up with everything on your own.
It is totally fine to find lessons in your curriculum at school, on Pinterest, in Kodaly or Orff trainings, on Podcasts, and more. These tools are there to use. Use them.
Teachers Pay Teachers is also great– especially if you’re looking for something with zero prep. There are tons of games, lessons, activities, worksheets, and more that require nothing from you but to print something out or put it up on the screen. I don’t encourage you to do this EVERY week, but it can be super helpful if you are in a hurry, out of ideas, or just too tired to think.
Also, you don’t have to have different lessons for every grade. When I first started, I did a lesson for K-2 and one for 3-5. Now, the fifth graders had a harder version of than the third graders had, but it still allowed me to do less planning. That also helped me to focus more on teaching– I wasn’t trying to learn new songs for every grade for every class or remember what comes next. I was able to learn how to deliver the content more effectively and focus on the kids more.
The next year, I had a K-1 lesson, a 2-3 lesson, and a 4-5 lesson.
Now, I typically do different things in every grade level– although I still have some overlap. Some grades might share a game or a song, but they still have separate lessons.
I can do that because now I have ideas. I know what has worked in the past. I know what songs to use, I have books, I’ve found fun videos, etc.
But if you’re just starting, don’t feel pressured to make it all different.
If you need some lesson ideas, I have tons on this blog, on my Youtube channel, on Instagram, in my Teachers Pay Teachers store (including free things!), and in the free resource library, which you can join here.
7. Keep learning!
Just because you’re out of college does not mean that you get to stop learning. To keep this job more interesting (and easier!), you’ll want to keep learning.
Here’s a few ways to do that:
- Listen to podcasts (a few of my favorite include Make Moments Matter, Music Teacher Coffee Talk, and (of course!) my own– Becca’s Music Room)
- Youtube channels (Music and Motivate, Whimsically Musical, and mine– Becca’s Music Room)
- Books (Classroom Management for Art, Music, and PE Teachers and Whole Brain Teaching)
- Certifications (Kodaly Orff, Dalcroze)
There’s so many more ways that you can learn, but here’s a few. Attend conferences. Join groups. Talk to people. Keep learning.
Things First Year Music Teachers Should Remember
Alright, those are my specific tips for new music teachers. Now let’s talk about a couple of things that you should remember in your first year of teaching…
It’s supposed to be that hard.
Teaching is really, really hard. It just it. If it feels like you have no idea what to do, that’s ok. That’s normal. It’s difficult for everyone.
Now, it does get a bit easier as time goes, but it will never be easy.
I tell my husband all of the time, “I’m never bored at school.” It’s always an adventure, and that’s fun. If you like a challenge and an adventure, you’re in the right place!
I hope this was helpful! Don’t forget to sign up for the free new elementary music teacher course by clicking here!
And come talk to me on Instagram! I’d love to meet you, so come on over and send me a DM with your name, instrument, and questions!