I remember my first few years of teaching. It seemed like I was constantly learning something new (and by learning, I mean messing something up and then scrambling to fix it). I could probably write volumes (or have a very long phone conversation) on all the things I wish I had known as a new teacher, but for this post, I have narrowed it down to 7. I hope you enjoy reading and find a few new tips along the way. Let me know in the comment section below if you think of any other tips for new music teachers.
1. Don’t Over-Plan
This might seem like common-sense, but I have known dozens of music teachers over the years who take on way too much and end the year exhausted and burnt out. If you are someone who thrives and gets energy from having a packed schedule, then by all means, don’t let me hold you back! But if you are like me, you will need to simplify things to maintain your sanity throughout the year.
The most important area for new music teachers to limit is the number of programs you plan. It is also vital to find out if your students have any district-wide performances. I taught in a large district that provided three separate performance opportunities for 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders each year. That meant that I already had three programs to prepare students for before planning anything at my school!
After district performances have been taken into account, begin planning your own performance schedule. I planned a MASSIVE all-school concert my first year….a big mistake! Looking back now, I would have been better off doing three smaller performances with K-1, 2-3, and 4-5 or something similar. Also, make sure to give yourself plenty of time to prepare students for the performance. If I were just starting out, I would plan my first concert in November or December and the other two in the spring. I would also plan the kindergarten concert last to give them plenty of time to acquire the skills necessary to walk onto risers and stand for 30-40 minutes!
2. Put Concert Dates on the Master Schedule
Before you finalize your concert dates, get access to the building calendar (ask your building secretary) to make sure there are no conflicts. Make sure to put your concert dates on the calendar, so no one else takes your date! Also, remember to consider holidays, half-days, and parent teacher conferences when choosing dates.
3. Repeat Lessons for the First Few Months
If you already have plans for each grade level for the first few months of teaching then disregard this point. But if you are stressing about what to teach, let me give you permission to give yourself a break. For the first month or two of school, consider teaching the same lessons to K-1, 2-3, and 4-5. After all, the most important things for your first few months as a new teacher are 1. YOU SURVIVE and 2. YOU FOCUS ON CLASSROOM MANAGEMENT AND PROCEDURES. So if planning a lesson for every grade is going to take your focus away from those things, then cut your planning in half for a while.
In need of a way to keep track of what you did with each class? Download my free editable class schedule tracker below. (You will need to change the schedule and classroom teacher names to fit your schedule)
If lesson planning is still stressing you out (even after minimizing your work-load), consider spending some money to get your sanity back. I recently created a new product that contains 120 lessons plans for grades K-5 and over 1,300 pages of resources (PowerPoint presentations, worksheets, posters, songs, MP3’s) to go with each lesson. If you purchased each grade individually, it would cost you $130, but I am discounting the bundle to $95. While I know that $95 is a lot of money for most teachers, it is SIGNIFICANTLY lower than other lesson plan products on the web and will save you hundreds of hours of planning. Click the link below to take a look or click here.
4. Focus on Classroom Management
Your job will be easier if your students master your classroom rules and procedures at the BEGINNING of the year. So spend time each class (around 15 minutes) for the first month or two teaching and practicing your classroom expectations. I plan to write a more detailed post on classroom management in the future, but here are a few simple tips:
a. Do not allow a class to enter your room until they are quiet and in a straight line
b. Have a seating chart (for both risers/chairs AND the carpet) for EVERY SINGLE STUDENT in the ENTIRE school. Yes, you read that correctly. The other specials teachers in my building thought I was nuts for doing this because it took so much time. But I had very few problems with transitioning from the carpet to chairs because of my seating chart. This is especially important for a subject like music where students are moving around a lot.
c. Have a procedure for what students should do if they forget their assigned seat as they enter the room. In my class, older students were to line up behind the seating chart (which I left on my music stand) and wait their turn to find their seat. Younger students were told to sit at the carpet and wait for my instructions
d. Have something for students to do or think about as they enter the room. I used Question of the Day Cards. Visit the link below to view this product from my TPT store.
e. Line each class up several minutes early and instruct them to play a line game while you organize the room and prepare for the next class. I used a game called the Freeze Game. Instructions for this game are located in the product below:
5. Invest in a Reading Corner
Buy some music-related books, and place them in a corner or designated section of your room along with a chair for you to sit on. As a new teacher, I used my reading corner to give myself a breather during stressful days or with classes I just couldn’t seem to control. Visit the “My Classroom” section of this blog to see a picture of my reading corner.
6. Discover Music K-8
Music K-8 is a website and magazine full of kid friendly songs with rich accompaniments and mp3 tracks. They also have original programs and other resources like the Recorder Karate program. You can view the website by clicking here.
7. Don’t Worry About What Other Teachers Think of You
It is so easy to obsess over having a good reputation as a new teacher. You may want other teachers to view you as competent or to think you have great classroom management. But truthfully, it takes time for many teachers to become competent, and that is okay. It is perfectly normal to struggle at something you have minimal experience at.
So the next time another teacher catches a glimpse of your room at the exact moment your kids were talking out of turn or getting up without permission, remind yourself that they were once new too and that your ability to control large groups of children is not a reflection of your worth as a person.
Michelle Millier says
This is exactly what I needed to read today! This is the second week of my first teaching job (1st-3rd classroom music and 5th-8th Strings), and the first week was ok but I can tell this week is tougher classroom management-wise. After reading this I’ve also had fun looking through you Teacher Pay Teachers page. Thank you for all of the resources!!! 🙂
Aw, I’m so glad it helped you. Yep, it is pretty common for the “honey-moon” phase to start to wear off the second or third week of school and for students to start testing you. Hang in there! You have to learn to manage both young students and middle-schoolers which is much more difficult than anything I ever had to do. I’m glad you like some of my resources on TPT! I love spending time creating the stuff that teachers are often to busy (or stressed) to create. It is such a blessing. Feel free to keep in touch throughout this year. I would love to know how your year goes!
I definitely needed to read this today! I’m on Day 3 of my first year of teaching, and I honestly did not think I would be in an elementary classroom. So hearing that it’s ok to teach 1-3 the same lesson for a little was good for me! I only see my kids once every 6 days, so I am worried about accomplishing the basics of music when they aren’t in my classroom a lot. Any tips to help them remember what they learn when I don’t see them often?
I’m so glad it helped you! I had a similar schedule and also worried about students retaining information. I would love to offer a few tips. First, I began every class with a “Question of the Day.” This was a card that I put up on the board, and it always forced students to recall something they learned from the previous class. (It is a product in my TPT store if you want more info). This got students in the habit of thinking about previous lessons. I think they also tried harder to remember the material from each class because they knew they would be asked about it the next time they came to music. My other piece of advice is something that I have mentioned on several blog posts already: don’t stress about teaching everything. In 4 or 5 years, you might be able to teach a little of everything. But as a new teacher, it is best to focus on a few basic things, especially if you don’t see your students often. I would recommend spending a significant amount of time teaching each grade level how to perform basic rhythms, the lines and spaces on the staff, and solfege (if you use solfege). I think beat vs. rhythm of the words (for kindergarten), and basic musical terms such as dynamics, tempo, bar line, repeat sign, etc. are also important to teach. If you feel like students have grasped those concepts, then you could move on to things like composer units, musical careers, etc, but I wouldn’t stress out too much if you don’t teach some of those lower priority concepts at all or very briefly. In a nutshell, prioritize! Remember that it is your first year AND you don’t get much face time with students, so don’t pressure yourself to teach everything. I hope your years goes well! Let me know if you think of any other questions.
I love this post!
It is so nice of you to comment on one of my posts! It helps my writing to post on such an ADORABLE blog 🙂
Caitlin B says
This is all so true!! I wish I had known these things as a first year teacher last year!
Another biggie I would say is DON’T BE AFRAID TO ASK FOR HELP! I am constantly emailing my school staff to ask for things-volunteers, materials to borrow, etc. and they come through!
Hang in there newbies, because the second year is SO much better!! ?
Caitlin, that is such great advice! It is wonderful that you are confident enough to do that. I remember being too afraid to ask for help my first year of teaching. Things would have been so much easier if I had! Thanks for taking the time to share 🙂
This is my first year as a teacher. I never thought I would be teaching music. I am terrified!!!! Any advice.
Emily Conroy says
Hi Melissa! Can I ask what your background is in? Do you have any musical experience? It sounds like your degree might not be in music which is definitely scary, but you can make it! If you don’t have a ton of musical experience, then I would say one of the best things you can do for yourself is to purchase some music lessons and other materials. You are going to be dealing with a lot of emotions and learning curves, and the last thing you need to is to be working super late creating things every night after school. Other than that, I would just encourage you to go easy on yourself. It’s okay if your first few programs (if you have to have programs) aren’t perfect, and it’s okay if you aren’t able to teach every single musical concept in your district’s curriculum (if they have one your first year. Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org throughout the year if you think of specific questions or just need to vent.
Brynn Stebbe says
Hi Emily – I am so grateful for this post, and for all of the great resources to go with it! I’m going to be a junior in college majoring in music education, and my primary (haha) focus is elementary music. The info in this post gives me so much hope for my future as an educator, and makes me so happy to know that there ARE such great resources out there! THANK YOU, and have a wonderful day!
Emily Conroy says
That is so great to hear, Brynn! I’m so glad my post has made you even more hopeful and excited to become a music teacher. Keep me posted on your journey and let me know when you start teaching. I would love to hear how it goes for you!
Priscilla Dantas says
You are an ANGEL for posting this. It was conforting and reasurring to hear these tips as I start my first month as an Elementary Music teacher. Thank you so much for sharing your experience.
Emily Conroy says
Aw, thanks so much for the encouraging comment. I’m so glad to know that it helped you! Good luck this year!
Ronda Sue Fiechter says
I appreciate your website and all the helpful, practical tips!!! I have a question for my unique situation. I will be teaching music for an entire 2nd semester for grades K-8. I need to come up with a plan ASAP. I am not a licensed teacher but I do have past experience as a music teacher (private school, before powerpoint!), teaching piano and VBS choral director for many years. I plan to combine grades K&1, 2&3, 4 alone and then 5&6. Therefore, I will need about 22 lessons for each of 4 “grade groups”to complete the semester. I will have access to pianos, guitars and possibly ukeles. Class size average is 16. I am excited about this opportunity, but I am really needing a plan so that I put my energy into teaching and not creating my own lessons everyday. What classroom curriculum/bundle would you recommend in this situation?
Emily Conroy says
Hi Ronda! Great question! For all of your “grade group,” I would recommend using me second set of lessons plans. My second set was designed so that any teacher with any level experience could implement them with almost no prep (other than printing and getting supplies ready). The PowerPoint presentations that accompany the lesson plans for my second set are written in script form so that you don’t have to fully understand the material to teach new concepts.
For the K&1 group, I would use my kindergarten music lesson plans (set #2). This will ensure that 1st grade gets caught up on everything they need to know (assuming they might be a little behind). For the 2&3 group, I would use my 2nd grade music lessons (set #2). For 4th grade, I would also back up and teach them my third grade music lessons (set #2). And depending on how advanced your 5&6 group is, I would either use my 4th or 5th grade lessons (my 5th grade lessons are pretty advanced and require students who have had a great music education in grades K-4, so it might be safer to use the 4th grade lessons with the 5&6 group).
This means you will need Kindergarten, Second, Third, and 4th grades all from my set #2. If you buy those grades separately, it will cost $86, or you could purchase the bundle for $95 and get all of the grades (K-5). This would be a good option in the event that your students get through the lessons quickly and need additional material. Here are the links to those products:
Here is the link to the bundle if you decide to purchase it:
Another note: My 4th grade lessons contain several lessons for recorder. If you don’t plan on having your 5th and 6th graders play recorder, you might want to supplement the 4th grade lessons with the 5th grade lessons.
Feel free to email me at email@example.com if you still have questions after reading this 🙂
Ronda Sue Fiechter says
Thank you SO much. I appreciate your suggestions and ideas! I will probably order the bundle, so that I have the option to change grade levels if i can see i have chosen the wrong level for their ability. I am hopeful this will be just what I need and will try to let you know how it turns out!!
I am so glad I found this (and your store on TpT). I have taught middle school and high school for the past 14 years, but am moving to teach elementary at a much larger district. It is a different beast all together, but I am VERY excited for it. I enjoyed reading this and look to take your advice in stride. Even though I’ve been a teacher for a long time, this is a new experience, so I’m sure I will have some “new teacher” moments.
Emily Conroy says
Hi and thanks so much for letting my know that my post and products are helping you. It really is amazing how different elementary versus middle school music are. Good luck this year! It sounds like you are preparing yourself, so something tells me you will do well overall. Feel free to shoot me a message if you need anything or have any questions throughout the year.