The Beginning of a Journey

Many music undergraduates enter their freshman year excited to meet new people, gain some independence, be a part of higher-level ensembles, and most importantly do what they love doing, making music and teaching kids about music. Amidst all this excitement there are usually a lot of nerves wondering if they made the right decisions. Many undergraduates have days during that first semester wondering if music education is truly for them. It often seems like graduation and finally getting to teach music is so far away and not possible, but truly loving what you are doing is what often keeps us going through the tough days. Sound familiar to you? This is exactly how I felt only a short four years ago. Now, I have already finished my senior-recital, am starting student teaching, am graduating in less than four months, and getting ready to find my first teaching job. Looking back I cannot believe how incredibly fast the past four years have went. They were some of the most challenging, but best four years of my life. As I am getting ready to start student teaching in only a few days I have done a lot of reflecting on what I have learned through my undergraduate career. After looking back on the past four years I thought I would write a post giving advice to music education undergraduates based on what I learned. Below are some tips that I believe will help you to have an incredible undergraduate experience and help you become the best music educator possible.

Lessons Learned

  • Vary your experiences We all have preferences of what we would like to teach when we finally graduate, but as music educators we are certified K-12. It is important as undergraduates that we get as many experiences in varying areas as possible. For example if you are an instrumentalist you should also be in a choir, observe general music classes, learn piano, and get comfortable singing. We never know where we may end up or what we may end up teaching. I have heard many stories of educators getting their first job in the area they wanted to teach the least. If we get as much experience as possible in all areas now it will make our transition into teaching easier. I also believe it is important for current educators to stay informed in the areas they aren’t teaching because you never know when your district may change your position. See my past posts Importance of Learning Secondary Instruments and I don’t Sing I am a band Director to read more of my ideas on this subject.    
  • Never see something as pointless- Many times I have heard music undergraduates say the phrase “this is pointless” or “I am never going to use this information again.” I will admit I often caught myself saying the same things. I know there are many non-major classes we are required to take are many times pointless, but I have heard these phrases said for music classes such as solfeggio, guitar, piano, or education classes such as educational psychology. I have now learned that classes like these are not pointless and will once come in handy even if it doesn’t seem like it now. For example last year at one of my observation the teacher I observed talked about and asked me a lot of theorists such as Gardner and Vygotsky. She also asked me to play warm-ups for her elementary choir on the spot. This is when I realized that no music or education courses are pointless, it just make take a while till you need to use them.
  • Grades aren’t everything- This is a lesson that took me quite awhile to learn. Grades are important and you need to always try to do your best, but I believe it is necessary for all undergraduates to realize that there other things that are also important. Just because we get one bad grade or have a bad semester doesn’t mean that we can’t be a good teacher. Instead of putting so much focus on our grades we need to put emphasis on doing our best and taking advantage of every opportunity we are given to help us become the best teacher possible.
  • Get in the classroom- Teaching is a hands on job and there is a lot that you are not able to learn by reading a textbook and listening to lectures. It is very important to get as much experience in the classroom or educational setting before you student teach during your senior year. Most undergraduate music programs require multiple field experiences, but there are other ways that you can get classroom experience. Some of these ways are teaching projects in your education classes, teaching Sunday school classes, volunteering in classrooms, or helping with band camps over the summer. The more experience you can get before you student teach the better.
  • Be a sponge- The field of music education has so much information and as I said before a lot of it at times seems useless. As music education undergraduates we need to be sponges and absorb all the information we can so that one day when we need it we have it to reference. We can soak up all the information that is given to us daily by being attentive, taking notes, keeping handouts for future reference, and being an active participant not just an observer. The more information we acquire now as an undergraduate will help to make the transition from student to teacher a little easier.
  • Professional Development- Even as an undergraduate it is never too early to start attending professional development events and workshops. Professional development events help undergraduates learn more information to help them become better educators. Joining organizations such as MENC and PMEA and attending events such as state workshops, Music Education Week, and the Midwest Band and Orchestra Clinic are some great examples of professional development. Many of the organizations and events also have workshops specifically geared for music education undergraduates which can help you better prepare for student teaching and your first teaching job.    
  • Networking- Networking like professional development is also important at the undergraduate level. All music education majors should begin to create a professional learning network during their undergraduate career. Network and collaboration are great way to gain knowledge and ask for advice from current educators. In today’s society networking is made simple through means such as Twitter,#MusEdChat, and MPLN.
  • Don’t be afraid to make mistakes- Teaching music is a very challenging job and there are is a lot for us to learn. Earlier in my undergraduate career I was always afraid to make mistakes and because of that I would not take any chances. I have now learned that making mistakes is a good thing and that we should not be afraid to make them. Making mistakes helps us learn and shows us what we need to work to improve. I believe that some of the best educators are ones that aren’t afraid to make mistakes and then work towards fixing those mistakes.
  • Enjoy every moment­ and never stop learning- My biggest piece of advice is to enjoy every moment of this journey because it will fly by and be over before you can imagine. Being a music education major is very hard and challenging in many ways, but it is also an amazing experience. Enjoy every moment and take advantage of all the opportunities given to you during your undergraduate career, but don’t see this as the end. So many people have told me not to look forward to graduation because after that you just enter the ‘real world’.  Instead, I can’t wait to begin teaching so I can put to use what I have all ready learned and continue to learn more. I believe that as educators the day we quit learning should be the way we get out of the profession.

Continuing the Journey

Your undergraduate career will fly by and before you know it you will be walking down the aisle to get your long-awaited diploma. I have learned more these past four years than I did during my entire high school career. I can’t wait to begin putting this knowledge into practice and continue to learn more through student teaching and my first years as a music teacher.These past four years have taught me that music education is a life long journey of learning and does not end with student teaching and graduation, but instead just begins. Keep checking back for more posts while I am student teaching about my experience and what I am learning. I believe that the above suggestions can help undergraduates begin the transition from student to teacher. As with everything I write on my blog the above advice is just my opinion so feel free to leave feedback and comments.