“The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.” William Arthur Ward

In just a short 9 days I will be switching student teaching placements and be moving on to K-6 elementary general music. The biggest lesson I learned this week and piece of advice I can give is to enjoy every moment of your undergraduate career and student teaching experience because before you know it will be over. Of course there are days where it is hard to enjoy every moment, but even during the challenging days and moments there is a lot that we can learn and benefit from. The amount I have learned over the past few weeks is amazing. While you learn tons of valuable information in your undergraduate classes there are many aspects to teaching that you can only learn by doing,  not from reading a textbook.

Challenges– Below are of the few challenges that I have been faced with this week.

  1. Posture– This is an uphill battle that I am continually having with my students. They have not been forced to sit with good posture before so they are not very open to me trying to change that. The woodwinds slouch in their chairs, legs crossed, and flutes hanging over the chairs. The brass also slouch and play to the floor. I did some demonstrations this week to try to show them how much better they would sound by just using better posture. They seem to understand that better posture will help their playing, but they are still not willing to do it or they will do it for a few minutes and then go back to how they usually sit. I am hoping that if I focus on using good breath support, do more demonstrations, and continually remind them to sit with good posture I will begin to win this battle.
  2. Tuning– Ensemble tuning is one thing that my co-op doesn’t do on a daily basis in ensemble rehearsals. Some days there are so many interruptions and rehearsal gets started late as is so tuning is thrown out the window. I try to have the students tune everyday, but am having trouble finding a tuning method that works. I try to have my students sing the pitch before they play it, but they are not very open to singing which adds another challenge. I am still looking for a good tuning method for both junior and senior high band so feel free to leave any advice or suggestions you may have.
  3. Administrative tasks– One challenge that I know I will face even more when I begin teaching is having to deal with all the administrative tasks such as paperwork, fundraising, advocating for your program, scheduling, dealing with administration etc. I am learning that this can often be a daunting task and take away from the already little amount of time we have to make music. My co-op tells me all the time if all we had to do is teach music everyday this would be the best job in the world. My only piece of advice in dealing with this challenge is to always keep music the main focus and don’t let all the administrative stuff get in the way of teaching music.
  4. Baggage students bring to class– All of our students bring some sort of baggage into our classroom everyday. Many times we don’t even know about this baggage, but sometimes it is more severe and can affect your classroom environment. Currently I have 2 students in general music that are going through some serious problems. They are often arguing and you can tell there is a lot of tension between them. This has been going on for a few days, but began affecting the classroom environment this week. This has been a challenge for me because it is hard to find a balance between dealing with the situation and just letting it go. I believe the students need to know you care about them, but that you don’t let it affect the rest of the students learning. My advice to future teachers is to always be aware that students will enter your classroom with baggage so be ready to handle any situation.
  5. Stamina/Energy– One challenge I have faced is keeping up stamina and energy. Teaching all day is very exhausting and most of the time music teachers have many other commitments before and after school. Also many times as teachers we are not getting enough rest or eating correctly which causes us to have even less energy. I am sure this is going to become even more of a challenge as I begin teaching elementary because they take even more energy.  As much as I love student teaching there are days where it is very hard to have energy and keep going. My biggest piece of advice to undergraduates whether student teaching or still taking classes; when you have days where it is hard to keep going remember why you want to teach music and the impact that you can have on students’ lives.

Advice/Lessons Learned- Below is some advice and lessons I have learned this week and throughout my experiences thus far.

  1. Musicianship– I have found that it is very important that we demonstrate and show students our musicianship instead of always just talking about it. For example I believe that we need to play and sing for our students when trying to explain musical concepts. Many times the students need to see that we know what we are talking about in order for them to believe us. This week I played along with my students and played for my students which seemed to really help. Some of my students even commented that they like when their music teachers play or sing for them. As music teachers I believe it is crucial that we demonstrate concepts and show musicianship instead of always just talking.
  2. Think outside of the box– As music teachers we need to be willing to leave our comfort zone and think out of the box. Sometimes this requires extra time and work, but if that is what is going to help our students learn I believe it is well worth it. We need to be willing to try new ideas or do something that is a little different. The worse that can happen is that we find it didn’t work and have to change it for the next time. I believe that when we don’t think out of the box that is when we become stagnant and our lessons are boring for the students. Being able to think out of the box and leave you comfort zone is imperative as a music teacher so I urge undergraduates if this is something you struggle with start working on it now.
  3. Initiative- As a student teacher taking initiative is extremely important and is often what co-ops are looking for. They want to see if you are willing to step into a situation even if you are not extremely comfortable in that situation. For example the other week in jazz band my co-op got out her saxophone to play with the students because they were struggling so I offered to conduct. She then proceeded to hand me eight different scores that I never seen before and I conducted the band. While quite nerve-racking this was a great learning experience. A lot of teaching you can only learn by hands on experience so it is important to take initiative and step in and help instead of always just sitting back and observing.
  4. Flexibility– Another lesson I learned is willing to be flexible and as one of my professors says ‘fly by the seat of your pants”. There are many things in education that we can’t predict so often we just have to be flexible and go for it. For example this week in senior high concert band I don’t think I followed my written lesson plan once. There were tons of interruptions and un-expected situations that affected my rehearsal. I had to change my plans on the spot because I knew my original plan wasn’t going to work. Sometimes we have to change our plans to best meet the needs of our students and realize that going on with the original plan may be counter-productive. One piece of advice I can give is to always have a plan, but being willing and comfortable with changing that plan at any moment.
  5. Be a sponge– This begins with the start of your undergraduate experience and continues with student teaching. As future teachers we need to absorb everything and store it somewhere because you never know when it may be useful again. I believe that we need to soak up every experience possible now because you never know if you will have that same opportunity or experience again in life.

Through the past 5 weeks the biggest lesson I have learned that keeps coming back week after week is how valuable every aspect of your undergraduate career is. Unfortunately many of the undergraduate music education majors I know are apathetic about some of their classes because they feel they are useless. I believe that this feeling of apathy now as an undergraduate can cause problems later in their teaching career. I know I have mentioned this before, but after seeing how important it is I believe it is worth mentioning again. Don’t see anything as pointless during your undergraduate studies. There is so much information that people told me would be useless that I am now using as I student teach. I believe that everything you learn in your undergraduate career is important and even if you don’t use it during your student teaching experience, it may be helpful twenty years down the road when you are forced to teach an area of music that you are not as comfortable with. My goal for the next nine days is to savor every moment and continue to put to use all the knowledge that I have learned over the past three and a half years and continue to gain more knowledge that will help me in the future.  Sorry for such a long post, but I felt that there were a lot of good lessons I learned this week that I should share!