Category: Student Teaching Advice


“Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.”- W.B. Yeats

As someone who has just graduated from college one of the hardest transitions that I already faced to some extent and am continuing to face now is making a smooth transition from being a student to becoming a teacher. This is a transition that happens gradually throughout your undergraduate career and then before you know it you are no longer a student and are finally a teacher. I found and am continuing to find that if you are not prepared this transition can hit you in the face and be a challenge. We spend at least 17 years of our lives being a student and then suddenly we find ourselves back in the classroom, but only this time we are on the other side. I believe there is a lot that we can be doing during our undergraduate studies  to help make a the transition from student to teacher a little smoother and more gradual.

Transitioning from Student to Teacher

One day you are sitting at a desk learning about how to become a successful teacher and then before you know it you are standing in front of a classroom and are responsible for teaching the students that sit in front of you. During my student teaching experience I found out that the transition from student to student teacher and then eventually to teacher is a challenge. Below are some suggestions that I found help to make this transition happen more smoothly.

  1. Get Inside the Classroom Early: I found that getting into the classroom as early as possible can help to make the transition from student to teacher easier. The more you get into the classroom the more you learn and the more you begin thinking like a teacher. While in the classroom you can learn a lot about what works and what doesn’t work as an educator. Also one of my biggest pieces of advice is when in the classroom don’t just sit there!! Be active, even if you don’t have the opportunity to actually teach walk around the room, help students if possible and ask questions. All of these things will begin transitioning you into the position of teacher.
  2. Start Building your Library: Begin building your library early on in your career so that you have some resources ready to go when you begin your first year teaching. Start collecting books, magazines journals, choral octavos, scores, recorders, anything that one day may be helpful in the classroom. If if you aren’t able to buy some of these things write down titles of pieces you hear or play that you like, keep a list of books that you have seen that you eventually wish to have etc. This way when you begin teaching you will have resources to start with and will know where to look to find more.
  3. Define Yourself as an Educator: Start defining yourself as an educator. Think about who you want to be as a future music teacher and make a plan of how you are going to get there. Also begin thinking about your future classroom, what would your ideal classroom look like, what will your discipline plan be etc. Not only will this help make the transition to becoming a teacher easier,  but it will also help to prepare you for job interviews. One of the most beneficial assignments for  me as an undergraduate was my final for elementary music methods. We were given a scenario where we were hired as the new music teacher. We were given a budget, materials we had, what was expected of us etc. The we had to plan out specific units, give a rough plan for the first few weeks of school, write how are classroom would be laid out, what we would use our budget for etc. This really helped to get us thinking about decisions that we will have to make as educators that we never had to think about as students.
  4. Think as a Teacher Instead of a Student: One of the biggest things you can begin doing is start thinking like a teacher instead of a student. Approach every situation with the eyes of a teacher. When observing in a classroom think about what you would do and how you would handle specific situations as the teacher. In ensemble rehearsals, stop just thinking like the student or performer. Put yourself in the directors shoes and think how you would run the rehearsal. Also begin listening with the ears of a teacher. Don’t just listen for your part, but begin listening for pitch errors, wrong notes, stylistic errors etc.
  5. Save Everything: Okay well maybe don’t save everything, but definitely save a lot of your handouts, books etc. Make sure to save all of your lesson plans and materials you mae as well. These are great resources to help you when you are first beginning as a teacher. You never know when this stuff may be helpful down the road. There were many times during student teaching the I referenced stuff from classes earlier in my undergraduate career or used lesson plans that I had created for some of my college courses. These resources can save you time and help you out when you are in a pinch.
  6. Dress More Professionally: I am sure you get sick of hearing this during your undergraduate career, but it is extremely important when stepping into the role of teacher. Begin dressing like a professional early on. Firs of all this helps people and students realize that you are a professional. This is especially important when in the classroom with high school students because you are only a few years older than them. Also starting to dress professionally early on helps to build your wardrobe. While this may seem silly, it is good to begin acquiring more professional clothing during your time as an undergraduate so you don’t have to get a completely new wardrobe right before you start student teaching.
  7. Make Outside Connections: Begin making connections with other people outside of your college, both of your age and older. Developing professional relationships can really help make the transition to becoming a teacher much easier because you have other people to ask questions to and bounce ideas from each other. Make connections with other undergraduates, music educators, other educators, professors etc. Of course with all the technology we have today this is extremely easy. Below are some resources that are great for undergraduates to connect with our music educators and undergraduates and some that have helped me over the past few years as I make this transition from student to teacher.
    1. Twitter and #Musedchat: Take advantage of the wonderful community of music educators and undergraduates to collaborate and communicate with.
    2. Music PLN: A wonderful site created by Dr. Joseph Pisano for music educators and undergraduates to collaborate. A great place to ask questions that you have while transitioning from student to teacher.
    3. Music Ed MajorA very helpful site created by Andy Zweibel for music education undergraduates. This is a great resource for music ed undergraduates to gain more knowledge about the field of music education and to communicate with each other about being a music education undergraduate.
    4. Future Music Educators: A wonderful sites created by Andrew Ritenour, a senior music education undergraduate as Grove City College. This site is geared specifically for music ed majors and covers a lot of topics that often aren’t covered in your courses as an undergraduate.
  8. Take Advantage of Professional Development Opportunities: There are tons of opportunities available for undergraduates so take advantage of them now. Use your undergraduate experience as a time to learn as much about the profession as possible. Attend  workshops, conferences, seminars, subscribe to journals etc. The more you know and learn during your undergraduate career the easier your transition to being a teacher will be.
  9. Begin Working on Your Areas of Weakness: As students we are usually just worried about making it through our classes and doing the bare minimum. As future music teachers we need to realize that we have a huge calling ahead of us so we need to go above and beyond. Instead of just doing what is necessary to survive do more and work on your areas of weakness. For example if you can only play one or two instruments begin working on other secondary instruments to become proficient on them. Not only does improving our areas of weakness help us gain more knowledge and become better educators, but it also helps us become more marketable.
  10. Start the Job Process Early: I can’t stress enough how important this is. The job search process is extremely time-consuming and exhausting. Get a head start to help you transition easier and so that you don’t miss any job opportunities because you weren’t ready. While jobs aren’t often posted until the summer start getting all of your materials and standard applications ready to go so when the jobs do begin to open you can quickly gather your materials and send them.

While this is still a very tough transition I hope that the above tips and suggestions will help you to make this phase in your career a little smoother. While I am still very much in this transition phase as well, any comments or suggestions for transitioning from student to student teacher to teacher is very much appreciated. Stay tuned as I continue through this journey for more posts on transitioning to first year teaching.

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“Be a wonderful role model because you will be the window through which many children will see their future” Thomas Mckinnon

Thankfully I had an extremely successful and positive student teaching experience. Lat year I was very thankful for the seniors who gave me advice about student teaching and helped to make the process less scary. While there is no recipe on how to have a successful student teaching experience I hope the following tips may help you in some way.

20 Tips for a Successful Student Teaching Experience

  1. Take Initiative– I believe  to have a successful experience and get the most out of every opportunity you must take the initiative instead of just sitting back and observing. From my experience it seems like most co-ops are waiting for their student teacher to jump in and help instead of asking them to do something. My advice is from day one don’t be afraid to ask if you can do something or just do it.  For example during rehearsal if your co-op is working with the flutes go back and help the percussion figure out a rhythm they were struggling with. It is the little things like this that help you to get experience and is something that most co-ops want to see.
  2. Get to Know Your Students– It is very important to get to know all of your students early on. They will respond so much better to you if they know you care about them and are trying to get to know them. This starts by learning their names. Do whatever you need, but try to learn their names as quickly as possible. Not only does this show the students that you care about them it also helps a great deal with classroom management. Some suggestions for getting to know students names are; always call them by name (never just point, if you don’t know their name yet just ask them), have students put a name tag on their desk or music stand, make up a seating chart, pass back homework by calling out their name. These are just a few suggestions that helped me learn names faster. Finally with getting to know your students, try to get to know them outside of your classroom. Talk with them before and after class, in the hall etc. and find out more about them. Students will do much more for you if they can see you genuinely care about them.
  3. Flexibility– Be flexible and willing to change your plans on the spot. It is extremely important to always be well prepared, but you also need to be willing to deviate from your plans if necessary. Many unexpected things take place daily in the classroom causing you to have to change your plans on the spot. This can be scary at first, but as long as you know what you want to get accomplished that day it doesn’t matter if that wasn’t your original plan. As a student teacher  it is important to as quickly as possible to get away from relying solely on your written lesson plan. A lot of teaching is learning to fly by the seat of your pants and making it work for your students. Some days changing your plans is what is best for the students and going on with your original plan would just be counterproductive.
  4. Have an Open Mind– As a student teacher it is extremely important to have an open mind and try new things. Student teaching is a time for experimenting and trying different lessons, projects, teaching styles etc. While you want to find what works for you it is important to keep an open mind and try new things because you never know what might work the best. In my opinion some of the best teachers are the ones that are willing to try new things and are not just stuck in an old routine.
  5. Confidence– It is very important to have confidence from day one when up in front of the students. Your students will quickly be able to tell if you are not confident in what you are doing and will take  advantage of that. Of course those first few times teaching as a student teacher are nerve-racking, but try to not let them come through to your students. Show your students your level of musicianship and that you know what you are talking about. This also helps in gaining respect from your students.
  6.  Don’t Assume- Don’t automatically assume that the students know the basics. My students were lacking in basic skills which I didn’t know about prior to my experience. For example in my high school placement we were working on a scale worksheet and I assumed the students knew the order of the sharps and flats and the names of the notes, lines, and spaces (many of the students know how to finger a note when they see it, but they aren’t able to tell you the note name). Many of the students turned in their papers incorrect. After wondering why I quickly realized the students didn’t know these basics. After reviewing the basics with the students they were able to complete the worksheet more easily. By assuming this more student confusion was caused. Now before giving assignments I make sure I either review these concepts with the students or ask them if they know it before we start.
  7. Balance between Student Teacher and College Student-It is important to find this balance early on in your student teaching experience so that you don’t burn out. It is hard to balance teaching all day and then coming back to college and being a student. I believe it is still important to stay active in ensembles while student teaching, because you need an outlet after a long day of teaching, but it is important to remember that student teaching is always your first priority. Also make sure to take some time for social activities so that you aren’t working 24/7.
  8. Take Care of Yourself- Student teaching is very stressful so make sure you are taking care of yourself. Get plenty of rest, eat healthy and regularly, and take some time for yourself. Also if you do get sick realize that your body needs so rest and don’t be afraid to take a day off.
  9. Eat Breakfast- I know this may sound trivial and silly, but it is extremely important. Teaching is very exhausting and takes a lot of energy so your body needs food to help you keep going. Also, many teachers do not get much of a break for lunch so eating a good breakfast helps you last all day.
  10. Be Professional- I know we all hear this constantly, but it is very important to act and dress professional all the time. People make their first impression very quickly and it can often be hard to change this opinion. I found this is especially important in high school because you are only a few years older than the students. Even when I was dressed professionally I was often mistaken for a high school student. Dressing professionally helps the students remember that you are the person in charge.
  11. Step out of your Comfort Zone– Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone during student teaching. If you never step out of your comfort zone you will be missing out on many learning opportunities. For example during my first week my co-op asked me if I would like to lead a student independent study. I would be helping the student with his jazz music on drum set. I quickly said yes even though drum set is completely out of my comfort zone. I have learned so much about drum set and teaching through this experience and wouldn’t have learned this if I wouldn’t have said yes and stepped out of my comfort zone. 
  12. 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.
  13. Ask Questions– Don’t be afraid to ask your co-op questions. Your co-op is there to help you learn so take advantage of that because soon you won’t have a co-op there to support you. If something goes wrong in a lesson, or you wonder if there is a better way just ask. Also during those first few days when you are just observing, feel free to ask your co-op why the do something that way. Asking questions is one of the best ways for us as pre-service teachers to learn.
  14. Over Prepare- I found that especially in the beginning I had the most success when I over prepared for lessons. I would recommend planning more material than you will need if you get through things faster than you think. It is always better to have more than not enough. Also really know your lessons and songs inside out. When you are in front of the class you are focused on a million other things and you don’t have time to be thinking about the words to the songs or what you want to do next in the lesson.
  15. Reflections- Going along with asking questions always reflect on every lesson and after every week. Self-reflections are some of the best ways for us to learn and find ways to improve. For me my blog and writing these weekly posts have been my way to self-reflect on everything that has happened. I strongly recommend finding some form of self-reflection whether it be through talking with your co-op, writing journals, keeping a blog etc.
  16. Perseverance– Never give up even when things aren’t going exactly how you would like them too. Keep going and try new things. I have learned that eventually perseverance does pay off and is worth it in the long run. While there are days where it may seem easier to just quit keep your head up and keep going. Remember why you went into teaching and remember the impact that you can and will have on your students.
  17. Be Organized- Being organized is one main key to being successful during student teaching. You have so much paper work that it is very easy to lose track of things and get  overwhelmed. I recommend finding an organizational system during your first week when you are mainly just observing. How I stay organized is I keep a 3 ring binder divided into sections. I have a section for each class I teach, plus sections for school information, and paperwork for the college. I keep all my lesson plans and materials in each class section and then can quickly grab it before class begins.
  18. You aren’t in this Alone- As I have said student teaching can be very stressful and overwhelming, but remember that you are not in this alone. Communicate with other student teachers at your college. This is a great way to get advice and share trouble spots and success stories with each other. Blogs, twitter, #musedchat, and the music pln are other great ways to stay connected with student teachers and current educators. Just remember that there are other people going through the same experiences as you!
  19. Make Mistakes- Student teaching is a time for you to grow and learn. The only way we can do this is by making mistakes and then learning from these mistakes. It is very important to not be afraid to make mistakes because trust me you will make plenty of them. As my advisor always tells us “If you make a mistake make it big and then we can fix it.”
  20. Have Fun- I think one of the biggest pieces of advice I can give is to just have fun and enjoy every moment of your student teaching experience because it will fly by and be over before you know it. While challenging and stressful, student teaching is supposed to be a fun time so enjoy the moment. This is the only chance you get to teach while having someone with you as support, so take advantage of that and have fun. A few of my friends were dreading student teaching and I don’t know why. It is an awesome experience and you finally get to begin doing what you have worked hard for the past three and a half years. Have fun and view student teaching as the beginning of your teaching career and not as the end of your undergraduate degree
While these tips are meant to help current undergraduates who will be soon student teaching I also believe that a lot of these tips can be helpful for all educators. As always these are just my opinions and experiences so feel free to add more suggestions or leave comments. Look for some recaps on my entire undergraduate career coming soon, as I begin the transition from student to teacher!!

“You can teach a student a lesson for a day; but if you can teach him to learn by creating curiosity, he will continue the learning process as long as he lives.” Clay P. Bedford

The past 14 weeks have definitely been a challenge in many ways, but I can’t believe that it is already over. These past few months have flown by and now in just 6 short days I will be walking across the stage and receiving my undergraduate degree!! While it is a relief to be done with student teaching, I still miss it and the students. I truly enjoyed the whole experience and really connected with my students. I was very lucky to have 3 incredible co-ops and for the most part I had an extremely positive experience. I have found like a lot of things in life student teaching is what you make of it. While  there are just some bad placements, I believe that your success with student teaching is based on how much effort and time you put into it and what your attitude about it is. I really enjoyed student teaching because I finally got to put to use everything that I have learned and worked for over the past 3 1/2 years. I know I have shared my experiences over the past 14 weeks, but I thought I would use this recap to share some of the biggest lessons I learned throughout this semester.

Top 10 Lessons I Learned

  1. Confidence– I have found that it is important to have confidence in front of the students especially with the older ones because you are only 4 years older than them. In order for them to respect you they need to know that you are confident, in charge and know what you are doing. Show them that you are the expert in the room, but if you aren’t sure of something admit that to them and then found out the answer.
  2. SING!!- I know I have mentioned this over and over, but I feel that I can’t express the importance of singing to, with and for your students enough. This kind of goes without saying in choir or elementary general music, but I believe that it is imperative to sing in your band rehearsals. the students need to hear what their parts sound like, how the style of music should be played etc. I was amazed how much quicker the students picked up on things when I sang. Also, this gets the students to realize that singing is okay and is one step in helping you fight the battle of getting your students to sing.
  3. Organization– While your classroom is bound to become a mess at some point I found it is very beneficial to stay as organized as possible. If you are organized this helps your lessons to run smoother and can help prevent problems in the classroom. Also, staying organized may take time at first it will save you time in the future. This is especially important in elementary general music when you may have no time between classes. You need to have everything ready to go and organized before the day even starts. Staying organized will also allow you to be more flexible.
  4. Go With the Flow- As music teachers we have to be flexible and willing to go with the flow. So many times are schedules get messed up do to PSSA testing, field trips, special days etc. While this can be frustrating we need to be flexible and show that we are able to work around these challenges. You also have to be flexible for when something goes wrong in your classroom. For example, on my last day the CD player quit working in the middle of a song so instead of stopping I just kept going and we sang it a capella. If you are not good with just rolling with the punches, I would suggest getting some practice because I found that being flexible is a necessity as a teacher.
  5. Communicate– Believe it or not teaching can be a very lonely profession at times, but it doesn’t have to be. As a student teacher or even full-time teacher we need to always be communicating not only with the people around us, but also others through blogs, twitter, MPLN etc. There is so much we can learn from others and communicating with others can also help us realize that we are not the only ones going through a certain situation.
  6. Leave Your Comfort Zone-  I can’t stress enough the importance of getting comfortable and getting experience in all areas and being willing to go out of your comfort zone. There were so many times during the past weeks that I was stretched outside of my comfort zone such as teaching a drum set player and directing middle school choir, but I felt that these were some of the times when i learned the most. With the current education situation it is more important than ever that we are comfortable in all areas of music because you never know where you might end up!!
  7. Be a sponge– I believe as a teacher we should never be done learning. I heard a student teacher the other day say “I just want to be done student teaching because I have learned everything I need to.” Even when you feel like you have learned everything there is still more so try to soak up everything whether it is while you are teaching, observing, or even when you are eating in the faculty lounge. Also I have found that part of learning is finding out what you don’t want to do as a teacher as much as learning what you want to do. This goes back to what I have said in earlier posts, but don’t see anything as pointless in your undergraduate career!! You will be shocked at how much of this information you will use and you never know when one day you might need it.
  8. Be Proactive- While classroom management thankfully came fairly natural to me, it is still a challenge and I believe will be a challenge even after teaching for 30 years. I learned that one of the best things you can do is be proactive and try to stop bad behavior before it starts. You can do this by making your behavioral expectations extremely clear from the beginning and by correctly pacing your lessons to fit the needs of your students.
  9. Remember the Purpose– I have found that there is so much that we as teachers want to cover and teach that we often spend a lot of the class or rehearsal time talking about what we want or introducing a concept. We need to remember what both us and the students are there for; to MAKE MUSIC!! While of course there are things we have to teach through talking it is imperative to keep in mind that the students are there to play, sing, and make music. I taped one of my band rehearsals and was shocked at how much I talked during the rehearsal. By the end of my experience I taped one again and this changed drastically and the class period was much more productive. As my one co-op always told me Talk little, sing/play/do MUCH!!
  10. Passion– I think one of the biggest lessons I learned is to make sure you have true passion for what you are doing and find a way to relay that to your students. If your students can’t tell that you are passionate and care about what you are doing they won’t care either. Also, I found how demanding a teacher’s schedule is and without passion it extremely easy to get burn-out. I think some of the most rewarding times during my student teaching experience were when my students told me that they loved coming to my class because they could tell I loved music and were making them to love it also 🙂

While these are by no means all the lessons I learned while student teaching these are some of the ones that I felt were the most important and kept occurring over the last 14 weeks. These are all lessons that I believe that are imperative to learn early in our career to help us become the best music educators possible. Also I have found that most of the lessons listed above and ones that I have learned are things that you are not taught during your undergraduate courses!

I hope you have enjoyed following along on my student teaching journey with me and have been able to learn something from my experiences. I have really enjoyed sharing my experiences with you and they have been a great way for me to reflect upon what I have learned. Stay tuned for a post to come in the next few days on my tips for having a successful student teaching experience.

“Take the attitude of a student, never be too big to ask questions, never know too much to learn something new.”- Og Mandino

This week was definitely a challenge in many ways. As it gets further into the semester and further into my second placement I am taking on more classes which requires more planning, ensembles are starting to perform more, and the job search and application process is now in full swing. All of these things keep me extremely busy and this week it has been a challenge to find a balance between them all. I feel that one of the biggest challenge as an undergraduate from freshman year to senior year is keeping everything in balance. I also believe that this will continue to be a struggle once I start teaching, just in a different way. In regards to teaching I felt like this week went very smoothly and I had a lot of success with my lessons. Each week I am still amazed at the amount that I am continuing to learn. Below are some of the challenges I faced this week and lessons I am learning.

Challenges

  1. Disruptions/Schedule Changes- One big challenge I faced this week was dealing with constant disruptions and scheduling changes. I feel that scheduling changes are always a challenge for the teacher because you have to change around your lesson plans and often have to re-organize your entire schedule for that day or maybe even the week. This week was full of schedule changes for me because of PSSA testing, assemblies etc. One challenge this brought to me this week was because of an assembly we combined some of our classes so no classes would miss music. This was definitely a challenge because now I had to teach classes of 35 kids, which is very challenging and exhausting. There are also many disruptions that take place daily that are challenging to deal with because the get the students out of their routine. Some disruptions I faced this week were fire drills, announcements in the middle of class, students getting called to the nurse for hearing tests etc. Scheduling changes and disruptions are not something we can change as teachers, but I believe it is important for undergraduates to be aware of them and realize what they may have to deal with in the future.
  2. Student Accountability– This is an area that is definitely a challenge, but not something that I am able to deal with during student teaching. It is very hard to find ways to keep students accountable especially when it comes to areas such as practicing. As I said this isn’t something I can change during student teaching, but I am thankful that I get to experience this and see how my cooperating teachers deal with it because I am sure that I will be faced with this issue in the future. My advice to undergraduates is to starting coming up with your own ideas now of how you might deal with this situation when faced with it in the future.
  3. Adjusting to Different Grade Levels- Another big challenge that elementary general music teachers have to face is adjusting to different grade levels very quickly. For example on Mondays I teach two kindergarten classes in a row and then have two sixth grade classes. This is a huge jump and your entire way of teaching has to change almost instantaneously. It is even hard to switch between grades such as kindergarten and first because there is such a difference in development, maturity, and behavior. I believe that this is something that just takes getting use to and after time the adjustment isn’t as challenging.
  4. Multi-Tasking- Elementary music teachers I have found are the wearer of many hats and must be very good at multi-tasking. There are days when I feel like I need multiple sets of hands and eyes in the back of my head just to teach a lesson. This learning to multi-task definitely takes some time and was overwhelming at first, but is starting to get easier. For example I am often finding myself playing piano, singing, leading the students, watching the students for behavior, correcting behavioral problems and assessing student performance all at the same time!!!
  5. Balancing- As I said at the beginning of this post, this week I have definitely been struggling with balance. Student teaching takes up so much time and energy, but I also have nightly ensemble rehearsals, and many job applications to finish. It is a challenge to balance these things without getting burned-out. My piece of advice is to prioritize everything and be realistic when setting weekly or daily goals. If we are not setting realistic goals we are just setting ourselves up for failure which leads to more frustration. I believe this is a challenge that everyone from undergraduates to experienced teachers are faced with continually.

Lessons Learned

  1. Be Prepared for Questions– One lesson I learned this week is to be ready for all kind of questions especially with the younger students. Many times these questions are great and lead to more teaching opportunities, but many times the questions are completely un-related to what we are talking about, but still may be a good question. I have found that it is important to not let questions through you off guard. One piece of advice I have is when preparing your lessons come up with some questions that you think students may ask. This may also help you in figuring out the timing of your lesson.
  2. High Expectations– It is very important to set high expectations for our students and to challenge them. I have learned that usually the students surprise us and rise to the occasion if they know what our expectations are. I believe that what we expect is what we are going to get. For example this week I did a recorder lesson where not only was there a simple recorder part, but there were two other classroom instrument parts. This was definitely a challenge for the students, but before we started I clearly set my expectations and to my surprise the student rose to the challenge and did extremely well.
  3. Don’t Stifle Student Creativity– Elementary general music classes can often get very loud and chaotic and we as teachers are quick to stop this. I believe we need to have control of the classroom at all times, but we also need to make sure that in no way are we stifling student creativity. For example this week in kindergarten my cooperating teacher had the students listening to a piece of music. The students automatically started reacting and moving to the music. Instead of stopping this as some teachers would, she allowed them to continue, but set some guidelines such as they had to stay within their area and not talk.
  4. Play Songs More Times than you Think– I am also learning that we need to play a song more times than you think in order for the students to learn it. Once or twice is not enough times for students, especially younger ones, to comprehend and learn the song. My cooperating teacher said that we get sick of the songs so we are quick to think that the students heard it enough.
  5. Get Out of Comfort Zone- The last lesson that I have learned through the past few weeks and this week especially is that you have to be willing to be silly and crazy with the students, which may require you to come out of your comfort zone. The students want to see someone who is able to have fun in front of them and is not afraid to act silly. I have seen many of my music education undergraduate friends who have not been willing to come out of their comfort zone and be silly and I believe that the students are benefiting from this. We as teachers often have to have fun and silly to get our students involved in the learning and keep them engaged throughout the lesson. My advice for undergraduates is to begin getting out of your comfort zone now so that the transition later is not as hard.

This week as always I faced many challenges, but I also feel like I had some major successes in classroom management. The first few weeks of my elementary placement I struggled with classroom management because the students are so active, but now I believe I am getting better at it. This week I was much more proactive especially when teaching lessons that required the use of classroom instruments. I also tried being more firm with the students and making sure they know what I expect and then making sure that I follow through with any consequences. I can almost guarantee that as an undergraduate music education major you will struggle with classroom management at some point. My biggest piece of advice is to be firm, set clear expectations and most importantly be PROACTIVE instead of reactive!! I can’t believe I only have a few short weeks left of student teaching, but I am looking forward to sharing the rest of my experiences!!

“Don’t try to fix the students, fix ourselves first. The good teacher makes the poor student good and the good student superior. When our students fail, we, as teachers, too, have failed.”- Marva Collins

Last week I taught each grade level (K-6) for at least part of the class period and many classes I taught the entire lesson. It was great to start taking over the classes instead of just observing. While observing is great, there is a lot in elementary general music that you can only learn by doing. Also, I believe that until you begin teaching multiple classes for the full period you don’t realize how crazy and elementary general music teacher’s schedule is. Last week I taught ten different lessons and taught a few of them multiple times. Through these ten lessons I learned a lot of invaluable information that is helping me to continually grow as a music educator. Below are what I feel are some of the top challenges and most important lessons I learned during this past week in my elementary placement.

Challenges Faced

  1. Lesson Pacing– Knowing how much to plan for one lesson and how long each activity is going to take has still been a challenge for me. I am getting better and figuring out how longs an activity will probably last, but there is definitely still room for improvement. It is really challenging because it depends on each class, how well-behaved they are, how interactive they are etc. I have found that you can do the same lesson 3 times with the same grade level and will probably end at a different place each time. I am hoping that the more I plan and teach lessons I will get better at judging this. One piece that I have found with planning lessons is to always plan for more than you are going to need. It is better to not get to all of your activities than to run out of stuff to do and have ten minutes left in class!!
  2. Adapting Lessons for all Students– Adapting your lessons so that all of your students can learn and succeed is definitely a challenge in the elementary general music classroom. We have such a variety of needs and ability levels that it is hard to individualize instruction for each of them when you have twenty-five kids in your class. One of my most challenging classes is one of my first grade classes. This class has almost thirty students in it and is mixed with sever special education students from the Intermediate Unit. There are around 10 students from the IU that need a lot of extra attention. This makes teaching a challenge because you are trying to make sure you are reaching them while not leaving the other twenty behind. I believe this is something that comes with experience.
  3. Technology Issues– I am a firm believer in implementing technology in the classroom in as many ways as possible to help the students learn. Unfortunately this has been a big challenge for me in this placement. First of all the district does not have much technology and does not put much emphasis on it at all. Thankfully there is a Smartboard in one of my three schools, but other than that there is not much technology to work with. The main challenge is that the school blocks tons of websites. For a lessons last week on instruments I had quite a few websites to play music examples from and all of them were blocked. Also, sites such as youtube and Twitter are blocked as well. This is not something that I really can fix during my student teaching, but it is definitely a challenge that I am faced with during this placement.
  4. Being aware of entire class-While in high school you also have to be aware of the entire class or ensemble I feel it is much more of a challenge at the elementary level, especially in kindergarten in first grade. There are many days where I feel like I need extra hands and a pair of eyes in the back of my head. There is just so much going on in the elementary music classroom and the pace is very fast so it is extremely hard to be focused and aware of the entire class at one time. For example, you are trying to teach a lesson, plus deal with kids mis-behaving, answering questions, and focusing on students that need help or are not getting the concept all at the same time. While I am getting better at this I feel that this is an area that I will need to continually practice until it becomes more second nature.
  5. Different Room Layouts– One challenge of travelling between multiple buildings is that the layouts of each room are completely different. Most of the rooms that I am in are not ideal situations, but some are better than others. This makes for an extra challenge because you have to take into consideration each room layout when planning a lesson. For example, last week I taught a boom whacker lesson and Orff instrument lesson to kindergartners and first grade at two different schools. At each school I had to structure the lesson completely different based on the layout of the room. While this is definitely doable, it just takes more advanced planning and consideration on the part of the teacher.

Lessons Learned

  1. Know Songs Inside and Out-While this seems like common sense I have found that is imperative that you know the songs you are teaching inside and out. My advice especially for new teachers is when you feel like you have practiced the song enough and know it very well, practice it a few more times. It may seem like you know the song, but when you get in front of students and are focusing on ten other things at the same time it is very easy to become flustered and forget. With elementary students when we have to look back for the words or keep our head buried in a book we lose the students and more behavioral problems occur.
  2. Student Involvement– It is very important to keep the students involved at all times during the lesson and not to expect them to just sit around and listen too much (especially younger children because this is when behavioral problems often happen). For example last week I did a few lessons/demonstrations on French horn for kindergarten and first grade. While they loved the lesson I had to continually think of ways to involve them such as asking a lot of questions, letting them ask questions, and letting them predict what would happens if I did certain things. This helped keep them involved and they were more attentive than if I would have just talked the entire lesson. It is easy to get going on a lesson and forget to actively involve the student.
  3. Lesson Setup– Another thing that I am learning is how to correctly or best set up and elementary general music lesson. There is not one way that is necessarily the best, but it is important that you find what works for you and I believe that student teaching is a great time to do that. For me I like to start of each class with either a song we did the week before or a review song of some sort. This gets the students active right away and ready for music class. Then the middle of my lesson is where I put the most challenging activities and teach new concepts. I believe you need to do this when the students are still fresh. Then  end my lessons with either another review song or another fun musical activity that the students will enjoy. As I said there is no sure-fire method, but this is a format that seems to be working well for me.
  4. Limit Number of Directions– With elementary students I have found that it is extremely important to make your directions concise and limit it to 2 or 3 important directions at a time. If you tell the students to do too much at once they will either forget or shut you off after two or three directions. I have found that it is best to give the one or two most important directions first and then after they completed those go on with your other directions. If you find that students are continually not following your directions you will want to reflect and make sure that you are not overwhelming the students with too many directions at once.
  5. Remember Purpose of Music Class-With elementary general music there is so much information that we want and need to cover that we often get going on a tangent and forget the purpose of music class. While part of the purpose is to teach students about musical concepts and help them enjoy music we need to remember that the students are their to sing, play instruments and have fun. It is important to make sure that you have a balance between those activities and talking so that your students don’t get bored. My cooperating teachers are always reminding me “Talk little, Sing/Play/Do MUCH!!!

While I undoubtedly have a tons more to learn and was faced with many challenges this week, I also saw that a lot of teaching comes natural to me  and I am able to quickly think on my feet. I believe that one of the main goals of everyone’s student teaching experience should be to find your strengths and weaknesses and then find ways to challenge yourself to improve in those areas of weakness. So many times I have heard undergraduates  not attempt a lesson because they feel that it is too challenging for them or that there are too many things that could go wrong. These are the types of lessons that I want to teach and think everyone should teaching during their student teaching experience because that is how we learn. I tried a few challenging lessons this week that definitely didn’t go perfect or as well as I wanted them to, but I learned a lot that I probably would have learned if I would have shied away and not taught those lessons. While teaching elementary general music is very different, I am loving the challenge and the experience that I am getting and am looking forward to what else is in store for me during my last few weeks of student teaching.