Category: Undergraduate 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.


“Graduation is not the end; it’s the beginning.”- Orrin Hatch

Where have the past 4 years gone? It seems like just yesterday I started college and began my journey towards becoming a music educator and now just a few days ago I walked across the stage and received my Bachelors of music degree. Now after a short four years I am finally ready to do what I truly have a passion for; teaching music. While the past four years have definitely been a challenge I have learned and grown more as future educator than I ever could have imagined. When I began this journey I never thought I would get to the point I am at now. Also, I never realized the opportunities that I would be given as an undergraduate especially at a small college. Through this journey I have found that whatever you put into your four years as an undergraduate is what you will get out of it. Over the past few days I have reflected upon my undergraduate experience and what I have learned throughout the past four years of my life. Below is some advice I would give to all music education undergraduates, regardless of your year, to help you make the most out of the college experience.

Advice for a Successful Undergraduate Career

  1. Take Advantage of Every Opportunity- I have found that it is extremely important to take advantage of every single opportunity that is given to you whether large or small. You never know when an opportunity could turn into something big. Also these opportunities help you to begin building your résumé and experiences. For example last year I was given the opportunity to be one of 15 Grove City College students to participate in the second ever #MusEdChat. I took advantage of this opportunity and because of that have gotten highly involved in the music professional learning network and the twitter network. Also without this opportunity I would have never started this blog. Taking advantage of these types of opportunities will help to shape you into the music educator that you want to become.
  2. Don’t Wait Until the Last Minute-Many times I hear undergraduates pass up opportunities or don’t go to workshops because they say “I have time I am only an underclassman.” One of the biggest pieces of advice I can give is to get involved now. Don’t wait until your junior and senior year to start getting involved and taking advantage of opportunities because then it may be too late. It is never to early to start getting involved and start learning. One of my advisors always says “This is your profession (music education) so why wouldn’t you want to get involved from the start.” This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t take advantage of opportunities towards the end of your undergraduate career, but you don’t have to wait until then to start.
  3. Enjoy Every Moment-  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. There will be days where you won’t enjoy everything you are doing, but make the most out of every moment and realize that each challenge you are face with is helping you to become a better educator. 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.
  4. Cherish Your Friendships-I know this sounds cheesy, but I honestly can say that the friendships you will make during your 4 years in college will be life-long friendships. The friendships I have made mean so much to me and I am so thankful for them. Also friends are great to go to for advice and pointers. There were countless times throughout my undergraduate career where I would go to my friends to ask them their opinion, seek advice, ask questions, or even just to talk. As I said being a music education major is a challenge so it is very important to have a strong group of friends that you can go to when times get rough.
  5. Get a Diversity of 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. I have heard many music education undergraduates say ” I want to be a band director so choral conducting doesn’t apply to me” or something similar. I get very annoyed when I hear this because I believe we should learn as much about our profession as possible so we can be a well-rounded music educator. 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.
  6. Don’t View Anything 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.
  7. Your GPA Isn’t Everything–  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.
  8. Always Have the Eyes of a Teacher- Throughout your undergraduate experience start to try and look at everything with the eye of a teacher instead of the eye of a student. It is important to begin changing your viewpoint as this will help to make your transition into student teaching much easier. For example when sitting in an ensemble rehearsal pay more attention to what the director does and how they handle different situations. Also begin to think how you would handle the situation if you were in the directors shoes.
  9. Soak Up Everything- 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.
  10. 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.
  11. Save Everything- If you are like me throughout your undergraduate career you will receive so many papers and think that you will never need them again, but then one day 4 years done the road you will remember that a certain professor gave you a specific handout and you wish you could find it. I recommend to save anything that is pertinent to music education because you never know when it may be helpful. There were many times during student teaching where I pulled resources from many of my classes and was very glad that I saved them. My suggestion is to find a way of organizing that works for you and file all of your college papers into categories for quick reference in the future.
  12. Networking- 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.
  13. Advocacy- As undergraduates we don’t really see ourselves as advocates, but I believe that it is never too early to being advocating for music education, especially in today’s society. As music educators we will all have to be advocates at one point or another so we might as well start now. Even just learning about advocacy or spreading the word about the importance of music education is a great way to start. Check out my advocacy page for some great resources of how to get started.
  14. Make Mistakes- Teaching music is a very challenging job and there are is a lot for us to learn. I have 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.
  15. Never Stop Learning- I believe that as a teacher we should never stop learning even after we get our undergraduate degree. With the profession of education there is something that we can always be learning and trying in our classrooms. Use your undergraduate career to set you up for life long learning. One of my music professors always says “The day that we quit learning we should get out of the profession of education. As teachers we should be learning something new every single day.”

Being a music education major is definitely an amazing, but challenging experience just like the profession of teaching. My four years of college definitely changed my viewpoint on a lot of issues and helped me to find out who I am as an educator. I believe the biggest piece of advice I can give is to take advantage of every single opportunity that is given to you. This is the time to learn and grow as a future educator so don’t be afraid to take advantage of what you are given whether big or small because you never know where it may lead you in the future. While it may not seem like it now your undergraduate career will fly by and before you know it you will be like me, just graduated and reflecting on your undergraduate career. While I know everyone’s undergraduate experience is much different I hope the above tips and advice help you to have a wonderful undergraduate experience like mine. While I am writing this post as advice for undergraduates I also believe that a lot of the above ideas can be applied to other situations and can help music teachers of all ages. Feel free to leave comments and suggestions from your undergraduate experience or from your experience as an educator.

“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.

Many music education undergraduates and music educators cringe when they find out they have to teach middle school choir or even just cringe at the though of possibly having to teach it at one point in their career. While I believe that middle school choir is definitely a challenging area to teach, I also feel that it can be an extremely rewarding experience for both the teacher and the students. Just yesterday I had the opportunity to attend an amazing workshop on middle school choir yesterday at Grove City College. Amy Beresik- Choral Director at Doresyville Middle school presented a workshop on directing middle school choir and brought two of her middle school honors choirs to perform. This was by far one of the most valuable and beneficial workshops that I have ever attended which prompted me to write this blog post reflecting on what I learned.

I Have to Teach Middle School Choir…Now WhatHere are some tips to help you survive middle school choir. While I have no experience teaching middle school choir here are some of  my opinions and ideas that I learned from the workshop.

  1. Teach Good Vocal Technique First-At the middle school level students are going through a lot of changes and they are just beginning to figure out how to use their voice. It is extremely important as music educators that we stress good vocal technique first. Our voice is an instrument so just like in a band, it is the choir directors job to teach the students how to properly use their instruments. We need to teach healthy technique first and then you can have students adjust their style to match your repertoire, but it is imperative to have good vocal technique before experimenting with different musical styles.
  2. Make Students Listen– At the workshop I saw first hand the importance of teaching our choirs to listen and the outcome that is produced when this happens. Even at the middle school level we should challenge our choirs to sing a capella as much as possible to help develop aural skills, blend, and intonation. Also we need to ask our students what they are hearing because this makes them listen more attentively while they are singing.
  3. Singing Requires More Than Just Your Voice– Singing requires your full body so it is important for us to incorporate this full body approach to sing in our choirs, even at the middle school level. For example when warming up start by warming up the body, and then breathing and then begin warming up the voice itself.
  4. Instructional Conducting– At the middle school level we as directors need to make sure that our conducting is as much instructional as it is artistic. In our conducting I believe we need to show the students breath support, posture, embouchure etc. Students mirror whatever they see the conductor doing so it is imperative that our conducting is instructional especially at the middle school level where students are learning and growing a lot.
  5. High Expectations– Many times I have heard directors say “Oh, they are just middle school kids, they won’t be able to handle that.” To me it seems as if middle school choirs are often looked down upon. As educators we need to not underestimate what our students can do. If we require excellence all of time the students will usually rise to meet those expectations.

The Changing Voice– This is one area that I believe most undergraduates (including myself) do not know enough about. Here is an analogy that workshop presenter Amy Beresik used that helps to put the make changing voice into perspective. Imagine that the instrument you play changes daily; one day, it has a wide range, others only five notes. Sometimes it is resonant others foggy-sounding. Muscled memory seems to change and one day you play a passage perfectly and the next it sounds like you have never played it before. Also, the way you hear your instrument is changing as well. This may seem crazy, but this is what it feels like for middle school boys experiencing the voice change. Below are some tips that I learned about how to deal with the make changing voice.

  1. Know your voices– Listen to your boys sing regularly because their voices will be changing at a rapid speed. It is imperative for you as the director to know exactly where in the voice change process each of your boys are in. This way you will best know how to accommodate and pick literature that will set up all your students (including the boys) for success!
  2. Flexibility- Because your boy’s voices will be changing so rapidly it is important to be flexible and willing to change voice parts when necessary. You may need to allow some of your boys to change parts on ever song so that they feel comfortable and are singing in a healthy range.
  3. Sing– Especially for female choir directors it is extremely important for us to sing with our boys instead of always playing their part on the piano. Us singing helps them to hear the pitches better and sing in the correct octave. As a middle school choral teacher it is necessary to get extremely comfortable with using your singing voice as a teaching tool.
  4. Communication– Make sure that your boys are willing to communicate and be open with you about what they are feeling and going through. We can learn a lot from them by hearing about their experiences throughout this process. It is also important for female directors to make sure the boys know that we have no idea what they are going through so it is even more imperative for them to communicate with us so we know how to better help them.
  5. A Natural Process- Middle school boys can be a difficult age to deal with, but they need to know that the changing voice is a totally natural process just like your shoe size changing. As the director you need to normalize the process for the whole choir to help with any self-consciousness the boys may have. It is also important that you are encouraging during this process and don’t get frustrated when the boys come in sounding different everyday.

Never Say Never

I know I have said this in earlier posts, but I believe as undergraduates we need to get as much experience as possible in all areas of music education, including middle school choir. Yes, we all have our area of expertise, but we never know where we may end up, especially now days. I believe as undergraduates we need to never say never. Many times what we say we will never teach is what we end up getting our first job in. My advice to undergraduates is to not only continuing learning in your area of expertise, but attend workshops and gain more knowledge in areas that you are not as comfortable with. It frustrates me when instrumentalists will only attend instrumental or band related workshops. In my opinion I believe that instruments should attend more coral and general music workshops because those are the areas we are usually less experienced in. We are music educators, not just band directors, choir directors, or general music teachers, so we need to become competent in all of those areas. I believe we need to be well-rounded musicians and not just top-heavy in one area.

As an instrumentalist I am constantly looking to improve my vocal and choral directing skills so that if one day I end up teaching middle school choir I won’t feel like a fish out of water and I will be able to give my students the best musical experience possible. This workshop taught me a lot of teaching middle school choir that I did not know, but hopefully will one day be able to put into practice. I believe that it is crucial for all music educators and undergraduates to gain as much experience as possible in all areas of music education. If you are a person that never sees yourself teaching middle school choir, I urge you to start now and take advantage of every opportunity you have because you never know when one day you will find your self with a bunch of middle school students who want to sing. A great way to do this is by attending professional development conferences such as PMEA, which is coming up this week. Check out my blog article PMEA 2011 Live Blog for more information!