“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.