Tag Archive: flexibility


“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!!
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“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!!

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

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