Five Things to Do in Your First Five Years

Advice for New Music Educators

By NAfME Member Audrey Carballo

Five years sounds like a very long time, but in the world of academia, think of it as a mile marker on the way toward your retirement. For most of us, teaching is a career, and we’re in it for the duration of our working lives. If you want to go the distance, you’ll have only six of these benchmarks to celebrate.

calendar | Kharlamova


I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of mentoring several new teachers entering our profession in my county, and these are the sage words of advice I impart to all.


Become Acquainted

The very first thing on your to-do list should be: Get to know your fellow music teachers! Most counties or districts have professional development days built into their academic calendars. This is the perfect opportunity to knock off two birds with one stone. If your county has a meet-and-greet at the beginning of the year or your district has a professional development offering at the onset of the school year, by all means go!

teamwork | PeopleImages


The opportunities to introduce yourself and network are priceless. You want to identify and meet your tribe of “elders.” You want to be able to call upon those who have walked in your shoes. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice. No one gets through this profession alone. We’ve all had teachers and mentors who helped and advised us. Now that you’re a new teacher this need is no different. Just because you have a teaching degree doesn’t mean you can’t get assistance. We’ve all been there, and no one will think you any less of a professional if you ask questions.

school bus | Si-Gal


Connect with Key School Personnel

The next thing you should do is become familiar with key people in your school. These people are: school secretaries and clerks, the treasurer, the activities director, the custodians, and the cafeteria manager. Notice I didn’t mention any of the administration. Although their importance is obvious, your interaction with them will be minimal compared to the above-mentioned personnel. Any successful teacher knows the individuals named in the list above on a first-name basis and probably knows their cell phone numbers! These are the people who can make your life wonderful or miserable.


Know Your Vendors

You might be lucky enough to land in a school that has all of the instruments and equipment you need to teach. I’ve never had that luck. I’ve always needed to scope out vendors who sold recorders at a cheap enough price so I could turn them into a fundraiser for my department. Perhaps you’re a band director who needs that instrument repair pipeline? These are the relationships you need to cultivate during your first five years of teaching.

musical instruments | halepak


When your first chair clarinet drops his instrument, and you have your concert the next night, you need to be able to call someone to help FAST! Local vendors are great if their prices and customer service meet the demands of your program. A company like JW Pepper is national, but it has enough hubs close to a city near you, so shipping is never a problem. I’ve gotten music in two days. (See other NAfME corporate members for more resources.)

You also want to scope out local stores or private studio teachers who give lessons. If you don’t want to teach after school or on the weekends, don’t hesitate to recommend a reputable music school for supplemental instruction. Any serious student cannot possibly think they can learn their instrument with four hours a week in a band class. It’s not individual instruction, and it’s just not possible. Ask around. Go meet the people you are considering recommending.


Know Certification Requirements

Every district requires some kind of licensure to teach. There are some schools that do not, but most larger school districts are well steeped in the accreditation of its teaching staff. To that end, make sure you know when your certificate expires.

certification | sengchoy


In my county, there are several ways to amass the credits to renew the certificate.

  • You can take the subject area test. There is a cost involved in taking the test. I’ve done this twice and found the test very easy.
  • You can rack up professional development My district requires 120, with 20 of them exclusively earned as an ESE course mandated by our state.
  • Or, I can take three college credits—again at a cost borne solely by me.

Your district might have a few of the same ways or offer different ways to earn credits toward recertification. The most important thing to remember is not to wait until the final year that your certificate expires. Find out early exactly what additional requirements you need in order to renew your certificate. As I said, my state requires 20 hours (20 credit hours) in an ESE course—not just any ESE course but one that is approved by the state. My state is currently working on requiring credits in social and emotional education as well. When will that take effect? I don’t know, but believe me—I will make sure I know long before I have to renew my certificate.

Certificates are usually good for five years. Some are valid up to 8 or 10 years. Some educators are on a temporary certificate, and the restrictions needed to earn a regular certificate are compressed in a shorter time frame. There is more than enough time during the validity period (how long your certificate is good for) to earn those points or take those courses or take that test. Don’t be fooled—your state won’t push your application for renewal to the head of the line just because you waited until a month before you expired.

Your licensure is generally issued by the state you live in. They get thousands of applications each year, with the bulk of them appearing in May and June. Don’t wait! It is a living nightmare to reinstate a certificate. In some cases, your school could give away your position because while you are working on getting your certificate reinstated, they will be notified that you no longer have a valid teaching certificate, and you will be removed from the system.


Consider Obtaining Your Master’s Degree—Now

Most often, we seek employment soon after we graduate from college with our Bachelor’s degree. I highly suggest you use the first five years to explore the possibilities of going on to earn your Master’s degree or a Specialist or Doctoral degree. Most districts will pay a stipend for advanced degrees. Over the course of your career, that amount could add up to a nice bit of moolah!

first five years | PeopleImages


In my district (Miami-Dade County Public Schools), a Master’s degree nets you an extra $3,200 per year. That’s not a bonus, but it is added to your salary, and therefore counts as part of your wage-earning potential when it comes to retirement. Think of $3,200 times 30. That’s a whopping $96,000! Nothing to sneeze at! Once you find a program you can live with, you can use those credits to renew your certificate (see above-mentioned paragraph). It’s a win-win for everyone.

Take baby steps. Do online courses. Find programs that fit your lifestyle. Some districts will reimburse (up to a certain amount) if you pursue an advanced degree in your subject area. I have my Bachelor’s degree in Music. My district won’t reimburse if I take courses in Education Leadership. Those are the courses toward becoming an Assistant Principal or Principal. But they will reimburse a portion of my Master’s degree in Music Education. If I wanted to tackle my doctorate, they would reimburse a portion of that as well. You must stick to your subject area. That’s the scoop for my district. If your district will pay for any advanced degree, by all means: GO FOR IT!! Find out. Speak to your financial advisor. A portion of the expenses of an advanced degree might qualify as a deduction on your income taxes.


All of the points I’ve talked about will matter in five years, and they will continue to matter for the duration of your teaching career. Keep all of them in mind as you sail through your first five years of teaching.


About the author:

music teacherAudrey Carballo, a 38-year NAfME member, is in her 38th year as a music educator for the Miami-Dade County Public Schools system, the fourth largest school system in the country. Her teaching experiences include general music, exploratory music, and chorus to regular and exceptional students in elementary, middle school, high school, and exceptional student settings.

She has been an Assessor for the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards and currently serves on the National Education Association Member Advisory Board Panel and as the Union Steward and Chairperson of the Educational Excellence School Advisory Board Council at her school. Recently, Audrey was the Children’s Choir Director for the Miami Music Project, which is an El Sistema program spearheaded by the world renowned conductor, James Judd.

One of her most rewarding experiences has been with the Miami Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired. In addition to teaching Broadcast Journalism classes, and giving private lessons in voice, composition, theory and piano, her duties included being the Vocal and Advanced Theory instructor for their Better Chance Music Production Program. Audrey was one of the co-authors of an article published in the Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness titled, “A New Synthesis of Sound and Tactile Music Code Instruction: Implementation Issues of a Pilot Online Braille Music Curriculum.”

Audrey collaborated with Jin Ho Choi (another instructor at the Lighthouse) for nine months, creating their Braille Music Distance Learning course.

Follow Audrey on Twitter @scarlettfeenix.


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The National Association for Music Education (NAfME) provides a number of forums for the sharing of information and opinion, including blogs and postings on our website, articles and columns in our magazines and journals, and postings to our Amplify member portal. Unless specifically noted, the views expressed in these media do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Association, its officers, or its employees.

Catherina Hurlburt, Marketing Communications Manager. July 25, 2019. © National Association for Music Education (


April 2024 Teaching Music

Published Date

July 25, 2019


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July 25, 2019. © National Association for Music Education (

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