It’s Off to Work I Go . . .

It’s Off to Work I Go . . .

Back to School

By NAfME member Audrey Carballo


Each year as those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer wind down and August looms in the distance, I am reminded of a sweet childhood song with my own twisted lyrics: “I owe, I owe. It’s off to work I go!” Make no mistake—I absolutely love teaching. I also love being (mostly) out of debt; more or less in that interchangeable order.

The enchantment of starting a new school year is like being married for the first time. Everything is new. New students, new parents, sometimes teachers, colleagues or administrators are introduced for the first time. Just as you plan and prepare for your commitment months in advance, a little ahead of time work before school starts will save you lots of time and frustration later on.



Make a Plan

Let’s start with planning. Not only do I mean planning what you’re going to do the first few weeks of school, but lesson planning in general.

I have taught all different grade levels. This fall marks the ascent into my 35th year as a music educator. So you can get a perspective, I teach general music to my elementary classes and exploratory music classes to my middle school students. For the first 2 class sessions, I show my power point presentation. This takes about 20 minutes. It accomplishes two things.

  1. I don’t annihilate my vocal cords in the first four hours of teaching.
  2. All the basic information is in the power point (which is posted on my website for parents to access at any time), and if they have questions, they can ask after the presentation. I outline everything from supply lists to bathroom, class expectations (when you are there and when you have a substitute), assignments, projects, rules, rewards and consequences, etc.

We review Fire Drill and emergency procedures. I cannot emphasize how important this is, especially if your students come to your room for music. Hopefully, their teacher has gone over procedures for their homeroom. Your room might be in a completely different area and you are responsible for those students.

We get to know each other. Most often, unless it is a grade level that has not had music before, I will ask students to raise their hands if they have had me before as a teacher. I tell the others that these are their go-to people. They are the ‘class elders’.  If you’re new to the school, tell your students a little about yourself. You’re a person, not a musicbot. Where did you go to school? What instrument did you major in? What degree do you have? How much do you practice each day? Keep it light.




As far as lesson plans are concerned, NAfME has a treasure trove of lesson plans for any concept you want to teach. I made my own lesson plans as a check off list. Mine are weekly and list the objective, activity, evaluation and home learning follow up. I don’t spend an entire week on a week’s worth of lesson plans. Almost every school district I can think of require some sort of lessons plans, whether they ask they be turned in or they are spot checked by administrators. It is your professional responsibility and even after 34 years, you would think I’d be on auto-pilot. Lessons plans keep me focused on my yearly goals for each grade level.

Meet Goals

Speaking of yearly goals, I start off each year either introducing or reviewing the Star Spangled Banner. The first few weeks of school are in a constant state of flux. New students register, classes are being leveled out. There wasn’t a year that went by where I had the exact same schedule at the end of the year as when I started. Classes are always being added to the schedule, especially after administrative budget conferences. For the first 4-6 weeks, I don’t write anything in pen. It just leads to heartache.  

I hit a monthly goal in each month starting with October. October lends itself beautifully to the concept of major/minor. November can be folk or Americana. December is usually reserved for holiday music or Winter Concerts. January can start your Instruments of the Orchestra instruction. This will take a while—it won’t be over in a month.

I usually wait until February to introduce voice classifications/choral because they have already been exposed to the concept of the instruments of the orchestra by this time. March and April are a little dicey because there is standardized testing. I stick with music genres and world music during this time—something I can do completely in one lesson. May is Spring Concert and graduation time. I know I left out Marching Band season, Solo & Ensemble, and many other music commitments I don’t have in my K-8 setting. You’re smart people—fill them in!




Communication Is Key

I make it a point to speak to the others in my department during the first week of school. We agree on a Winter and Spring concert date. We also agree on dress rehearsal dates. I then rush an email off to my principal (or your activities director) to secure those dates NOW before anyone else has had a chance to sip the coffee. In addition to securing the dates, you have something to constantly give your students to look forward to or a goal to attain.

In my elementary setting, I see classes for one hour, once a week. That gives me approximately 12 good hours of optimum instruction (as long as the student isn’t absent) before our Winter concert. Yes—that’s what it boils down to—12 hours. Not, “Oh, we have 4 months.” In music time, it’s just 12 hours. I pick my pieces before Labor Day and start teaching them right after Labor Day.

I am a huge proponent of being able to relax the day before a concert. I’m not the one who is still correcting notes or pronunciation or choreography. My students deserve the day to relax even more than I do. They’ll be jittery enough before the concert.

Plan your concerts well in advance. Line up your volunteer army. Give them tasks—they sincerely want to help! I always think it’s a good idea to run major decisions by my administrators. This way, they are not blind-sided if a parent calls asking about something. Always include the office staff, cafeteria (if that’s where it’s held), and custodial staff on communications. Parents call the office first to ask when tickets are being sold, what their kids need to wear, etc.  A little communication goes a lon g way.




I don’t have all the answers. What I have is experience. I learn something new each year and have the ability to be flexible enough to incorporate it into my new strategy. Have an amazing Plan A. Have an equally good Plan B. If you’re stuck, ask for help. Chances are, someone has been through it before.  

Here’s wishing everyone a fantastic opening of school 2016!


About the author:

Audrey Carballo

This fall, Audrey Carballo, a 35-year NAfME member, will begin her 35th 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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