The One* Thing Every New Music Teacher Should Know

The One* Thing Every New Music Teacher Should Know

*And a Few Other Considerations for First-Year Teachers

By NAfME Member Audrey Carballo


seize the day nautilus_shell_studios


According to Wikipedia, Tempus fugit is a Latin phrase, usually translated into English as “time flies.” The expression comes from Virgil‘s Georgics. The phrase is expressed as a proverb that means “time’s a-wasting.” Tempus fugit, however, is typically employed as an admonition against sloth and procrastination, much like carpe diemSeize the Day!


Pieces of the Puzzle

As I was thinking of the one pearl of wisdom I could give a new music teacher, I couldn’t decide between time management and organizational priorities. Tied for the number one spot, they both go hand-in-hand and are equally critical as stand-alone components.


puzzle AndreyPopov


For a new music teacher, there is no downtime. You hit the ground running, and you don’t stop until the last box is packed away in June. In addition to your expected teaching duties, you are frequently asked to provide entertainment or shows, often with little to no notice. These “little” extras (which are above and beyond your teaching contract) can mount up to a whole lotta work over the course of a school year.

Many new teachers find out they are employed within just a few days of the school year starting. This is where your organizational skills come into focus. You must bring order to chaos. There is a real threat of burnout in the first year simply because there is just too much to do and not enough hours in the day to do it all. What you don’t realize is: Not everything has to be done all before Labor Day! Yes—there are a few key pieces which must be put into place by certain dates but other than that, relax. Take a deep breath. Calm down. It will all get done. Just like a recipe, you gather all your ingredients—one by one—and add them in their own sequence. Try to add them all at once, and the dish is a failure.

Take your time. In this case, patience is your best friend. No need to feel anxious because your bulletin boards aren’t done the first day of school. You have other priorities.


Your Checklist

Larger schools may have more than one music teacher. In smaller populations, you might be the king of your castle. In either case, as a newbie, seek out the most veteran teachers in the school. Seek out your music supervisor or music manager in your district. Ask them what the first things they do are. I’ll bet they will tell you to make sure these things are in place:

  • Make sure you have a schedule of classes that includes room numbers, telephone extensions, and grade levels for each teacher’s name. If it’s a work in progress, try to get administration to nail it down as soon as possible. You are responsible for lesson plans for the classes on your schedule.
  • If you are on a cart, survey the area and do a quick inventory of what you think you’ll need for the first few weeks. CD/DVD player, portable keyboard, extension cords, a cart for upstairs and one for downstairs? How do you service those classes in portable classrooms? Are you going to travel between schools? Are you allowed to take materials from one school to another? Ask, Ask, ASK!!
  • If you’re lucky enough to have a room, ask the office if you can have some supplies, i.e., class set of pencils, paper, dry erase markers, erasers, etc. See if the computer in your room works. If anything isn’t functioning, notify the office to put in a work order.
  • Set up 2-3 weeks’ worth of plans for the first weeks of school. Getting to know you activities, basic music assessments, singing activities, band/chorus/orchestra auditions . . . I have a check-off lesson plan—makes my life so much simpler than having to write everything week after week.
  • Many schools have a very early back-to-school night. Not to worry. Be there to answer questions the parents have. What their child needs for the school year—a music folder, a recorder, their band or orchestra instrument with them, any after-school rehearsals. Have your contact information readily available in case they need to get in touch with you. Consider making very cheap business cards.


Organization and Time Management

Now, you’re organized. But wait! Don’t think that organization only happens once and never again. Organization is a marriage. It is a constant dance consisting of the necessary and the priorities. This is where time management comes into play.


time management solidcolours


One of the most important things I ever learned about time management was that time can be used, even in small increments. I used to think that if I had a large project to do, I needed to set aside a huge chunk of time to devote to it. WRONG! Every job can be broken down to smaller, more manageable pieces. I figured out I did not need three hours to do my lesson plans for the entire week. I needed 10-15 minutes here and there. I would do one grade level at a time, and before I knew it, they were done—in less time than I had thought they would take! Planning field trips, performances and such are extremely time-consuming and have so many different parts. Mobilize the parents who want to help. Figure out which planning parts they are able to help with. Delegate! There is no shame in allowing others to help us. We often manage in excess of 300, 400, and 500+ students. Why shouldn’t we allow ourselves the chance for some assistance?

Apps like Dropbox and other teacher-friendly cloud apps are invaluable. I can sit at a doctor’s appointment, waiting to be seen and be able to jot down my ideas for next week’s lessons. Hit save and BAM! Done! Instead of sitting there, reading a magazine from seven months ago, wasting my time—I could put that 20 minutes to good use. There are many other time management life-savers. Applications like Edmodo, TeacherWeb, or any other teacher sites that allow you to host your own materials are amazing.

You don’t have to keep reinventing the wheel. Don’t make more work for yourself. Try creating a check-off lesson plan for yourself. There are templates on the web as well. Start with one of those, and modify it to suit your needs. You will save yourself hours of writing. Host your project/homework assignments/rehearsal schedules on a teacher website.


*The One Thing You Should Know

The last, and most important thing I want to tell new teachers (and some of us veteran teachers) is take time for yourself.


music teacher FangXiaNuo


You are the driving force behind everything that happens in your classroom. Students, colleagues, parents, and administrators all look to you for your expertise and guidance. Most don’t have a clue as to how much work it takes to do what we do day after day, week after week and still find the time to produce superior bands, orchestras, choruses, and every class and other ensemble we create and nurture.

You are amazing! Take a moment to celebrate all that you do. Tempus fugit!


About the author:

Audrey Carballo

Audrey Carballo, a 35-year NAfME member, is in 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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