"They Like the Old Teacher Better" Syndrome

Your first year is often the hardest, and following a band director the community liked can be even harder. Because what you’re doing isn’t the way it was done before, getting respect from your students can be difficult. Parents may make comments about how you are doing things differently from “the other director”.  And the school board may expect you to maintain the same level, or make things better right away, without any bumps.

Don’t be so hard on yourself.  You can do everything exactly the same as, or better than, your predecessor, and you’ll still experience “They Like the Old Teacher Better” syndrome.  You just have to be you.  Avoid saying anything that sounds negative about the old director. Band kids are extremely loyal. It’s hard for them to swear allegiance to the next person. Some will use you as an excuse not to work harder. Others will spread rumors and vigorously defend the old director no matter what.

Kids can sense when you’re second-guessing yourself. Remember that your way is every bit as valid as the old director’s. Run your program, and work towards where you want to be. Measure success not by numbers, but by quality and long term growth. Make small changes, evaluate your results, and then keep what works and trash what doesn’t.

You have to persist.  As more students have only you as their director, you’ll make progress. Eventually, it will be your program. As MENC member Daniel McConnell said, “It is a very challenging situation, and I had to ‘do the time’. The nice thing was I really pulled the younger students into what I was trying to accomplish, and we continually built from there. It wasn’t easy, but the program is now mine and the students listen and trust me. The biggest thing I said and still say was: I will never ask you to do anything I wouldn’t do myself.”
Tips collected from the MENC Forums. Discuss this article on the Band Forum.
Coming in two weeks: Managing the Misbehavior Jungle

— Paul Fergus, October 28, 2008, © MENC: The National Association for Music Education (www.menc.org)