Tips for New Music Teachers


The First Year: Practical Advice for Surviving and Thriving in Your First Music Classroom


In pages 110-116 of “The First Year: Practical Advice for Surviving and Thriving in Your First Music Classroom,” author Sara Francis offers the following advice to new teachers:


Don’t be surprised if you encounter some resistance from students when arriving as the new teacher. Unlike many other subject areas, students in music will often have the same teacher for many years so the transition may not always be an easy one for them. To help with this meet or talk on the phone with the outgoing teacher to ask questions about budget, instrument rental and procedures, music library, daily routines, “rules”, traditions and special events. Combine these with your own ideas. Discuss policies with your students. 


Feel free to use your predecessor’s way of dealing with things if you feel it is appropriate. Find experienced teachers to serve as mentors. Build relationships with school administrators, meet with your principal to discuss goals for yourself and your students, take time to get to know your fellow colleagues, continue relationships with college professors and other mentors. 


Ask colleagues if you may borrow lesson plans, books etc… for ideas you might use. Other sources for ideas to try can be taken from professional journals and newsletters, web sites. Keep lines of communication open with students and parents through newsletters, progress reports etc… Always phone parents if there is a major discipline problem with their child in your classroom. 


Don’t be afraid to ask your students’ parents to help out when needed. Communicate clearly to your students what your long and short term goals are for them. Have behavioral rules decided on and displayed prominently in your classroom for the beginning of the year. Be clear about what your expectations and the ramifications for not meeting those expectations will be. 


Devise a system for use in modifying student behavior and clearly state what your expectations are and what the system will be for those not following rules. 





Great Tips from Seasoned Music Educators for New Teachers:

  • Decide who your band or instrument dealer will be
  • Take inventory of all equipment, music and facilities
  • Find out what your budget allotments are
  • Make sure all performances are included on the school’s master calendar
  • Devise a handbook containing all appropriate topics
  • Have a pre-start of school “party” for students to get to meet
  • Obtain a list of students and their instruments by grade level
  • If marching band is included in your duties, plan to include that in your summer activities
  • Find out from others who student leaders are and invite them to meet with you and help organize the classroom and materials (e.g. music, instruments etc…)
  • Immediately begin selecting a variety of works to use with the students at the beginning of the school year
  • Make copies of the music and lesson plans for introducing the new pieces
  • Administrative wise, work out concert dates and make a date sheet to distribute at the beginning of the semester
  • Plan your curriculum – e.g. will you have marching band camp in addition to your regular semester classes?
  • Learn students names as soon as possible. To assist with this meet with students individually or in small groups for lessons or assignments
  • Decide if you want students in classroom before or after school or during the lunch hour to practice. Provide passes so it doesn’t become a social thing
  • Early on initiate music checks to ensure that students always bring their music to class
  • Keep notes about what works and what doesn’t for future reference
  • Use a seating chart to help remember names
  • Regularly check instruments for repairs




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Digital Vision./Photodisc/Thinkstock


The ABC’s for First Year Teachers:

  • Admit your mistakes — and learn from them
  • Be firm but flexible
  • Communicate with parents
  • Develop a homework policy — and stick to it
  • Empower your students; don’t just lecture to them
  • Find time to attend after-school events
  • Get to know all the teachers in your school and make friends with the cooks, custodians, aides, and secretaries
  • Have the courage to try something else if what you’re doing isn’t working
  • Institute a clear discipline policy — and enforce it consistently
  • Just listen — both to what the kids are saying and to what they’re not saying
  • Keep a journal
  • Learn your school’s policies and procedures
  • Model desired attitudes and behavior
  • Non carborundum ignorami. (Don’t let students wear you down.)
  • Overplan
  • Prepare interesting lessons
  • Quit worrying and just do your best
  • Remember that you teach students first, then you teach whatever academic discipline you learned
  • Stay alert
  • Take pictures
  • Understand that the learning process involves everyone — teachers, students, colleagues, and parents — and get everyone involved
  • Volunteer to share projects and ideas, and don’t be afraid to ask others to share their ideas with you
  • Work within your limits
  • Xpect the unexpected — and plan for it!
  • Yell if you need support
  • Zero in on your strengths, not your weaknesses. (Remember — nobody’s perfect!)


NAfME Resources:



Article Sources:

The First Year: Practical Advice for Surviving and Thriving in Your First Music Classroom by Sara Francis, pp.110-116.

Pontiff, E. (Ed.) (2004). Spotlight on Transition to Teaching Music: Selected articles from state MEA journals. Music Educators National Conference Publication, Reston, VA.

Ready-Set-Go! By William G. Mack, pp.121-122.

Some Survival Tips for Beginning Teachers by Michael V. Smith, pp.124-126.

If I Knew Then What I Know Now by Joyce Spade, p.126.

Surviving As a New Music Educator: Surviving, Thriving…and Going back for Another Journey! By Jason Kriner, pp.129-133.

Preston, T. K. (2004). Teacher to Teacher: A Music Educator’s Survival Guide. Music Educators National Conference Publication, Reston, VA.

Robertson, C.B. (2003). Confessions of a First-Year Maestro: A Guide for Your First Year of Teaching. GIA Publications, Inc., Chicago, IL.

Starr, Linda. Advice for First-Year Teachers — From the ‘Sophomores’ Who Survived Last Year. Education World. 2002.


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Kristen Rencher. © 2015 National Association for Music Education (