Top 10 Tips for First Year Directors, Part 1

“I think the most important thing for teachers to remember is to put the student first. Teaching music, whether instrumental or choral, must be about bringing new experiences to the student. When I start making my program about me, I will know it is time for me to move on.” Kriston Feldpausch, NAfME Choral Mentor

1. Have command of your computer, including your Internet browser, Microsoft Office Suite, and Finale/Sibelius. Whether you are a Mac or a PC person, a working knowledge of your computer is vital. You’ll likely have to arrange music and create sight-reading examples, concert programs, letters to parents, theory worksheets, sign-up sheets, and more.  For resources, see:

Music Tech Teacher

The Technology Institute for Music Educators (TI:ME)

2. Develop a list of 10 -12 working pieces for each grade level you’ll teach. That way, no matter what the music library looks like, your first music order is ready when you arrive. This list will get you through the first semester and allow you to get your feet wet with your students before ordering more music.

3. Find a music mentor. Choose a director that you can call on for suggestions. Develop that contact in college through the school board, NAfME, local state organization, student teaching, or on your own. The art teacher assigned to you just won’t be able to help. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Everyone was new at this once. We don’t expect you to know it all, so ask!

4. Prepare lesson plans in advance. Have your first two weeks’ lesson plans completed before you graduate. Try to anticipate every situation you could face, including different levels of experience, because you don’t know where you’ll end up or what your students will already know. Having these plans will ease the stress of your first two weeks, and when your administration asks for lesson plans at the end of the first week/month/term, you’ll be ready.

Visit NAfME My Music Class Lesson Plans.

5. Plan your entire year. Sit down with some of your friends and have a planning session about what the perfect year as a director would be like. Would you take trips? How many concerts will you have? Will you go to any festivals? How are you going to teach sight-reading? Answer as many questions as you possibly can. Use a calendar to fill in dates and figure out exactly how you want to teach your year. Be prepared to modify your calendar to fit your new position. Your first year probably will not go exactly as you planned it, but it won’t be as daunting if you plan ahead.

Originally titled: “The Top 10 Things Every First Year Choral Director Needs to Know” and appearing in the March 2008 Collegiate Newslink; by Kriston Feldpausch, director of choral activities, and Steve Raybould, director of band activities, Powhatan Junior High School, Powhatan, Virginia.

Sue Rarus, September 8, 2011, © National Association for Music Education