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Sunday, March 11, 2018

Advice for New Teachers!

Recruiting is finished and numbers for next year have come in.  Looks like my program is still growing...over 330 students signed up for orchestra next year at my school.  That's over 25% of our student population enrolled in my program.  It feels pretty good to spread the gift of music to so many students.  How did I get so lucky to be able to do this?   I'm at a point where I need help with managing my large program, so another teacher will be hired to teach a few orchestra classes.  This is my advice for that teacher, as well as any new teacher out there...

Program Philosophy

What are your beliefs and desires for your program?  Here are my thoughts: 

The plight of many people in the world is complacency and mediocrity.  I believe in inspiring students to rise above the tendency to do only minimum effort.  All students have greatness in them and all can achieve success.  It’s only a matter of learning how to work for it and push to overcome obstacles.  We learn about our true potential as we turn challenges into strengths through diligent work and effort.  I want students to discover they are amazing and can truly accomplish anything.  Greatness is in reach and we reach for it daily.  When students think they can’t…I show them they can.  They will rise to the challenge.  I will never give up on a student.

Book Recommendation:  Nurtured By Love by Shinichi Suzuki, Ability Development from Birth to Age 0, by Shinichi Suzuki


Students don’t know how to practice.  They don’t realize that they must practice small sections correctly over and over.  When in class, I do my best to model how to properly practice and teach students how to practice at home.  Of course I would like students to practice.  I remind them, encourage them, and even sometimes incentivize them.  We have playing tests and practice assignments.  Even so, I NEVER assume students are going to get the work done at home.  Sometimes there are struggles at home we can’t even comprehend.  I never blame students for poor playing and berate them for not practicing enough.  In my program, practicing is simply an expectation tracked through weekly assignments.  Even if I required practice cards or had more frequent tests, I don’t believe students would practice more.  I make sure our rehearsals are effective.  That is our practice session.  I insist students master music in class.  It is my job to help them learn and achieve success while they are with me. 

Book Recommendation:  The Little Book of Talent, by Daniel Coyle


We work hard and the pacing is quick.  I try to involve all students all the time.  There is a need to hear individual sections at times, but with some quick thinking, all students can be always working and practicing – even if it’s just fingering notes, air-bowing rhythms, or writing counting.  During rehearsal, I am demanding and authoritative without demeaning students. They must feel it is ok to make a mistake  - everyone will make mistakes every day and our room is a safe place for mistakes.  But in our quest to overcome mediocrity, we work to fix all errors and reach the highest possible level of performance.  If it’s not right, we do it again.  Students can master anything with proper teaching and patience.   Make every minute of rehearsal valuable.

Tips for effective rehearsals:

·       Introduce new skills AWAY from the music.  Warm-up time is perfect to try new rhythms and master new note patterns and fingerings.

·         Drill very small sections.  Let all students learn the hard parts from different sections by writing notes on board or by making practice parts.  If students can’t seem to master something, keep breaking it down into smaller and smaller skills until it is manageable.  If students aren’t getting it within a couple minutes, switch to different approach.

·         Reinforce difficult passages daily.  It can take weeks of consistent practice before a measure stays correct all the time.  Keep reviewing until students can play correctly on their FIRST try….and even then keep reviewing.  Do everything you did at the last rehearsal while gradually adding new skills and content.

·         Be creative and think outside the box.  Don’t use an excuse like “I’m not a creative person.”    Try new ideas and always be learning.  I love to keep students guessing what will happen next in my classroom. 

Book Recommendation:  Teach Like A Pirate by Dave Burgess

Classroom Management

Many new teachers worry about classroom management.  Before my first teaching job, I remember having dreams about attempting to teach a class and the students wouldn’t listen and things were in complete chaos.  What a nightmare!  Don’t fear.  In a properly run classroom, there will rarely be a discipline problem in class.  Busy students don’t have time to act out.  A teacher must be authoritative.  Don’t be afraid to tell students what to do.  Learn to speak loudly.  You can have fun and should feel free to be yourself, but there must be a way to quickly bring students back to focus.
Students must know your expectations through well established routines and procedures.  These routines must be practiced every day.  Once a teacher becomes lax, students will in turn become lax about following procedures.  It’s perfectly fine to remind students about procedures every day. 

Important procedures:  How to enter the classroom, what to do when they enter, how to get out supplies, where to put their things, how to handle instruments, putting music in order on stands, completing bellwork, how to hand in assignments, how to get tuned, how to act during rehearsals, what to do when not playing, what to do if they can’t find their music, what to do when they don’t have an instrument, what to do if they have a problem with their instrument during class, how/when to put instruments away, what to do before the bell rings, how to leave the classroom.

One thing that helps with classroom management is to keep pacing quick and efficient.  Slow pacing creates classroom management problems and class morale will suffer.  Be aware of how long it takes to tune…how long takes to do transitions…how long to explain concepts.  It’s important to keep instructions quick and efficient. 

Students will stay on task better when you walk the room.  Learn to teach while moving about the room.  Switch student seats frequently (every 2 weeks).  Be aware of student body language throughout your lessons.  If students are getting tired or frustrated it is time to switch to a new idea or a different part of the music.   Sometimes, students need an analogy or a story to inspire them to keep working.  Sometimes they need a story just for a 1 min. break to help them refocus.

Remember, EVERYTHING is fixable and changeable.  If you don't like how your class is going, change it.  Make it how you want it. 

Book recommendation:  Whole Brain Teaching for Challenging Kids by Chris Biffle

What do students really want? 

Several weeks ago I interviewed some students from another program.  They spoke of frustration with their music class because of the trouble kids who would not take the class seriously.  They wanted their group to be the best.  They wanted the teacher to take control and insist on greatness.  Students want order.  They want ‘trouble’ students to be dealt with so that rehearsals can be effective.  They want to work hard and sound great.  All students want to succeed – that is why they are with you.  They want to be their best and will follow you as you show them how. 

How to get students to work hard.

I believe students want to work hard, but it is much easier to get students to work if you have fun!  Many times hard work can be disguised into a game.  Much of our rehearsal time involves repetitions – repeating short musical ideas over and over correctly.  Try to create fun ways to add variety to the repetitions.  Use props to add interest and create memorable ideas to help students retain skills.  Fun and light-heartedness is good and sometimes needed to help them re-focus and overcome frustrations. 

How to inspire students.

Music is inspiring.  Overcoming challenges to achieve greatness is inspiring.  Help students recognize their greatness by pointing out how they improve throughout a day, a week, or a month.  For example, remind them how hard it was for them when first holding a bow the right way – and let them realize how easy it has become with consistent effort.  Students gain self-confidence as they recognize their progress.  They must be aware of progress to have any motivation to continue.  If a student does not feel like he/she is improving, they will quickly become frustrated and quit.  I like to use a weekly ‘Video of the Week’ to inspire students to work and love music.

Book Recommendation: Helping Students Motivate Themselves by Larry Ferlazzo. (I use the first couple of lessons at the start of the school year before we start working with instruments.

Selecting music

Be very careful when choosing music.  It needs to be challenging, but attainable.  There should be some pieces that students can learn quickly, and some that might take more time.  I try really hard to never cut a piece of music after passing it out to students.  It is demoralizing to take music away from a student – it makes them feel like they have failed.  Whatever you choose, make sure it sounds great.  Do all in your power to help students learn the music well and feel successful. 

How to connect with students.

Students need to get to know you.  It is important that you are genuine and real.  It’s ok to make mistakes and acknowledge your mistakes.  It’s ok to show your sense of humor and laugh with your students.  If you are authentic and show an interest in your students, they will develop a connection with you as a teacher.  Don’t try to teach like someone else.  Be true to you and find your style.  Students love stories – learn how to tell stories with powerful delivery.  Use stories in your classroom every day.

Book Recommendation:  The Naked Presenter by Garr Reynolds. This book is about doing presentations, but it has so many gems for teachers.  After all…we are presenters.

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