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Advice For First Year Teachers
from Music Ed Listserv 

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Here are my suggestions:

  1. Make friends with your custodian(s) and always let them know how much you appreciate what they do for you.
  2. Show an interest in all aspects of the school in which you're working.
  3. The teacher's lounge can be a blessing or a curse. . .learn the difference.
  4. Be firm, but fair with your students. If you're in high school, don't try to be a pal. Your students already have enough of those. Be their advocate as well as their teacher.
  5. Accept that you will make mistakes during your first year, and make an effort to learn from them.
  6. Surround yourself with other teachers who still have an enthusiasm for the job. Avoid those who have nothing positive to contribute.
  7. If you have a problem you need to talk to an administrator about, try to have a solution ready. That way, you will be seen as a problem solver rather than a whiner.
  8. Try not to make your first parent contact a negative one. Anytime you have to call home about a problem, try to make another call at the same time to the home of a student who's doing well. You might even try making a postive call every other day to the home of a student who deserves a pat on the back.
  9. Try to be good to yourself at least once a week, so that you'll maintain your sense of humor and your equilibrium! Always keep in mind why you wanted to teach in the first place!     Connie McKoy

There is one additional suggestion that comes to mind for teachers who will have performing groups: find out what those performance dates are and how they fit into the global school schedule. You must structure your rehearsals around "picture days" "school-wide testing" and other activities. Also, you must book your performance space, transportation arrangements, and other logistics for the whole year ASAP - don't depend upon your predecessor to have done it before resigning. Get to the school's "master calendar" ASAP so that your concerts, shows, PTA meetings, etc., are all scheduled for you, your students, and the school.

Along with that, of course, it is a good idea to publish and distribute all these dates, along with any extra rehearsal attendance expectations.

In fact, its a good idea to publish a master plan for students and parents; a document that lists performance dates, attendance and discipline policies (be sure, first, that your policies are in line with and are supported fully by your administration and school board) grading system, and all other information you would expect students and parents to know and support. Secondary teachers: this should even include guidelines for your "Boosters Club" - remember YOU decide the scope of their activities, not the other way around.


I think one of the most frustrating things that a music teacher goes through is dealing with students who ask to be excused from concerts and (especially!) rehearsals. For anyone else who grinds their teeth over dealing with this issue, allow me to pass on something that I've done since my 2nd year of teaching, and it has gone a long way to reducing the problem (I do this mostly with my Junior High Band, grades 7-9):

At the beginning of the school year, I give out a little "handbook" for the year, in which I establish my goals and expectations. I include in this handbook a list of "rules", things that I will insist upon, including attendance, practice, etc. (All the typical areas!) As part of the attendance rule I state "No student will be excused from a rehearsal without a letter from the parent AT LEAST 24 HOURS BEFORE the rehearsal." (I get the principal of the school to put his signature beside this rule!) In other words, the student must be organized enough to have the parent write a letter excusing Sally from rehearsal at least a day in advance. I institute this rule because my experience has been that most students do things on the spur of the moment, and it is not fair to others in the ensemble (or to you, the director) to have such a "haphazard" approach to rehearsals. I have discovered that most Junior High students do not have the sense of personal organization required to get a letter in advance. If the student comes up to me with a letter _on the day of_ a rehearsal, excusing him from the rehearsal, I tell him that I cannot excuse him, because he did not give me the appropriate advance notice. If they cause a fuss, I show him the rule, and ask him "Am I being fair?" Almost *always* they will grudgingly say "yes". I think that it is important to demonstrate to students in this way that their presence is important in the rehearsal. It is also important that *they* see how important the ensemble, the rehearsal, and the group is to you the director.

Nothing is foolproof, but this has sure gone a long way to solving the dilemma of students who constantly excuse themselves from rehearsals.

Gary Ewer
St. Patrick's High School
Halifax, Nova Scotia
voice: (902)421-6700 (wk)


  1. Do make a syllabus for each class. It provides a plan of instruction and also protects the teacher from accusations of failure to plan or to notify students and parents
  2. Don't over-program. Too much music, too many concerts, too many sporting events, too many field trips all contribute to increased exposure to liability, increased burn-out by students, parents, and teachers, and increased expense. Teaching well doesn't mean running yourself silly (activity does not equal productivity!);
  3. Do study worthy music. Repertoire should comport with a curricular plan (study of a certain composer, period, musical form, etc.) rather than with non-musical pressures. It informs the syllabus (mentioned above), strengthens the rationale of the instructional paradigm, and nurtures the teacher.
  4. Do communicate your plans and your triumphs with your "significant others." This means with parents, students, colleagues, superiors, and the public. Much of what we do remains in the shadows unless we cast a little light.

I hope this is helpful. These are offered in no particular order of significance. It is, as you put it, off the top of my head. V Good luck. Teach well! 

From: (John W. Richmond (MUSIC)


This would be my advice to any new teacher: 

  1. Realize that your education is just beginning. No education department can possibly prepare you for everything you'll face.
  2. Talk to your predecessor. Make up a big list of questions in advance. Ask what materials they used, how the class was organized & run, how disciplinary situations are handled, why they're leaving, etc. The more you can learn ahead of time, the better, because that's your starting point.
  3. Don't make changes too quickly. Kids need consistency. Give them something familiar to work with until they're used to you and your way of doing things.
  4. Find a mentor. Join your professional organizations, talk to other teachers, get input from someone who's been there. It helps to have someone look over your shoulder occasionally.
  5. Never take things personally. Innappropriate behavior from kids is usually aimed at "THE TEACHER" and not at "THE PERSON." You'll understand that better the first time your kids see you doing something unexpected, like shopping for groceries.

Milt Irvin

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