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3 Tips For New Music Teachers on the First Day of School

Updated: Jul 27, 2022

Whether you're starting your first music position (congrats!) or transitioning to a new job, these 3 tips for new elementary music teachers are key to helping start the year off strong. It's important to set a tone, begin building relationships, and get kids started on the right foot. Let me break down some of these potentially overwhelming ideas so you feel confident and prepared on day one.

If you're transitioning to a new job, I can relate.

After 6 years of experience in a small K-8 school, I transitioned to my second job as a K-4 school with a different population and larger class sizes. Throw in the fact that we were all masked and I was traveling room to room with a backpack and you can probably imagine how I felt... like I had never done this before!

Which, in a way, I hadn't. But I had managed classrooms before, developed relationships with kids I'd never met before, and grown confident in my lesson planning and implementation. It took time to get to that point, but these strategies helped me along the way, and I know they'll help you, too!

P.S. Did you know I have a YouTube channel where I do music teacher toolbox chats about topics like this? If you're not connected with me there, make sure you subscribe to learn more meaningful elementary music strategies!

#1 - Set your tone from day one

Confession: I made a BIG mistake my first year. I made the mistake of spending the first day of my first classes at my first job talking about my rules and a long list of consequences (that in retrospect I was not prepared to enforce). I had read a book telling me to do that, and I thought that doing so would make me, a mere specialist, seem more official.

While rules and procedures are crucial to running a classroom, I got off on the wrong foot by putting that over starting to form relationships and setting the tone I really wanted.

Today, I'd say my tone is a combination of calm, kind, firm, and silly- kind of like Robin Williams mixed with Mary Poppins. I am quick to shut down inappropriate behavior and am also calm as I wait for or help students to self-regulate.

Whatever your tone is, show that to your students!

If you like jokes, dish out a few. If you are calm and patient, take kids off guard by not responding to antics (which can certainly happen with new teachers, so be on the lookout!). If you are enthusiastic but firm, hold your boundaries when students beg you for turns or one more game when that is just not possible.

Remember, your tone is not just one adjective. You can be calm and silly. Firm and enthusiastic. Patient and no-nonsense. Your tone is who you are combined with what you want to exude in order to build a positive culture in your classroom.

But from day one, show the kids who you are. Share your stories, ask them questions, hold your boundaries, and model behavior you want. Set your expectations so your students can begin to practice them. Kids will believe you the first time you show them what you're made of.

P.S. Want more advice about behavior management in elementary music? I've got a helpful YouTube video that has a bunch of tips!

#2 - Learn your students' names ASAP

It is ten times easier to build relationships with kids when you know who they are. Greeting someone by name is validating and friendly, and it makes you feel closer with someone. Good relationships lead to positive classroom culture and mutual respect, so get those names under your belt.

I've never been in the situation of having hundreds and hundreds of students, but I can imagine even this simple-sounding task being really tough for some teachers. If you have access to student photos on your digital gradebook, that's a good place to start once class is over. Check out old yearbooks, too.

But during class, play some name games. I play one where I play a rhythm on my drum, and on every beat one, I call a name and that student sits down. Once kids get the hang of it, I let them be the name callers- and that's good practice for me, too. It's not really a game, but even my fourth graders ask to play it!

#3 - Make sure kids leave your room feeling successful

On my first day in my first job with my first class, I think my 8th graders probably were rolling their eyes. I don't recall what we did besides taking care of business. That's a sign right there.

But if you have a fun activity planned, even if it's tangentially musical, get excited about it. Be enthusiastic! Give kids compliments and praise! Make sure every kid has a role. Homogenous activities like drumming or dancing, where everyone is doing the same thing, are good for this.

You could even try a This or That to get to know kids' musical tastes- try my free one here! Enthusiasm can be contagious, and being part of a team is a great feeling.

As they get ready to leave the room, reiterate what they did and what you're proud of. It can be a musical skill, a particular dance move, or responding to your quiet signal. You want them thinking "We did it!" when they leave.

And then next time they enter your room, reference how great the last class was and express your expectation of living up to that same standard. Kids want to rise to challenges, and setting them up for success by giving them that high on the first day is a great way to begin your year.

The best part of these three tips?

You can do these simultaneously! A fun name game hits all of them. Even hitting two at a time is good. An activity that lets you show patience, a song that demonstrates your quiet signal... music teachers have limited time with kids as it is, so this is doubly smart because it saves you time while building that strong classroom culture.

Any other tips you'd recommend to new teachers? Leave them in the comments below!

And if the idea of specific music teacher toolbox strategies and resources is something that excites you, you’d get a lot out of joining the ADM community. In my email newsletters, I help educators like you teach meaningfully and joyfully in your classrooms.

Happy music-making!

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