Surviving as a First Year Band Director
Being a first year band director comes with a plethora of emotions. These emotions are usually both good and bad. First year teachers (or teachers in their first year at a new school) typically have feelings of being excited, nervous, anxious, overwhelmed, and even scared. Being a music educator is a great and rewarding career, but there are many times that it can, and will, be challenging. I believe that almost all educators will say that the first few years are the most difficult. This is especially true for first year music educators as they may find that they are not as prepared for all that will be thrown at them as they thought they would be. There are many things that a first year band director can do that will make their first year smoother and help set them up for success.
Begin With The End In Mind
Think of all the things you would like to do with the music program. Having a plan before stepping into the classroom will give you time to review your goals and also help you develop multiple ways to achieve these goals. Having a specific list of goals will help ensure you are on the right track to being a success. Once you have created your list of goals, you should share the list with your students. Sharing the list will allow the students to know what you have in store for them for the year. This will also be a good time to include the students by asking them questions, such as:
- What can we do to achieve these goals?
- What will you do to help achieve this goal?
- Do you believe these goals are reachable?
These simple questions will get the students thinking and also planning on how to achieve all the listed goals the director has set.
Get to Know Your Colleagues
It is very common for music teachers to stay in their space and not mingle with other teachers. Getting to know your colleagues can be done by speaking to other faculty members while walking through the halls, attending all faculty meetings, and attending staff social events hosted by the school. Having a relationship with your colleagues will allow you to develop a strong support group. This support group can help answer questions you might have as a new educator and help make the transition to the new school easier. These colleagues will also be there to give support especially during the challenging times.
Return Emails and Phones Calls
When returning emails and phone calls, especially to parents, it is important to be positive and also be very open-minded. It is important to let parents/guardians know when their child is acting up in class, but those parents/guardians would also like to know when their child has done something positive in class. Even if what the student has done is something as small as not talking as much that day in class, or they passed off their scales before anyone else, or they just played with a great sound today – take advantage of sharing these accomplishments with parents. Giving small rewards can be the stepping stone to pushing your students to becoming better students in all their classes. Also, as the school year gets going, emails and phone calls can pile up and it is important to respond within 24/48 hours. Even if your response is as simple as “Thank you for the email, I am unable to respond fully at the moment but I will do so in the next day.” This will just let the parents/guardians know you have acknowledged their email and will give a decent response. Also, you do not want to keep your administrators waiting for a response.
Manage Your Surroundings
Managing your surrounding will also help ensure success. This can be done by keeping a clean classroom and keeping your work area (your desk) organized. Organization is very important, especially for educators who hold valuable student information. When students see their band director is organized there is a good chance they will also be organized and be prepared for class each day. Staying organized can become difficult especially in the middle of the school year, but it is important to stay as organized as possible. Also, being organized show responsibility, and administrators want to work with teachers who will be responsible at all times.
Engage Your Students
It is easy to get caught up with lesson planning, starting class on time, preparing for meetings, preparing for upcoming performances, and trying to schedule personal time. It is important to remember your students are people, so it is ok to take a little time and talk to them. A simple hello might reveal information about the student that you were unaware of. It is essential to remember students deal with a lot of problems on a daily basis which can cause them to act out and not pay attention. If you know the student is having a bad day or is having issues at home, then you will understand why the student is not acting like themselves that day. This might also help you get help for the student from someone who works at the school dealing with emotional concerns. Engaging your students is very important and it will show them that you care about them and not just performing or winning competitions.
Being a band director means being busy all the time. This means that there is no time to make up plans while on the go. Plan out the week and keep notes for future things to do. Also, keep notes of things that worked, as well as things that did not go well. Keeping notes will allow the you to make proper adjustments in the future. Planning ahead can also reduce stress and it shows that you are once again responsible and very prepared. Students can tell when their band director is not prepared, and that can lead to students losing interest. Keeping students interested is very important, and if you are prepared it is much easier to do.
Have an Open Mind
No matter how many plans a band director makes, something will come up that will require you to have an open mind to make changes. For example, take suggestions from your students on music selections. If your band sees that you are giving them a chance to make a decision they will be more open to the performance. Often everything you have planned will work, but be prepared and open to make adjustments when needed. Having an open mind to make changes will reduce stress and give you peace of mind even though you may have had to make changes that may not have been planned.
Set Expectations Early
Letting your band know what you expect from the beginning is important. Once you have outlined your expectations, it is very important that you stay true to your expectations with every student and not bend. Staying true to your expectations can be tricky. As problems and issues develop, especially with the top students in the class, it is important to not bend, as bending on your expectations can make other students believe you are showing favoritism. Showing favoritism is a very bad thing and it is one of the fastest ways for a band director to lose respect. Staying firm in your expectations will gain more respect and show that you are a person of you word.
Networking is very important in education, especially for a young teacher who is looking to advance in their career. Networking is all about making connections and building relationships that can be beneficial to both parties. Get to know other band directors who are in your area. Making yourself known will open up doors for more opportunities in your field and can further your career. Many people recommend people for jobs that they like, so it is important to make yourself known to as many people as possible to keep your foot in the door when trying to advance. Education changes just like technology, and as an educator it is important to make sure you are keeping up to date with all the newest changes. Having the right network of people to assist you will ensure you are always kept in the loop.
Being a band director takes a lot of time and energy. Being an educator is something that many people believe they can do, but they just don’t understand how hard it really is. These nine items listed are not the only way to help ensure that your first year as a director will be successful, but remembering these items makes a good starting point. It takes years to be a great educator, but it is possible by working hard. Mistakes will be made, but the best band directors learn from their mistakes and figure out how to prevent themselves from making those mistakes again.
Patrick Moore is an active percussion performer, educator, arranger, adjudicator, and clinician. He is a versatile percussionist with experience in many areas of percussion. Patrick is an education endorser of Vic Firth Sticks and Mallets, and Majestic percussion. Professor Moore is a published author having works published with Alfred Publishing Company and Kendor Music. He has presented clinics at numerous music education conferences in the United States as well in Guatemala. Currently, Moore is the Director of Bands at South Carolina State University in Orangeburg, South Carolina. He received his Bachelor of Music from the University of Arkansas, Masters from Texas Tech and is also pursuing his Ed.D from Abilene Christian University
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