“You don’t know what you don’t know” is a saying that accurately describes the first years of teaching. Truth is, some of us had no clue what we were getting into. With such a full schedule in college, it makes it nearly impossible to get adequate experience leading a band, and let’s face it —several things are bound to be left out! Let’s discuss a few strategies that will help spark ideas in your first few years of teaching.
Understanding the Climate and Culture
Do Your Research! In English class, we are always taught to know our audience before we write a speech, and the same goes for teaching! Although we will never be 100% prepared for stepping into a new role, we must do our best to never step in blindly. Do your research and don’t be afraid to talk to alumni, contact previous employees, or peruse social media pages pertaining to the district and program to get a better understanding of the situation.
Climate & Culture
Think of climate as the current perception of the program and culture as the general personality. Both of these will help you understand where the program has been versus where it is heading. Consider a few of these questions:
- Is band a prioritized extra-curricular or simply a pastime activity?
- What is the climate of the band program in its current state?
- Are students steadily pushing forward, or are they losing steam?
- Has the program been successful the past several years, or is it in the rebuilding stage?
- What has been the attitude of the students towards their program?
Use these simple questions to help shape your approach to a new job!
Never go into a school expecting it to be like your last. We have to adapt our expectations to the environment, or we run the risk of burning out the students and ourselves.
Another integral aspect of establishing an understanding of these two concepts is to be fully aware of demographics. As educators, I have no doubt that we will cater to every student despite socioeconomic and demographic backgrounds, but we MUST acknowledge that these statistics help facilitate stronger relationships with faculty, parents, and students. Always strive to make students feel seen.
Remember, you aren’t just taking a job as a band director. You are becoming a very important person in the community! You will be the face they see for competitions, parades, concerts, and other events. Is this a place that you can see yourself having something to give as well as the community and district having something that you can take away?
Time & Classroom Management
You cannot manage a room full of students if you are not in control of the environment. And if you are not in control of the environment, you will surely be unable to manage the time consumption in your classroom. A great start with time management is having policies and procedures in place. This needs to be done on the FIRST day with clear expectations. Train students on how to enter the classroom. Do you want your students walking in quietly? Do you want them to warm up on their own? If so, teach them how to do this. Spend the first days working on the 3 R’s: relationships, routines, and resources, to build a better environment before diving into instruction. It will pay off in the long run.
Have a daily agenda listed in the classroom (whiteboard, projector, tv). This maximizes instruction time and lets the students know what is being done for the day. Having an agenda on the board demonstrates that you are organized, which further reinforces the expectations you have for your students to be organized in the classroom. *Bonus – have a goal projected or written on the board as well!
Transitions should happen quickly and smoothly. Do not allow students the opportunity to misbehave. Quick transitions allow for less interruptions. Consider doing a countdown from one thing to another, and have students freeze when something is being completed. Also, make sure you know what you are transitioning to beforehand.
Have a plan in place before the class starts. Winging rehearsal leads to wasted time. Plan out your rehearsal and stick to the plan. Reflect at the end of every class on what went well and what needs to be changed. Use this to help build future plans. Map out and build lesson plans around foreseen potential problem areas, so you are proactively avoiding issues in rehearsal.
Have a balance between talking and playing. Put yourself in your own rehearsal. How much time do you want to spend playing versus listening to the director talk? Yes, higher-level thinking questions and assessments need to happen; however, find a balance.
Be fair and consistent. Follow through with what you say. Kids are smart! They will figure out when you are giving empty commands such as “practice this tonight, and I’ll follow up on it tomorrow.” If you don’t follow up, they’ll figure you out and stop doing what you ask of them!
Communal ties are some of the strongest ones we can make. Getting your students in the community is important to making lasting impressions about your program. Some examples can be attending parades, football games, retirement/assisted living homes, etc. The community might not remember when the band played the fight song after a touchdown, but they’ll remember when they came to a nursing home and played on Veteran’s Day.
Have a good communication with faculty and staff. Stay on the good side, especially with custodians, counselors, and secretaries. Custodians are tasked with many daily duties; therefore, students should be held accountable for keeping the band hall clean. Giving shirts to custodians, secretaries, clerks, or any faculty or staff makes them feel appreciated. Send band calendar and events to all staff so they can attend and stay in the know. Know how to communicate with staff in person and through email.
Build a relationship with your parents and guardians. Over-communicating is better than not communicating. Using resources like Band App, Remind 101, or other district communicating platforms is a great tool to implement. Spend the extra time translating letters if needed to fit the needs of your demographics. Another great way to build relationships with your parents/guardians is through Open House/Meet the Teacher or band events.
Fostering positive relationships with your students. Show up to games, non-band events, other concerts, festivals, etc. If time commitment is an issue, wishing students good luck in other events or asking them how it went goes a long way!
Taking the time to connect on a personal level can help you gain mutual respect amongst staff and look past perceived eccentricities in others.
Understand the team’s vision and goal. Identify your team’s vision and make sure yours aligns with it. It is important that you fit in and feel comfortable with the staff. Even the best programs have disagreements here and there, but a positive work environment is key to a successful program.
Know your strengths and weaknesses. Don’t be afraid to speak up about how you feel to your coworkers. You’re the new kid in town, but you bring value as well, and your opinion matters.
It is essential to remember that YOU matter and must keep yourself charged to impact the students positively. Below are a few tips that can help with social and emotional awareness:
- Have a mentor you can trust and connect with other band directors
- Keep a healthy balance of social and work-life
- Make the time to do things you like during the weekdays and holidays
- Stay active and healthy
- GO HOME! Whatever it is, It will be there when you get back
Jaylon Stewart is in his fourth year of teaching and serves as the Head Junior High Band Director at Chapel Hill Junior High, Chapel Hill ISD. Jaylon holds an Associate degree in Music from Tyler Junior College, a Bachelor’s Degree in Instrumental Music Education, and a Master’s Degree in Educational Administration from The University of Texas at Tyler. Jaylon was recently named as the 2021-2022 District Teacher of the Year for Chapel Hill ISD. Jaylon also serves as the East Representative for Young Band Directors of Texas. He is also a member of the Texas Music Educators Association, Texas Bandmasters Association, Association of Texas Small School Bands, and National Military Marching Band.
Daniel Gonzalez is in his fourth year of teaching and serves as the Assistant Band Director at Tyler High School-Tyler ISD. Prior to his appointment at Tyler High, Daniel served as the Assistant Band Director/ Orchestra Director at Boulter-Tyler ISD for three years. Daniel holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Instrumental Music Education from the University of Texas at Tyler, is a member of Young Band Directors of Texas, Texas Music Educators Association, and Texas Bandmasters Association.
Andrea Harris-Rockwell is in her second year of teaching and serves as the Beginner Band Coordinator and Assistant Junior High Band Director at Van ISD. She earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Instrumental Music Education with a Minor in Education from The University of Texas at Tyler. Andrea is a member of Young Band Directors of Texas, Texas Music Educators Association, Women Band Directors International, Texas Bandmasters Association, and Association of Texas Small School Bands.
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