Here are a few things people forget to tell you about being a band director…
1 Someone has to set up and tear down all the chairs and stands. Oh – that’s you – the band director. (After a while you realize it’s alright to use your students for child labor of this type. It’s called leadership development.)
2 People will ask you, “So now that football season is over, what is the band doing for the rest of the year?” You silently scream in your head, “Are you kidding me? Now that football season is over I can actually teach my kids inside a building, in chairs, with stands and with new music!” But instead of saying all that out loud, you use it as an opportunity to advocate for music education, and teach the person about the many different things the band really does.
3 Students having an instrument in their mouth can be the best discipline. When students are playing, they aren’t talking. When they are playing they aren’t messing with their neighbor. When they are playing they are learning. So talk less, play more.
4 Percussionists are often the exception. (see above – they should NOT be sticking things in their mouths!) Yes, percussionists are different in many many ways. But if you keep them engaged they can be your favorite kids to deal with. A good percussion ensemble can be a life saver. Don’t call them drummers, call them percussionist and expect musicianship from them just like every other student.
5 The first day you hear your students play after summer break you’ll want to pull your hair out. At the end of the year you just can’t wait for the year to be over. The kids are done and so are you. The oldest kids are ready to move on to the next phase in their life. A band director looks forward to the next year with excitement and promise. And then you have your first rehearsal. Oh. My. Gosh. (It’s ok. It will get better quickly. It will be a great year. Just realize that not every child practices an hour a day during the summer and temper your expectations.)
6 You need to protect your hearing. A large number of band directors are suffering from hearing loss. Think of it like 50 years ago when no one thought sunscreen was necessary and a whole generation is paying the price. Use ear protection. Have your students use ear protection. Make it part of what you do.
7 You will become a good actor/actress. You may be having a crappy day, but you can’t let it show. Yes, you may have to discipline your 8th grade band, but when they walk out and your little beginner flutes walk in, you have to be able to put it aside and teach those beginners with a smile on your face. You may have had a horrible conversation with an administrator or colleague and 5 minutes later you have a pep-rally – and you have to be “pepped.” You have to be “on” when needed. You may have to start off by faking a good mood, but often your students will cheer you up, and help you really feel better. By the end of the class or pep rally you’ll really feel better. As a band director, you fake it till you make it.
8 Some people will assume you’d rather be a professional musician, touring the world. They may even go so far as to say, “Those who can, perform and those who can’t, teach.” Just remember that all those performers had teachers that allowed them to become performers. You choose this job. You choose it every day you walk in the room and give 100% to your students. You choose it every year you renew your contract. You choose it because it matters. Don’t be afraid to tell them you choose this job because you get to make a difference every day.
9 You must have a mentor. You must have a mentor. You must have a mentor.
10 The two best ways to really learn how to teach every instrument is by teaching beginners and by working with students one-on-one and/or in small sectionals weekly. Play along with the students. If you’re a tuba player teaching beginning flute, play with them every day. You may not be much better than them the first year, but the next year you will be. And ten years later you’ll be really glad you started when you did. Work with students one-on-one to learn more about their instruments. If you see a bad habit in your older students, address it with the beginners, figure out how to fix it (ask a mentor – see above), and make it better for the future.
11 It never slows down. You always think “After this concert it will not be so crazy busy. After region auditions I will have time. We’ll get to that after solo/ensemble.” But it never really slows down. Not until the doors are locked for the summer. You have to learn to juggle and think ahead. Plan daily, weekly, monthly and yearly. Evaluate at the end of the each semester. Prioritize and don’t compromise on the important things.
12 You may be the only person in a child’s life that sees their talent and hard work. You can turn that into something incredible. Some kids have no support at home. None. They are desperately seeking someone that will tell them they are worth something. Someone that will believe in them and invest time with them. You can be that someone.
Being a band director means you are part of a great profession! Be proud, work hard, and never stop improving.
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