Student teaching Tips from Veteran Music teachers

Whether you are planning on teaching band, orchestra, choir, or general music, student teaching is potentially the most formative part of your education. Student teaching can be overwhelming but I asked dozens of music teachers and compiled this list of tips to help make your student teaching experience a slam-dunk! Student teaching will be different than anything you experienced in college…..but you’ll also learn a lot!

Cooperating teachers are an important resource

Cooperating teachers do more than just provide a classroom for student teachers to observe, they act as mentors and models for what daily life will be for you in the profession. They are also a required reference for most teaching applications and if you have the rapport, they will continue to look out for good opportunities for you long after you leave their room.  Build a good relationship with your cooperating teacher(s), and don’t be afraid to try new things and fail!

 

There are infinite possible situations you may find yourself in as a music teacher and asking your Cooperating teacher about their career and experience will inform your career decisions and prepare you for the unexpected challenges of working with different aged students. Not to mention the hilarious stories they are bound to have! 

Make sure to ask questions about special education and ask your CT about what informs them of their curriculum and management styles- whether that’s philosophy or educational theories! Weather your background is in Kolday, MLT, or Susuki you can learn plenty form alternate methods to apply to your future teaching. 

Always be sharpening your musicianship

Use your student teaching placements as opportunities to both demonstrate and improve on your musicianship. Students respond really well when you can execute fluent vocal warmups at the piano, sing the trumpet part from the podium, or solfege a pop song the fourth graders are crazy about. Students of all ages love music and can recognize and respect a teacher who does as well. 

Have the right gear!

Student teaching means you keep the schedule of a classroom teacher which can be a shock for those of us who were used to college life! Make sure you are prepared for the lifestyle shift with the right tools to get the job done. 

Invest in comfortable professional shoes!. Plan to always be on your feet, and wear shoes that will not make you regret your career choice. I used Clarks for my student teaching and had Brooks running shoes for marching band. Find a good brand of shoe that will support you and your feet through some long days. Shoes may seem expensive especially for an unpaid internship, but this is not a purchase you want to skimp on. 

Some schools will allow you to connect to their WiFi network and some wont. If you need to have internet access you may want to upgrade your Data plan to ensure you have access when you need it. I used my phone for many lessons and to keep up with school work during down time. The stone age experience of not using your smartphone is survivable, but having reliable internet access is so much better. 

Get involved and in front of students

This is it! You finally get to enrich the minds of  real live students. Don’t waste the opportunity because of shyness. Take risks and prepare lessons to teach! Take advantage of the fact that the consequences of a failed lesson are very small in this environment.

 Do your best to take every opportunity to truly plan/teach/assess…make it as close to a real teaching position as you think your cooperating teacher is comfortable with. I wish I had been expected to do more/pushed to do more, but I was nervous, and being reticent didn’t help me get the experience I needed. Also, if you have a lesson plan or idea, definitely pitch it to your coop teacher – I think we veteran teachers learn a LOT from fresh new teachers and it builds a mutually energetic relationship and atmosphere.

Be prepared

Teaching is a hard job. Part of the difficulty is anticipating issues before they arise, because afterall you are working with people’s children. Get to know the music program you will be joining as thoroughly as possible before the first day of class. If your cooperating teacher has a reputation as a great band conductor, brush up on your wind ensemble rep and ask them about it. If your cooperating teacher has a youtube channel make sure you are familiar with their content and philosophy. Of course brush your teeth, dress well and don’t forget your lunch at home! 

Lesson plans are personal

Many veteran teachers no longer teach with lesson plans. You definitely should. There is a lot about teaching that feels like improvising, but the framework of a good lesson is hard to fake. Make sure you get in the habit of writing well structured plans as you start out teaching so you have the mental freedom to take things as they come. It is not really important that your lesson goes according to plan, what matters is the time and thought that you put into your teaching. Like everything else in life; mindfulness is key! 



Take both elementary and Secondary Placements Seriously

Many graduating teachers have their hearts set on teaching a specific age group or type of ensemble. This often works out but is limited by the number and kind of annual job openings. Additionally the actual experience of teaching your favorite group may be totally different than what you imagined. Student teaching gives you the opportunity to sample different environments and age groups to see what inspires and motivates you to get up ridiculously early to teach. 

Some practical thoughts on placements are the difficulties of establishing classroom procedures.Do your hardest to be assigned to an elementary classroom first to gain the skills of how a teacher sets up a class – physically, academically, and behaviorally – for young students at the beginning of the year.

This is a skill that just does not exist in secondary education and can make the life of an elementary school teacher heaven or hell. 

Be open and ready to adapt to all grade levels PK-12 because you might end up enjoying the ages you didn’t go into music ed for.

 

Kids playing sax and oboe

Get to know your Students

When you are a student teaching it can be easy to detach yourself from the classroom you are placed in and not take any ownership. I do not recommend this. You know you will leave your students soon, but you should still take an effort to get to know what is in their lives and what motivates them. Understanding how kids of any age group think is a unique challenge and student teaching can prepare you for the perils and triumphs of your own classroom. 

You should probably get used to learning more names than any of your med student peers. 

Student Teaching Ends

No matter what happens in your semester of student teaching you will eventually leave the post and begin your career. Job applications and setting up your classroom will give you plenty of time to reflect on this special time. I hope the advice from veteran teachers above will allow you to get the most of your student teaching placements. 



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