Career Story: Elementary School Music Teacher

Elementary School Music Teacher

Job Title: Music Educator

Type of Company: I teach elementary school students from kindergarten through fifth grade general music, chorus and music appreciation classes.

Education: Bachelor of Music in Horn Performance, Oberlin Conservatory •• MMusic in music education, Boston University

Previous Experience: This is my first job, and I have been in it for 12 years.

Job Tasks: Most of my classes are between 20 and 28 children at a time. I teach grades K, 1, 3, 4 and 5 for thirty minutes per week. Another teacher takes care of second grade and some first grade classes, because I elect to work part time (3 days per week). In addition to the regular 12 classes in my schedule, all students in fourth and fifth grades are required to be in chorus, which meets for 45 minutes (fourth) or one hour (fifth). For chorus classes, I have a paid accompanist who plays the piano for us, and I also have at least one classroom assistant helping with classroom management. The reason for this extra support is that I have 60 or more children at a time in these rehearsals, and it is impossible for me to notice every little issue that might develop between children and get musical work done with the group. These assistants are indispensable.

Chorus rehearsals are performance-based, and culminate in two or three concerts per year. This year, my fourth graders had a concert in January and will perform again in June. The fifth graders performed a mini-concert in November, then did intensive work on a musical in February, and will have their last concert in June.

Other classes are not performance based, except for third grade recorder students, who share their musical work with parents and teachers in June. My primary lessons (grades K-2) often include many consecutive activities which require different skills from the children: sitting and listening, getting up and moving, listening and describing what they hear, playing percussion instruments, reading musical notation. The pace of my lessons is quite fast and commensurate with the attention span of the young child.

Best and Worst Parts of the Job: The best part of my job is clearly the "aha" moments, when students demonstrate their understanding of what I have been trying to teach them. Example: this morning my first graders were able to sight read, in tune, a song from solfege notation, without any aural prompting from me.

The most difficult parts of my job include motivating students who think they do not like music, and keeping large-group chorus rehearsals free of social interactions. There are days when student behavior is very conducive to productive rehearsals and days when I feel like a policewoman.

Job Tips:
1. Before trying anything else, get solid ideas about classroom management. Ask other teachers the type of negative behaviors they have experienced, and how they structure their classroom environments to make these less likely.

2. Next, understand that there will be a second year: many first year teachers have so much to learn about classroom management that they become discouraged and feel as if their good teaching ideas don't work. They will, as soon as the children have been shown how to CARE. This is more important than anything else.

Additional Thoughts: I am surprised how much it matters that a music teacher have the support of the school principal and classroom teachers. There are several times throughout the year when teachers need to give and take teaching time from each other, and a positive relationship really helps this. I have a very supportive principal who understands that high quality musical performances take time (rehearsal time). I cannot imagine running my program without this.

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