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8 Steps To Successful Student Teaching

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  • By Steve France
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8 Steps To Successful Student Teaching

Student Teaching is the capstone project to a music education degree and a lost opportunity for most student teachers because they focus on conducting which is on only 33% of the job. The other 66% is what causes teachers to quite the profession. Learn the 8 steps to successful student teaching.

8 Steps to Successful Student Teaching

By the time a Music Education student gets to Student Teaching they have invested a tremendous amount of time and energy in their education. Think of the innumerable .5 or 1.0 credit hour classes which actually take more time than any 3 credit hour Gen-Ed class ever will, or the ensembles, pep band, senior recital, and playing for graduation every year…. Ugh.


It’s time for something different. It’s time to go do your student teaching!


Student Teaching is the “cap-stone” project for any education major and is potentially a wonderful opportunity for growth and professional development. Unfortunately, far too many people miss out on this wonderful opportunity because they focus solely on how to teach. They worry about how to wave the baton around or how to break down a score - all important aspects for sure but that’s only part of the job. 


I’ve been in the music business for over 20 years now and have worked with well over a thousand various directors and they all say the same thing, 


“Working with the students is amazing! It’s the other 66% of the job that’s difficult.” 


To make the most out of your Student Teaching experience you must intentionally focus some energy on each of the following aspects:

1) Be humble and ask a LOT of questions.

2) Teach a LOT.

3) Work with the administrative secretaries a LOT. 

4) Go see other teachers.

5) Learn Various Routines and see what works for you:

    a. Door greeting

    b. Who sets chairs

    c. Check music and/or instruments in and out to students. 

    d. Allow students to play before warmup?

6) Learn Several Behavior Plans 

    a. How to discipline

    b. How to re-direct

7) Learn how to manage

    a. Money

    b. People

    c. Time

8) Create and manage a Long-term vision

    a. 3 year plan for your program to be all yours…not the last guys. 

    b. Start small but good, then build. 


Let’s break each of these down just a bit. 


1) Be Humble and Ask A LOT of Questions

You’re smart. You’re a great player. Your high school was amazing…and Nobody Cares! Welcome to the real world where when you have a bad day the students eat you for lunch and the adults around you are no longer interested in your progression but rather your results. Your college degree and years of playing experience mean nothing compared to the years of teaching experience of all the teachers you’ll be exposed to. 


Be Humble. Put your desires to look outstanding aside for a moment and you’ll be able to ask better questions with deeper meaning which in turn will open your mentor up to giving you EVERYTHING they have instead of just helping you a little along the way. 


2) Teach A LOT!

Here’s a secret: if you do show some humility and that you are open to learning how to be a good director, your mentor will give you more time with their students. 


Remember, these students and their success reflects on your mentor teacher, not you. In order for you to be entrusted with them (and by default with the reputation of your mentor teacher) you must earn your mentor’s respect and trust. This starts with humility and requires you to ask for more and more opportunities.  If you don’t ask, you’ll be doing a lot of watching…and that’s boring. 


Ask how to teach and then teach everything you can: sectionals, private lessons, warm-ups, full ensemble, small ensemble, band, orchestra, choir…whatever you can just to get experience. Don’t get all snooty with, ‘I’m not that kind of teacher…I teach this instead.’ Learn what you can from every opportunity you can get time with. 


3) Work With Administrative Secretaries A LOT

Let’s face it, the attendance and finance secretaries run the school and your program. Learn how to work with them. Ask them about their systems, how they work, what breaks down and causes them problems. Watch how your mentor interacts with them - do they do a good job or bad job and learn from that. 


4) Go See Other Teachers

This is the most difficult to arrange but if you give yourself a chance to stop in on 4 or 5 different programs to observe how they run their program in comparison to the one you’re doing your student teaching at, you’ll gain a mountain of knowledge! Ask your local music store for help in setting up these visits…they know all the teachers and will probably just take you along with them. 


5) Learn Various Routines And See What Works For You

You don’t have to be a genius and invent great ideas, methods or routines…you can just steal them from other really smart people and make them your own!


    1. Door greeting. Watch how your mentor does it, then observe how the other music teachers at your school do it. How about the english teacher, coach, science teacher… Each will have their own way of doing things and you need to find what fits your personality.

    2. Who sets chairs? You, the students, the class before…who? Why? What works?

    3. Check music and/or instruments in and out to students.

    4. Allow students to play before warmup?


6) Learn Several Behavior Plans

The KEY issue here is finding a plan that fits your personality so you can easily and naturally maintain it for years to come. This takes practice and adaptation. You must seek out various methods of class room management or student discipline and practice them. It does take practice. 


When it comes to classroom management the biggest mistake new teachers make is they are not themselves; they attempt to put on the personality of someone else thinking the personality is what makes for better classroom management…and then they fail miserably and suffer burnout because it’s exhausting to pretend to be someone you’re not. You must be true to yourself and your personality otherwise every student you meet will see right through you, see that you’re fake and instantly stop trusting you. 


As you observe various management ideas be willing to adapt them to fit your personality so you can maintain them for the long-haul. This is not to say you can soften every approach so you can be every students “best friend” or “favorite teacher”… all of that happy-go-lucky wishing needs to be set aside and you need to become a professional, but you need to allow your best personality to shine through. 


7) Learn How to Manage

It’s safe to suggest that, as a music student, you’re a bit more artistic thinking (right brained) rather than analytical thinking (left brained). The artistic thinker has the tendency to craft, create, shape and dream while the analytical thinker plans, organizes and executes. As a music director you are taking on THE MOST complicated department in your building. No other department has so many students doing so many different activities with noise makers in their hands. Life is about to become very full for you! 


In order to maintain this wonderful chaotic ball of energy you need to be able to organize yourself and all those around you. This takes the ability to manage time, resources, people, money, equipment and schedules. There are lots of books written on each of these disciplines…become a student of them all. 


As an example, think about a marching band program with an active parent organization of which you’re the boss. Your students pay an extra amount of money each year to participate in your program which means you are helping them fundraise in April for next school year and you have to keep track of what student earned how much money and communicate that with your financial secretary and/or parent organization. You have equipment to fix and/or buy over the summer, a marching show to plan or buy, the schedule for next season to set in stone, busses to organize, uniforms to mend and clean, a principle to convince, a large parent organization full of successful people to have on your team and tell what to do, music to buy then check out, and marching band camp hasn’t even started. 


You must become a good manager otherwise the truth of the high level of activity that is your music program will run you over or worse yet, keep you from reaching your, and your students full potential. 


8) Create and Manage a Long-Term Vision

As you’ve heard, it takes a few years before a program becomes your own; students need time to get over the expected line of, ‘That’s not how we used to do it’ and instead be willing to try it your way. The unsuccessful teacher will just wait it out…all-the-while their program is dying. The successful teacher will develop a long-term vision for their program, a goal or level of expectation and then - and most importantly - they will effectively communicate this goal to EVERYONE involved in their program. The students will become convinced of this vision and work toward it, the parent organization will use your vision as a mantra, your administration will understand and fund this long-term vision and your program will quickly become yours (much faster than the poorly suggested 3 years) and most importantly, you and your students will start setting new heights of performance expectations. You and your students will be having fun making music. 


A trick to growth, however, is it’s gradual. It takes time. It takes having and celebrating many small successes rather than beating yourself up trying to get to the big one. When teachers fail to break down their long-term vision into several small goals (and celebrating like crazy when they reach those small goals) they get frustrated and burn out. Be smarter than that; take your big plan and break it down the same way you break down a piece of difficult music: see the similar sections, find the rhythm, take it slow at first and then speed things up. When you break down your big goal into obtainable pieces you create clarity for those around you, goals to celebrate and success for you and your program. 

Go make the most of your student teaching experience. Pay attention to how conducting skills but pay even more attention to the things colleges don’t teach. Be aware that your time as a student is never over and is only just beginning as you step out into your professional life. Go have fun with it! Teaching music IS the best job ever!



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