How to Not Suck as a Music Teacher

As a music teacher, you’re very important to young lives. You’re not just helping them with music, you’re helping them with most other aspects of their lives. Studies have shown that music education increases understanding in non-musical studies as well. It’s a huge responsibility to have on your shoulders. I could never do it, because I have no patience and kids just are not my thing. However, I’ve been in choir since I was in elementary school, so I’m going to give you a perspective from a studen

How to Be a Great Music Teacher

Obviously, these are just my opinion. Take them with a grain of salt and do your own thing. These are coming from my own experiences, but you can use them for yours. These work for choir teachers, band teachers or private instructors. So apply these tips however you’d like!

1). Recognize Which Students Care About the Work

If you teach at a school, you’ve likely got 30 kids at a time and you’re trying to teach them how to play an instrument or sing. Not every kid is going to care about this class, just like not every kid cares about history or math. I’m not saying to totally ignore the kids who don’t care, but I often felt that teachers spent so much time trying to corral the kids who didn’t care, that those of us who did care felt frustrated. Notice which kids have a passion for this, and make sure they get the attention they need to nurture that passion.
I was in a special performing choir in high school. We showed up an hour early every day to sing. We also had regular choir class during the day. After school, several of my classmates and I were also in the school musical, so we stayed hours after school to get work done. Were we dedicated? Absolutely. Was it recognized? Not really. We still put in the effort, but it seemed like no one cared.

2). Don’t Play Favorites

I know this sounds like it kind of negates #1, but this is more about the kids who do care. Let’s say you teach choir, and of your 30 students, 10 of them are dedicated and serious. Of those 10, it’s important to give each of them the opportunity to learn and grow. When you give your favorite student all of the solos, all of the important tasks and all of the privileges, you’ll lose those other 9 students quickly.
Additionally, if you don’t like a student, don’t single them out. In high school my choir teacher decided she hated my best friend. No one really knew why. She repeatedly singled her out in class, despite the fact that she had a true passion for music and performance. I don’t know what the deal was, but I, of course, sided with my best friend and we both now hated her. This grew until most of the class hated her. If she had kept her opinions of my friend to herself, she could have saved herself a lot of trouble.

3). Recognize Different Abilities

In elementary school, I was bored and annoyed with choir. We all sang in unison. I was harmonizing with Whitney Houston cds at home, so I thought I’d try to harmonize with the choir. The girl next to me raised her hand and yelled, 
to which I responded,
The teacher told me to stop ‘disrupting the class’ and sing in unison with everyone else. And look, I get it, teaching elementary school choir is probably a nightmare from the 7th circle of hell. But what if that teacher had noticed my attempt to harmonize and, instead of reprimanding me, had worked with me to develop that skill? If there’s a student who won’t learn what you’re teaching, see if they have a different skill set you can use.

4). Leave Personal Problems at Home

I know, easier said than done at times. I get it. But almost every one of my music teachers would at some point give us details we did not need to know. Tales of late night partying, car accidents, breakups, family issues, these are all things students don’t need to know. We weren’t emotionally developed enough to know what to do with that information. Our respect for the teachers dropped a little. Just don’t do it.
Most importantly, I would say this:

5). Be Honest With Yourself and Your Students

I’ve seen teachers who just really didn’t care about what they were teaching. They didn’t like the material, yet they told us that WE needed to love the material. I also had a teacher bold-faced lie to the class, claiming that we got to vote on our next material. We later found out the vote didn’t count for anything and she had already ordered the material she wanted (which was not what we wanted). Why even bother with the vote? Why not just tell us what we’re doing? When your students stop respecting you, you’ll have a much more difficult time with them.
I find this one happens with private instructors as well. If you cancel a lesson last minute (or forget to show up), be honest about why. Don’t say you’re sick and then go to the mall, because it’s possible your student will see you there.
Have you had a great (or terrible) music teacher? Let me know! What made them great (or not great) for you? Whatever your opinion on your own teachers, I think we can all agree that music teachers are super important! Please let a teacher know you care about them today!
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