Welcome to the world of elementary music! While this may not be what you originally envisioned when you first became a music major, I guarantee that this will be an exciting adventure in your career.
If you are a band, choir, or orchestra person who was blindsided by the prospect of teaching elementary music, fear not! I am going to break down some of the misconceptions you may have, or that other people have said to you once they found out you got an elementary position, and hopefully help put your mind at ease.
1. Elementary music teaching is a stepping stone into “real music teaching.”
Let’s talk about this one right away. Many people go into music education with the idea that they’ll be the lead band director or choir teacher of a large high school. They’ll go to competitions and win awards and be adored by the community.
There’s nothing wrong with that dream! But, keep in mind -- students who are successful at the high school level need to have a solid musical foundation. Where does that come from? The elementary music room.
2. You’ll be playing games and singing songs all day.
This one is partially true. Yes, singing songs and playing games is a huge part of the job (and a fun part!), but it’s not all you’ll be doing.
If your school expects performances/concerts, you’ll be busy doing the paperwork and preparations for those. If you’re expected to help out with plays or musicals, you’ll have after school rehearsals to attend. Elementary music can be tiring!
Fun! But tiring.
3. It’s just chaos all the time!
To an untrained ear, the elementary music room may sound like nothing but chaos. But, my music teacher friend, you have the distinct privilege of being amongst that chaos and recognizing it for what it is - discovery!
So many activities we use in the music room are centered around allowing students to discover their own musical talents while playing around with the concepts we introduce to them. While several children are discovering at once… it can sound pretty chaotic!
4. Kids won’t be able to appreciate “real” music.
Many teachers get into the profession because of their passion and love for the art of music (rightfully so!). But, sometimes, that passion has a tunnel vision that only allows them to believe that music by well-known composers is “real music” or that it’s the only music worth knowing.
Music at the elementary level is all real music, and kids appreciate it in all forms! I’ve seen kids be completely moved by the Star-Spangled Banner and get up and dance to works of Beethoven or Mozart. Kids can, and do, appreciate music in all forms and levels of complexity.
5. It’s all recorders all the time.
This one always makes me laugh! Whenever I explain to new families coming to visit our school that recorders are part of the music curriculum, there’s always awkward glances between spouses or nervous giggling. I get it.
Recorders aren’t for everyone. But there’s more to elementary music than just playing recorder! It is one step in the overall curriculum, but is not the end-all-be-all of general music. In my classroom, we also play drums, ukuleles, sing, and dance, among many other activities that get students engaged in music.
6. You won’t have to do assessments in elementary music.
Although it’s true that you likely won’t necessarily be expected to give written tests, elementary music teachers are constantly assessing.
After all, how will you know your students are ready to learn syncopation if they haven’t grasped the concept of steady beat?
7. Elementary music is all about singing - no instruments!
I actually understand the thought behind this. I was a band person growing up, and my personal music experience in elementary school only involved singing and watching movies (not a great experience, but that’s a story for another time).
General music can be so much more than that! I’ve seen teachers bring in their primary instruments to introduce kids to band or orchestra instruments. There’s so many activities you could do to incorporate instruments, whether it’s your students playing or you playing for them. Your music room can be whatever you want it to be!
8. Everything is about the concert.
This is a concept that is prevalent in all of music education, so it is no surprise that many people think elementary music teachers spend all of their time preparing for concerts.
While that is a large part of the job, it should not be the end-all-be-all of the classroom experience. In my opinion, the concert should be an extension of what the students are already learning, not something to completely pause the curriculum in order to put on.
9. Elementary music teachers are always peppy and upbeat!
There is definitely a stereotype about teachers who work with younger students. Many people picture a young, extroverted person who is always peppy and energetic, and there’s nothing wrong with being that person at all! I, on the other hand, often do not fit that description.
I’m a naturally laid-back person, more introverted than anything, and I’m pretty soft-spoken. However, none of that means that I’m negative or cannot successfully teach music. I have a successful music classroom because I use my personality to my advantage. No matter your personality type, you can lead a positive music experience!
10. You are just there to give classroom teachers a break.
For some reason, this is a big thought amongst many people. They assume that Specials teachers (my school’s term for music, art, drama, PE, and tech) exist only to give classroom teachers a break, meaning you’re no more than a babysitter.
Of course, you and I both know that is not even close to the truth. We have standards just like all other subjects, and we have the capability to build strong relationships with students because we see them year after year. Don’t listen to the naysayers who say otherwise!
There you have it! Ten misconceptions about elementary music. Whether you’ve believed some of these points, or other people have mentioned them at some point during your career, I hope that we’ve cleared up any confusion there might have been!
What misconceptions have you had about general music? Let us know!
This article was submitted by Rachel Ammons, contributing author for ThatMusicTeacher.com. Interested in becoming a contributing author? Email resume and writing sample to firstname.lastname@example.org.