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.
If you told me a year ago that I would be teaching kindergarten music online for a quarter of the year, I would have told you that you were crazy. I would have told you that nobody would ever think we could teach music online. I would have told you that no district in their right mind would have kindergartners doing online instruction.
Clearly, nobody knew that this past school year would have ended the way it did. Everything changed when schools began to shut down due to COVID-19. We had to adapt. It wasn't perfect by any means, but we made do.
I learned a lot while teaching online. I truly did. I learned about myself, my students, and my content area. I learned a lot that I think will shape how I teach for the rest of my career.
1. Technology Inequity is Real
While I guess I always knew this, teaching online has really made me understand just how important it is for our students to have access to high-speed internet, as well as devices to connect to the internet.
The inequities of education were exponentially amplified for our most at-risk students during remote instruction. As we return to whatever school looks like in the fall, we need to ensure all of our students have access to education, even if they don't have access to the internet or devices.
What does this look like? I'm not sure.
Maybe it looks like states and districts creating more programs for devices and hotspots to be checked out from the district. Maybe it looks like an increase in grant funding for 1:1 devices for students. Maybe it looks like sending home more paper packets for those in rural districts that don't have access to high-speed internet.
Whatever it looks like, we need to make sure we are setting our students up for success.
2. Human Connection is Important
Okay, I think we already knew this, but it's worth repeating.
I had students emailing me and logging into optional Zoom meetings that I never would have guessed would. Honestly, there were a few of my students, especially my upper-elementary kiddos, that I thought hated music. Imagine my surprise when these students were the ones excelling at their assignments and going above and beyond my sending me emails and logging into optional Zoom sessions.
I honestly learned a lot more about how schools need to make sure we are taking care of the emotional needs of our students during this time. Human connection is important, and we were all more or less locked down for months. Our students needed that type of interaction during a crazy time.
Human connection is important. It always will be.
3. Technology, Technology, Technology
We got thrust into teaching online pretty much overnight. This total (and sudden) immersion into technology was a huge adjustment. But it was also a great way for us to be forced into using some of websites, apps, and programs that have been around for a while.
I know I ended up using Flipgrid for all of my recorder assignments and assessments during this online teaching. And honestly, I'm thinking of at least keeping it as an option for those students that want to be able to work on their playing tests at home and submit online.
I also feel like I've become somewhat of an expert at using Zoom. While I'd used a bit here and there prior to this year, I've ended up using it daily. When my piano lessons ended up transitioning to Zoom, I was a little concerned, but after a few weeks, I think I got the hang of it.
4. I Shouldn't Work From Home
While this one is more personal, I think it's worth sharing. After a few weeks, the novelty of teaching from home, more or less on my own schedule, wore off. Pretty much every day was identical to the one before it, and I started to get into a funk.
I've always wondered if I would ever enjoy working from home, and after teaching from my home office for the past few months, I can definitively say that working from home is not for me. I like a schedule that changes from day to day, and I need interaction with others to recharge.
5. Schools Don't Just Teach
This is another one that I guess I already knew, but I was shown just how true it was over the past months.
Schools provide meals to those students that need it. They provide social interactions for those that are neglected at home. School counselors, social workers, and teachers provide a social safety net for some of our most vulnerable students.
Schools aren't just about imparting knowledge. And I think that's a good thing. We can't teach a student if they aren't having their basic needs met. I truly hope that this pandemic has shown just how much schools do for the communities they serve. And I hope that funding is allocated to help us achieve these enormous tasks.
6. So Much More
I know that there will be things I don't realize I had learned until we transition back to in-person instruction (hopefully) in the fall.
I fully expect to realize how much this past year has shaped me as an educator, but I won't have any idea what all I've learned until we get back into the classroom. I truly expect these lessons to stick with me for the rest of my career.
I pray that we never have another situation like this. I truly hope that we never have to try to educate our students from such a distance for so long.
But as much as this situation has been terrible, I believe we as a society have learned so much. I believe that we as educators have been forced to move into a new era of implementing technology into our classrooms. I truly believe that we will use this as a catalyst for change in our schools and our communities.
And hey, at least we've made it through the year.