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.
It's parent-teacher conference night. Yes, the night where you teach all day and then aren't aloud to leave for another four hours. Let's be honest, we've all wondered why we (as music teachers) have to be there. Even a seasoned music teacher is still probably able to count their conferences on two hands.
I'll be the first one to say that I used to feel this way. I felt like nobody wanted to meet with me and I had nothing of value to share with my parents. I stayed in my classroom and got work done on conference nights. I developed curriculum and planned performances.
But this year I tried something different.
Filling My Schedule
I reached out to the teachers in my school and asked them to share their conference schedules as they came in. Once I got these lists I went through and started making my schedule for the conference nights.
I looked at students that were being leaders, those that were new to the school, and of course those that I had some behavior concerns about. I knew that I needed to talk to a few parents, as their students' had been having issues staying on task and participating fully. But I knew that I wanted to have more positive conferences than negative, so I filled up my schedule with that in mind.
I was able to create plans with parents whose students hadn't been working to their fullest potential by dropping into their conferences. I didn't take a large amount of time, as I know that the classroom teachers have so much that they need to get through. I just took a couple of minutes to voice my concerns and then worked on creating a plan to help these students make appropriate choices.
With those students who were "star students" I was able to tell parents how hard they work in my class, and how I look to them as leaders in the class. I was able to answer questions some parents had about private lessons and what would be best for their student to pursue music outside of my classroom.
Advocacy as an Educator
We all know that it can be easy to assume that we, as music educators, aren't really teachers. It can be easy for parents (and other staff) to be blind to the role we play in the education of our students.
I think it is important for us to be involved in conferences so that we can be visible doing things educators do. As Anne Mileski puts it, we are teacher musicians. I love this label because it reminds us of the musical content and understanding we have. I also use this label for myself because it includes the non-musical aspects of what we do.
Let's face it: we have hundreds of students. It can be hard to really understand what makes each student tick. It's nearly impossible for us to understand and remember how each student is performing outside of our classrooms. That is why these conferences can be invaluable for us as music educators.
There are direct connections between how a student performs outside of our classroom and how they perform within our four walls. They won't always directly influence the other, but I think it is incredibly useful to understand how a student is progressing in other subjects.
As I've mentioned in the past, my eyes were opened to the rest of the educational "machine" during my first year out of college. It's because of this experience that I strive to be a part of all of my students' education in and out of my classroom. Part of that is knowing their strengths and weaknesses outside of our classrooms.
Listen, I get it. We are constantly spinning more and more plates as music educators. There's a good chance you think I'm crazy for choosing another plate to spin. It truly does add to my list of responsibilities.
But to me, it's totally worth it. To me, losing a couple hours of unstructured time in my classroom is definitely worth being able to foster better relationships with parents while being more involved in the holistic education of my students.
Because when it all comes down to it, we're educators. We just happen to teach music.