When attending professional conferences, you will commonly find lectures or panels that focus on the beginning choral teacher. Those “I Wish I Had Known About…” features are very useful, but the inclusion of a stepping-stone session for the future student teacher could help prepare for the music internship. Although student teachers acquire knowledge from their education classes which touch on the techniques and theories of teaching, a few basic survival skills will help to ensure a much smoother student teaching experience for the future choral educator. Have a phenomenal internship with these useful tips!
1. Sleep and Pacing
Sleep is, as my parents constantly remind me, “The Universal Healer.” I do not think that I can stress enough the importance of slumber. Entering the physical classroom, where your exposure to countless alien germs increases exponentially, can be quite a shock to the system, which forces your body to continually do battle against them. Unlike other academic areas where twenty-five students is the norm, the choral classroom headcount will surpass thirty, perhaps as many as seventy students all breathing at you ON PURPOSE each hour. Why not give your body a chance to recover from this firing squad each night by getting a good store of Z’s?
If you are in music education, odds are that you will feel at first as though you can add extracurricular activities into your daily routine. If you push yourself too hard, however, you will be much more likely to lose your stamina by midweek, still facing the two toughest days for classroom control (Thursday and Friday). Remember to pace yourself throughout the week, and do not commit to extraneous activities apart from school.
2. Focus and Schedule Shift
After seven or more college semesters, you may think that you have adequately conquered a busy daily regimen that runs from 8:00 am to midnight and includes classes, rehearsals, meetings, performances, and study time. However, it is MUCH easier to sit in a lecture or rehearsal hall for two hours than it is to engage students for two class periods in that ongoing classroom juggling act (let alone the five classes plus rehearsals you will regularly wrangle each day as a student teacher).
During the first few weeks, observe closely how your cooperating teacher paces his or her classes and shifts focus. Note how the students react to different methods the teacher uses to deliver the lesson. Also, be prepared to feel a little (or A LOT) overwhelmed by how you fit into this scenario. While it may seem somewhat easy to follow your cooperating teacher’s lessons, once you take the reins your attempt to stay one step ahead of the students might be a little more daunting. You will, however, grow increasingly accustomed to this balancing act as the weeks progress.
3. Be Prepared - Jump Right In
For the music major, student teaching is very different from other disciplines. While your seminar peers may take the first few weeks for observation and adjust to their new environment, your first day may very well consist of conducting, running sectionals, guiding warm-ups, and leading sight reading exercises. Prepare yourself by running through warm-ups on your own before taking that first step into the classroom, and ask your cooperating teacher in advance if there are specific preferred warm-ups. Prior to the first day, get your hands on the performance music, play through it and conduct it on your own, noting any possible trouble-spots.
4. Different Planning Discipline
While other student teachers are preparing unit and lesson plans weeks in advance, chances are you will craft plans each day. While other student teachers are correcting papers, you will be attending after school ensemble rehearsals, practicing piano for the next piece, conducting individual rehearsals for solo performances, reviewing sight reading to a small group, or instructing a music theory study session. While other student teachers have their weekends off, you will attend festivals, extra rehearsals, and booster meetings. Be prepared for all of those little extras that are available exclusively to the choral educator. They are wonderful ways to get to know your students (as well as their parents) in unique settings that most other student teachers will not have access to.
5. Learn From Others
One of the first concerns you will hear from fellow seminar student teachers is, “I am so worried about memorizing the 100 student names.” Even better, from the elementary ranks, “I am having trouble keeping straight the thirty students and their names.” When I heard this panic voiced in my seminar class, I could only laugh. I had sixty-five students in one class alone. Between the middle and high schools, I was required to learn over 500 names almost instantaneously.
While student teachers in other disciplines experience different issues, remember that you CAN still learn from them. While talking with another seminar student, I picked up a really great memorization tool for students’ names. As basic as it sounds, carry a seating chart around with you! She had found that when she was able to associate a certain seat with each student instead of using traditional icebreaker games, where you go around the room and learn their favorite (blank), she was much better at learning full names instead of only a first name. This can come in handy if you have ten different girls named Allie or boys named Nick.
6. Know the Standards
Be sure to bookmark the websites for the state and national standards for music education. You can do a quick search online to find these standards. Better yet, print them out and have them in an easy location for reference (such as your portfolio). This will show potential employers that you have been taking an active look at the standards, which could help make you more marketable.
7. Prepare Early
Finally, SAVE EVERYTHING. During your seminar classes and student teaching seminar, you will work toward building your resume and portfolio. It will behoove you to have at the ready any related documents, lesson plans, sample resumes, letters of recommendation, and any shared exercises to pull from them that you have gleaned from education classes and field experiences. You never know when you will need a lesson on rhythms or music theory that can be tweaked to fit a specific classroom need.
8. Have Fun!
Student teaching can be a blast! It is a great opportunity to hone your skills, connect with a group of students, and make a difference in many lives. Be positive, smile, and do not be afraid of making mistakes. The more you show the students that you are learning along with them, the better you will connect with each other and the more fun you will have!