You’ve completed all of your performances. Summer break is around the corner. Now what? Planning at the end of the year is just as important as the beginning. Careful preparation can reduce the amount of vacation time you spend on work-related issues AND greatly reduce stress at the start of the next school year.
At the end of my first year of teaching, my organization was not fully developed. I was teaching band, orchestra, choir, and general music by myself and was completely overwhelmed. At the end of May, my classroom looked like the site of natural disaster. I had to spend extra hours throughout the summer cleaning, organizing, and repairing instruments. Since then I’ve learned to use a checklist to ensure a smooth transition.
Retention and Recruiting
Many items on the checklist include focus on recruiting and retention. Some of these can wait until things are slightly calmer and you can focus on getting next year’s prospective students interested. Others may have ideally been addressed in the spring. Hopefully by now you have worked with potential students to gauge who will participate again next year. If you’re teaching high school, you will want to set aside time to talk with the junior high director and the students about your program. Recruiting can be tough, but it’s even harder if you don’t make enough time to gain student interest.
An equally crucial component in building your program is working with parents. Regular, clear, consistent communication is key, as is making yourself available. There are many ways to do this and I’d like to share one way that is simple and can have a big impact. When I was teaching I would work with the 3rd and 4th grade teachers to help me meet with parents. The easiest and best time to do this is on Parent Teacher conference day. I would set up a desk and have a pamphlet of information available for them. The 3rd and 4th grade teachers would ask the parents to see me on the way out. This is where I could start that conversation and give them more details on what the next step would be from here. For my program, the next step was a scheduled day to try out instruments.
There are many different ways to demo instruments to prospective students. I prefer to set up an “instrument petting zoo.” This is where you set up a station for each instrument. I also recruit volunteers that know how to teach the basics of each instrument. This could be a private music teacher, or even a responsible high school student. It can be overwhelming to have to show each instrument yourself, it’s inefficient and results in less hands-on time for each student. For some, this opportunity will be a life-changing moment! Many local music stores are willing to help set this up for you and to provide the instruments. Take advantage of this! They also want to be able to meet with the parents and talk about rental fees and their business. It is a great way to get everyone together that will be involved in this process.
Probably most tedious part of wrapping up the year is collecting and taking inventory of the school’s music and instruments. Be sure to plan time for handing in all school items and don’t make it on the very last class day: there will always be someone who forgets their music. I like to assign student leadership positions to help with this; the title of “Music Librarian” was surprisingly popular. Find the students that love organizing, give them a list of score order, and they will take care of the rest!
While instruments are being returned, keep a list of anything that needs to be repaired so this can be done as soon as possible. I always kept an organized database for school equipment. The database also helps to maintain an accurate inventory from year to year to prevent equipment from disappearing.
I would also make a list of repertoire and/or supplies you’ll want to purchase for the upcoming year. This is useful if you have a “use it or lose it budget” and you have some money leftover to spend before the year is done.
Anything you can do to motivate continued development (or to slow backsliding) over the summer will pay dividends for you and your students next fall. On my checklist, I’ve included several ways to get information out to parents and students to keep their musical education flowing over the summer. I’ve found that informational packets are helpful towards this end. I make a handout for parents that includes private teachers, classes, summer camps, and suggested material to get them ready for the next year. So many parents don’t know where to begin to find these resources. Having this handy and keeping it up to date makes it easy for the parents to help keep their child active in music, and also gives them a variety of options to choose from. With the battle to get scholarships for college, parents are always looking for ways to help their children succeed.
I also make a summer packet for the current students. It includes warm-ups, lists of repertoire to play at various levels, and recordings of musicians for them to discover. The lists are specific to each instrument. It’s important to keep introducing students to a variety of music, and at no time in history has been easier to do. One year I put Trombone Shorty on a list of recommended listening for my trombone students. Next thing I knew one of my trombone students began to experiment in that style. He started to beatbox and play bass lines on his trombone, eventually composing and performing his own music. All I did was encourage students to explore music outside of class.
I believe strongly in the power of an end of the year class evaluation. Have students fill out a questionnaire, indicating what they liked about your class, what could’ve been better, etc.. I suggest making this anonymous so they feel comfortable being honest. Student feedback can be a great way to identify areas ripe for improvement.
I would also encourage everyone to take some time to reflect and write down some thoughts about how the year went. It’s something you will be able to refer to in the fall and make any appropriate changes. It will never be as fresh in your mind as it is right now.
Don’t be stressed if you can’t accomplish everything on my list this year; it’s intended as a starting point as inspiration to get you thinking about your own list. If you’re a more experienced teacher perhaps you can pick up one or two ideas here, or are simply inspired to share your own list with your less experienced colleagues.
Please take a look at my checklist and let us know what you think, and share your additions, on Facebook or Twitter.
Stephanie Doctor is a saxophonist, instrumental music educator, and private lesson instructor. When not on skis and crushing it down the mountains of Colorado, she works at MakeMusic as a music production engineer & quality assurance technician. She has worked as a K-8 music teacher instructing band, orchestra, choir, and general music. Stephanie received her Master’s in saxophone performance and pedagogy from the University of Colorado and her Bachelor’s in instrumental music education from Millikin University.