What I Wish I Knew Before Becoming a Band Director
Curated from Band Directors Talk Shop –
For those of you that prepare music-ed students to go out and teach band or find yourself in an advising role to young prospectives, here’s a short but eye-opening article. It’s hard to disagree with anything on these lists, resulting from a recent survey of band directors in the field.
In our recent survey, we asked Band Directors Talk Shop readers, “What do you wish you had learned or been been told before becoming a band director?” With hundreds of responses to the survey, we came up with this categorized list of your answers to the question. Thanks so much to all of our readers who took the time to fill out the survey. Keep an eye out for more Readers’ Collaborative Posts in the future!
What I Wish I had Learned…
- A greater understanding of orchestration.
- A systematic approach to teaching rhythm.
- Work on classroom management when working with “last hope” kids.
- Classroom management strategies.
- How to choose music based on different instrumentation.
- How to plan a school year.
- How to re-string a French horn.
- How to teach students with learning disabilities.
- How to prepare for a middle school festival.
- It’s all about the students. If you aren’t having fun, they aren’t having fun.
- Don’t sing note names—make sure the students can read notes.
- Use worksheets to check the student’s ability to read notes and rhythms—they may be playing by ear on the playing exams.
- Use solfege syllables in band, not just in chorus.
- How to properly maintain an inventory and database of which students are bringing instruments.
- Sometimes students need choices, but sometimes you need to put your foot down and make the rules too.
- What to do in the times where you don’t have a concert looming.
- How to adequately work on fundamentals without boring the kids.
- Learn the logistics that go into being a band director.
- Be proficient on all of the instruments and how to get better.
- Prop building.
- Color guard.
- People management.
- How to do it all and not get frustrated.
- How to handle boosters.
- Instrument pedagogy.
- Instrument repair.
- How to grade.
- How to purchase things.
- How to develop a syllabus/handbook.
- How to schedule travel and events.
- How to set up a concert.
- Percussion maintenance.
- Received better percussion methods training—specifically how to play each accessory correctly.
- Given better information on teaching beginners.
- Learn how to budget time/organizational skills.
- Taught how to navigate through the politics of the educational system.
- More leadership training.
- I wish I had learned more about double reeds.
- It would have helped if the pedagogy professors insisted upon a portfolio of teaching materials prior to entering the field. Those are preparatory things that can be done long before you know which kids you will have.
- I wish I had learned how not to dwell on the one negative thing that happens within what is really a good day.
- Jazz Band at a basic level should be required for EVERYONE! History, performance, programming, technique, etc.
- I wish I had learned a little bit more about the mechanics of marching show design/marching techniques.
- I wish I had more classroom experience—especially with classroom management (and lots of opportunities in different classroom settings). To be pulled outside of my comfort zone.
- How to set realistic goals when you step into a below-average program.
- More about and good tone production.
- We need to talk more about choosing repertoire. Music Ed majors need to leave college with a better understanding of the standards of the various ensembles and grade levels.
- How to operate within a small, low-SES school system as the only director.
- Don’t over-program.
- Kids need to be taught how to sight-read.
What I Wish Someone Had Told Me…
- Advocacy materials.
- How to communicate with principals.
- How to advocate for the program without offending the administration.
- It’s ok to simplify music! Help students feel successful and make it more challenging as they are ready.
- Communicate with everyone (administration, parents, school board, community leaders).
- Get involved in school activities, clubs, and staff meetings.
- Groups go in cycles—some years you’ll have really good students and good boosters, and then sometimes you won’t.
- Band directors are also responsible for the sound and lighting—maybe even for all school events!
- How valuable the administrative and custodial staff is.
- That I would have to monitor the bathroom for 8 hours straight during testing.
- That you do more “busy work” (emails/phone calls) than teaching each day.
- The number of non-musical activities I’d be required to implement in my classroom.
Words of Wisdom
- It takes a lot of time and effort to have a very mediocre band program (to have a GOOD program you will need to put in a very significant amount of time and effort).
- Good teaching is good teaching regardless of the subject matter. Observe master educators.
- Even unappreciative 8th graders can have an unbelievable amount of ability.
- It truly is 10% teaching and 90% everything else.
- Not all the ideas in your head will work so don’t be disappointed when they fail. Rethink, redo, and move on.
- It’s ok for plans to change.
- You might begin to question your ability to say “no.”
- Work-life balance is important and you must find a way to stay active to keep healthy.
- As a teacher, your goal is to inspire students to love learning, not to be their friend.
- Different expectations for low-SES students when it comes to practicing at home (related to family responsibility).
- When you teach MS, you have to teach the band parents “how to be band parents”—they are as much band rookies as your students.
- How much you must stay organized so that your students can benefit from the preparation.
- As the program grows, poor time management can hurt both students and the program.
- Keep your life balanced, know what YOUR program needs and don’t be afraid to try new things if they are good for YOUR program/students.
- Kids are fickle and some will quit band—don’t take it personally. They tried it and decided they didn’t like it—so off to choir or art they go. They need to find what interests them or what they like. It’s not personal.
- You need to make connections with other band directors—their experience can help you. Don’t let your competitive nature get in the way of that.
- You will be a known face/figure within the community. This is especially true in smaller districts and rural areas.
- There’s never enough time.
- You don’t actually get a summer break.
- How tiring the job really is but also that it is worth it the first time you get that former student’s letter/email/phone call/etc. telling you that you made a difference.
- It takes a toll on your personal life, but the rewards can be worth it.
- It will be so much more emotionally and mentally draining than you ever expected.
- How much more fulfilling it would be than you can imagine.
- The first two years of teaching will make you feel like you don’t know what you’re doing even if you’ve had a great education.
Band directors are dedicated life-long learners. We are always growing, always learning, and always pushing towards a better band sound, better teacher-student relationships, better classroom management, and the list goes on. We hope this list of skills, words of wisdom, and advice helps you recognize an area that you can improve upon in your role as a band director, and we will continue to post articles that address all these topics and more!
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