A Typical Day

I thought I would share what a typical day of teaching K-6 music is like for me.  This might give you a hint: it’s only 6:20 and I’m already freshly showered and in bed writing this!  Teaching elementary music is not for the faint of heart, and it’s challenged me in many ways.  The “honeymoon” period of teaching has passed.  Some things about teaching get easier (like cranking out solid lesson plans every week and all the kids’ names) but some things get harder (like keeping up energy levels, being constantly creative in lesson planning, and preparing for a winter concert).  I hope you enjoy getting a sneak peak into my Wednesday today.  Although I also teach band and chorus, Wednesdays are my all-general music days.

6:07: Alarm goes off.

7:15 Arrive at school

7:15-8:20 Set up/prep for the day.

Unfortunately, I don’t have my own classroom at one of the schools I teach at.  I have a closet, pictured here:photo (1)

It’s impossibly small, and bursting with things I know I’ll never use.  When I have some ample time, I’m planning on deep cleaning it and chucking all the stuff that’s just taking up space.

To set up for my classes, I have to grab everything I need from this closet and set it up in the multi-purpose room.  That usually means about making 6-8 trips since I always forget something and the little cart I use isn’t big enough!  Sometimes I get kids to help me, but today I just did it myself because I had a lot of bulky and heavy stuff.  It’s kind of a workout…I usually like doing it, but sometimes, like today, it’s super annoying.

It is NOT easy teaching in the gym.  The school is so small that it doesn’t really have hallways.  The classrooms are kind of off the gym in little pods with “my” room being in the center.  Meaning everyone has to travel through my room to get anywhere else in the school.  It’s pretty distracting for the kids when they’re in class, let me tell you!  I’m working with my principal and custodian on getting some curtains or dividers to create a specific music space where distractions wouldn’t happen.

8:20-9:05 Sixth Grade Music

In sixth grade today (and in all classes), we practiced singing “America the Beautiful” which will be sung on Monday during the all-school assembly for Veteran’s Day.  I’m actually going to be away that day, so I recorded myself playing the accompaniment on the piano, and wrote the words on huge paper.  This is old school teaching, people.  Ideally, I’d love a smartboard or even a projector, but I don’t have either.

In addition, we’re working on a percussion accompaniment to one of the songs the chorus is singing. They’re singing “Sing Noel,” which is the English version of Siyahamba, the African carol.  There’s maracas, claves, djembes, and tubanos in this accompaniment, and we spent a few minutes getting into a groove and giving everyone a chance to play all the instruments.

The majority of the period was spent working on a new unit on composition.  We’ve been practicing reading notes on the staff (to prep for getting ukuleles soon!) and rhythm patterns the past few weeks, and the students are putting those skills to good use by creating their own music.  This was a relaxed part of the day because it was more student-led and I could wander to different parts of the gym and help groups out.  They wrote rhythm patterns last time, and today they checked them and practiced them on a percussion instrument of their choice.  I gave some of them staff paper to start notating their final product, and in a few weeks we will perform them for each other.  Students are required to do one composition on their own, but can do extra group projects if they so desire.

I’ve struggled to reach the older kids, especially because some of them are at the “I’m too cool for elementary school” point.  But this composition thing is really getting them excited!  They’re asking good questions and coming up with some pretty creative stuff.

9:10-9:55 Second Grade Music

This class is my largest out of anyone, a total of 19 kids.  That’s a lot of second graders to look after!  We’ve been studying melody with using instruments, our bodies to show high and low, and the notes mi-sol-la.  There are several songs that I’ve taught, including one called Rico’s Pizza that they really like.  It goes like this:

Rico’s pizza restaurant 

Any pizza that you want

All our pies have extra cheese

May I take your order please?

What size? _________  What toppings? _________ What crust? __________

Thank you for your order!

This song is only made up of mi-sol-la pitches, and each student sings back their answers to me one by one.  It’s a great way to asses individual singing and hear their silly answers.  Today, I got s’more, pretzels, and peas as answers!  Most kids usually answer with “extra large” for the pizza size question.  🙂

We also prepped for the Veteran’s Day assembly, and worked on reading simplified music notation on a 3 note staff.  I wrote on the little white board I have today, but next week the kids are going to get these awesome tools:

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They’re felt squares with sticky felt notes!  I took a trip to Joann Fabrics recently and created these earlier this week.  The five line staff I’ll use with the older kids, but the 3 line staff works great for second grade.  I can’t wait to use them next music class!  I think it will help the kids physically feel and move the mi and sol to where they go on the staff.

10:00-10:40 First Grade Music

This was amazing class today!!  They’re normally very good, but today they were especially awesome!  At the start of each class with first grade and kindergarten, we sing two songs: “Hello, Hello” and “Hickety Pickety.”  Both get the kids singing as a group and individually and moving around.  I’ve found it’s really good to have that routine before jumping into the day’s activities!

And since the beginning of the year, I’ve seen a lot of improvement with the individual singing!  “Hickety Pickety” is a song that has each child sing “My name is ______” and we go around one by one.  Some kids were really shy about singing their name at first, but now that they’re realizing it’s an expectation I have of them every class, they’re getting really comfortable with it!  It’s so cool to see their improvement.  I love these little people.

We did a few other songs, including one that was originally called “Paw Paw Patch” but I’ve modified it to be called “Pumpkin Patch” to match the fall season.  Once they learned the words, we played some percussion instruments to the steady beat and we also learned a simple square dance!  They had so much fun with this, and did much better with it than my third grade class, who I had done the song and dance with last week.

Almost every time a first grader sees me in the morning prepping, they’ll ask me one of two questions: “Do we have music today?”  “What are we doing in music class today?”  If it’s the former and I answer in the affirmative, they say, “Yes!!” and scamper away to eat their breakfast.  If it’s the latter, I always say, “You’ll see!”  (I’d love to talk with them more but I’ve got so much to do in the morning and once those kids start talking, it’s hard to get them to stop!)  They always smile and walk away excited for 10 o’clock.  Today was no exception!  It’s so wonderful to get that kind of reaction from my students.  I love that they’re excited for music class!

10:45-11:15 Kindergarten Music

This is another of my classes that are just so excited about coming to music class!  I walked into their room today to pick them up, and two kids ran over right away to give me hugs before getting in line!  Today we didn’t get as much done as usual because we had a lock-down drill.  Some of the kids got a little nervous about sitting in the dark, but they did such a good job of being quiet and following directions.  Go kindergarten!

We did “Hickety Pickety” and “Hello, Hello” like usual, and we learned a new song called “Andy Pandy” that focuses on high notes and low notes.  Also, we did the game “Doggie, Doggie” to do more individual singing assessment and high/low notes.  I have some awesome singers in this class who are not afraid of singing out!  They are fearless and so enthusiastic.  We also did a modified version of “Pumpkin Patch” without the full dance.  There’s a line in the song that says “Where oh where is my friend ______.” They love it when I use their names!  So cute.  On their way back to class, one of little boys told me, “I LOVE YOU!”  which is becoming a regular habit for him to do.  It’s so nice to be appreciated!

11:30-12:00 “Free” Period

This is the 3-6 grade recess time, and it’s usually a time for me to collect myself and answer e-mails since I don’t have recess duty this day.  However, many of my fourth grade band students have been asking to come in to do extra practice time, and how can I turn down requests like this??  So I scarfed down my lunch while simultaneously checking my e-mail and circulating among the two clarinets, flute, and percussion player that wanted to come in.  During the two days a week that I work at this school, I don’t have a prep period either day anymore.  Because of how many band students I have (they all get small group lessons) and the kids who have been requesting extra lessons at recess, I teach non-stop the entire day.  It’s such a good problem to have, but it’s tough going at that pace for 8+ hours!

12:00-12:30 Lunch

I used my official lunch break to take 10 minutes leaning against a brick wall outside and take a few deep breaths, then setting up my area for the afternoon classes.  I also talked with the custodian for a few minutes about staging for the winter concert.  He’s been so helpful with anything I need!

12:40-1:25 Fifth Grade Music

This is another one of my challenging classes to find things that engage them.  Today, I discovered something that did!  We did our Veteran’s Day prep, then worked on the Sing Noel percussion parts.  I am planning on choosing the best students from fifth and sixth grade to play in the concert.  We were getting a pretty good groove!

Then, we did a fun activity that was kind of an experiment, but turned out really well!  We played boomwackers to Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off”!  Even the boys were so into it, singing the whole thing.

FIrst, I wrote a C major scale, which they are familiar with, and played it on the piano.  Then I made each note into a triad and played what that sounded like.  I circled the 3 chords that are used in the song, G, Am, and C and played those.  I created this visual for them to use:

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Before we got to the song, we did a few warm-ups using boomwackers like following my tempos using a C major chord and echoing my rhythm patterns.  Once I was sure everyone knew the guidelines and the idea of the activity, I split the class into 3 groups and gave them their appropriate color boomwacker.  We practiced without the music first, then I played the song while I pointed to the chord.  They loved it!  I talked about how hundreds of pop songs use these 3 chords – they were skeptical! I know there’s a not a lot of musical substance to doing something like this, but they were singing (which is a struggle to get them to do most of the time) and it pulled them in to how great music class can be.  I hope that I can just sneak musical concepts into activities like this, even simple things like singing and keeping a steady beat, and they won’t even realize it because they’re having so much fun.

“Shake It Off” works perfectly for this activity because I only have diatonic boomwackers.  So only the notes in a C major scale – no F#s or any other flats that come up often in chords.  Many pop songs can be transposed to be played using the 3 chords I mentioned, but then you can’t play the recording as the kids are performing.  So I’m going to search for some more songs that they’ll know/like in a simple key for future activities.

1:30-2:20 Fourth Grade Music (I’m not really sure why fourth grade gets 50 minutes and the other classes only get 45 or 40.  It just happened that way…)

We did Veteran’s Day, the boomwacker activity, and also some work with recorder today.  I created an accompaniment for recorder to be used at the holiday concert, so we’re getting ready for that.  They were doing a good job today!  Again, they’re a challenging class for various reasons but I was proud of them.  Some of them thought “Shake It Off” was a “girl” song and wanted a “boy” song.  I had to be stern with them about not complaining because it doesn’t get much more fun than this!  Threatening to take away their instrument always makes kids shape up and focused again!

2:20-2:40 Pack Up

Everything goes back in the music closet!  Today, I got two fourth graders to help put everything away.  Thank goodness kids love to help do stuff.  The school day ends at 2:35.

2:40-3:00 Meeting

I met with the librarian, who is our tech guru, about using the district’s online system for ordering school supplies, or in my case, ukuleles!  I got the approval from my principal to purchase 10, so I just have to put the order in.

3:00-5:30 After School Program

As you probably know, I don’t teach music full-time.  I supplement it with substitute teaching and the after school program.  I work with a student one on one.  That’s all I can really say about it.  After a really full day of teaching and being on the go, it’s tough to go right into something else!

5:45 Arrive Home

Finally.

And that’s pretty much it!  It’s an intense day.  But it’s so, so fun.  Seriously, I get to chill with little kids all day and get pumped up to Taylor Swift while getting paid.  It’s not very much but I don’t care.  I didn’t exactly go into this profession for the paycheck!  I love teaching what I want to teach and creating my own style and curriculum.

I’m battling away a cold right now, so it’s times like right now where I’m so grateful I have tomorrow off.(Besides the after school program and teaching piano lessons in the evening.)  I definitely am not bored teaching music 3 days a week!  And even though tomorrow will mostly be spent writing e-mails and lesson plans for next week, I am so grateful to have the down time.  I subbed at another school in the district on Tuesday for seventh and eighth grade, so I’m ready for a break tomorrow to get rid of this cold!

Subbing was really, really fun.  I love working with older kids too.  They were so funny and helpful, and they thought I was super cool because I played instrumental music while they were doing silent reading for part of their class.  Like I said, it’s so nice being appreciated!

How awesome is it that I’ve found a profession I love?  I get excited when I think about the next teaching day or the improvement I’ve seen in my students.

Not once since I’ve moved to Vermont have I regretted it.  How has it already been almost three months since I’ve moved here?

Special shout-out goes to my longtime friend and former roommate, Caitlyn!  It’s her 21st birthday today!  Happy birthday lovely!

Maybe you should all go listen to Taylor Swift to get you pumped up about something you love.  🙂

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