Professional advise is at your fingertips. Over 1500 VanderCook alumni are actively teaching in music programs all over the world. We recently asked some Alumni Board members to share some advice on the following questions…
What are the most important elements of being an effective music teacher?
An effective music teacher must be organized and prepared to communicate the content, but must also be flexible enough to adapt his or her teaching strategies to the situation at hand. An effective music teacher has solid fundamentals and music basics and understands that fundamentals are of primary importance.
I think an effective teacher is passionate about reaching people through music and devoted to making that happen. I also believe that an effective music teacher MUST be an extremely effective communicator.
How did you develop your teaching philosophy?
Over the years, I've learned that what I do is just as vital to the development of a child as anything or any other course a child would study. Not all students are at or might not ever get to the same level of performance or understanding, but each should have the opportunity to experience the art.
I was fortunate to have many great teachers and mentors along the path of my education and career. Dr. Richard Brittain taught me how to teach, but more importantly he taught me how to KEEP IT SIMPLE. Dr. Victor Zajec taught me how to get what I want to hear from a band, but also taught me how to practice. My philosophy is eclectic and stolen from the best minds in music education.
How do you remain motivated?
Always keep a vision of where you want to go and remember that actual progress happens (often) slowly.
Re-inventing myself both in new things to try with the bands and in other areas of my life.
Describe your approach to communication with your students, parents, colleagues, administration and community?
Stephen King says it best: omit unnecessary words. With my students and parents, I always try to be direct and to the point in the rehearsal setting. However, getting to know your students and parents personally gives you a direct line of travel to provide them with a better educational experience. My colleagues and administrators understand that, through my actions and support of other programs in the school, I am not trying to put the band in front of everything; rather, my intentions are for the band to be in line with all of the other offerings. As for the community, the best way to communicate your support is to be present at all events. I never say no to a community function, as they are the reason I have the opportunity to do what I do.
Communication is THE MOST IMPORTANT PART of the job! You must communicate clearly, effectively and often with everyone. Obviously, your communication will vary from situation to situation but you MUST be articulate and intelligent in every conversation, letter or email you send out! Check your grammar and spelling!
How did you develop your style to classroom discipline and do you have any "tricks" that you can share?
By imitating successful teachers.
I dress appropriately to teach a class. I always wear a tie to workand never dress casually. Students respond to that.
I stick with a consistent classroom routine. "Mixing things up" happens too often in schools. Be reasonably predictable in your
Discipline starts with developing respect and the teaching of good attitudes in students. Here, the teacher must serve as a model. To develop a fine band, it is necessary to show and teach students exactly what you want. This takes a variety of approaches but be absolutely consistent with your message, especially with middle school and younger! I firmly believe students do not need to be offered lots of choices as much as they need to be shown a "way" that works which they can believe in and trust. Do this and watch their confidence soar! When things falter, I like to blame myself (at least to the students). This teaches fairness and builds mutual respect. They will be much more apt to go where you want them to go after you do this, and you will certainly have their attention!
Perform high quality material worthy of serious study as this will lend itself to bringing out the best qualities in your students and the music. Again, this builds respect and trust at all levels. However, always recognize that learning does not occur in a straight line. You must be flexible. It is here that we all must continually grow to stay fresh both on and off the podium.
What is your favorite saying?
"A student is your BEST teacher." Isn't that what this music education "thing" is about? Inspiring the next generation? How can it get any better than that?!
Italian: "Ci vuol paziena." = English: "You have to have patience."
What is your favorite teaching tip and how does it work?
I adopted a saying and technique from my high school band director, who also adopted this from his mentor: During every rehearsal, you must be insistent, consistent, and persistent.
For clarinets: Getting high notes to speak (works every time) Have students visualize a tennis ball in the back of their throat. This opens the throat and drops the jaw.
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Send questions to ctovar@vanderCook.edu