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  • Writer's pictureJanis Aston

Ready or not . . . Here they come!

My room's ready! Now what?!?

Maybe you'll be spending the next few weeks getting your room ready, putting up posters, arranging and re-arranging furniture. Deciding where to put instruments. Distancing chairs or sit-spots. Getting everything just right. All of those preparations are important. Children will love walking into your room.

But . . . Are you really ready? Do you have a plan? For the first day? The first week? And the next?

Back-to-School Checklist

The following list just hits the main ideas. Each item should probably be a blog post all on its own. But this will get you started. You can always email me for more detailed information! At the end of the post,

I have included links for items that might be helpful.

Behavior Plan

For me, this was the most important piece of the puzzle. And yes, I did all of those fun things to get my room ready. I even have a blog post—What does your room say?—about being intentional with room prep.

If you don't have a behavior plan in place before the first child enters your room, you'll be frantically scrambling no matter how great your room looks.

Children need boundaries to keep them safe and to create an environment in which they will learn. They need consequences if they break those boundaries and adults who will be consistent in enforcing them. Children need to know the boundaries (expectations) and the consequences at the very beginning so they will know the responsibility of making good or poor choices is theirs.

Begin your first day with a fun activity—name song, moving activity, clapping rhythms, etc. Introduce yourself with a Powerpoint. Show your family, pets, house, fun things you like to do, hobbies, sports. As you go through the slides, ask students questions like—Raise your hand if you have a brother, sister, pets, live in an apartment, house, etc.

Then introduce the rules for your classroom. These might be schoolwide rules such as

PBIS and how those will look in your room. Or you might have your own set of rules. Whatever you use, be sure there are only 3-4 rules. Keep them simple and easy to remember. I had a fun rap that helped our students remember our school rules and expectations. The older students helped with puppets to teach them to the younger students.

Teaching rules does not have to be boring!


Your school district should have a district-wide curriculum plan in place that includes a Pacing Guide. This is invaluable to all teachers. Ideally, your district will have regular meetings and/or in-service days for the elementary music teachers. This is a time to share, learn from each other, and be sure everyone is on the same page with their lessons and long-term goals.

Larger cities have high student mobility rates making it very important for schools to maintain curriculum consistency across the district.

However, many districts treat the related arts classes—music, art, PE, technology, languages—as "extra" classes. Teachers are basically left on their own to devise a plan. New teachers flounder in this kind of environment.

Summer is the best time to plan.

I know people don't like to hear that. But if you are a new teacher or new to a school, you will hit the ground running when the school allows teachers back in, which is usually just a few days before students begin. It is what it is. After you have done this for a few years, you will get your summers back!

If you are a new teacher, right out of college, begin now making your lesson plans for the first few weeks. Ask yourself, What do I want my students to know by the end of the year? Where will I start to achieve that goal? If your school has provided you with grade level resources and teacher's manuals from a publisher such as MacMillan or Silver Burdett, use their plan! These books were written by professionals who have done the research for you. There is nothing wrong with using that for a while until you get a feel for where your students are developmentally and until you feel more comfortable in the classroom. You'll gradually implement your own materials, songs, activities, movements, etc. from workshops, college classes, other teachers. You will not wake up every day wondering what you'll be doing in class, for five grade levels! That is a nightmare!

If your district does not have selected curriculum, materials, or a pacing guide, the sooner you begin accumulating these, the better.

What to look for? Now, that's the million dollar question! People have done research and written books on that topic. For me, it boils down to THREE areas.

Look for curriculum that will . . .

  1. Provide engaging, age-appropriate, sequential activities based on the state and national standards for elementary music.

  2. Create and foster a safe and inclusive environment in the music classroom through the use of quality music literature from a variety of cultures including current musical genres.

  3. Encourage students to become critical thinkers, discerning listeners, and gives them the opportunity to be creative as they develop into life-long learners.

After a few years of teaching, most successful music teachers find they have developed their own curriculum—one that works for them personally and meets the needs of their student population. Much is learned by trial and error. That's OK. You teaching style grows and develops over the years. The best teachers are the ones who are flexible and willing to change in order to do what is best for their students.

Inventory & Budget

Know what you have to work with and what you need.

  • Instruments

  • Books, supplementary materials

  • Recordings—CDs, online, hard drive

  • Sound equipment—speakers

  • Computer

  • Projector, screen

  • Smartboard, whiteboard

  • Paper, office supplies

Summer is the best time to create a short-term and long-term budget. Dream big while also being realistic and cognizant of your school's population. Many times your Parent-Teacher organization will help fund your program. And check with your school's office administrator to see if funds are available from the school or district to help with supplies,

Submit your budget through the proper channels. Attach a letter of explanation and justification for your needs. Always send a copy to your principal. Be professional and you will be rewarded and maybe surprised with positive responses.

List of Students

This may seem to be a simple thing but was always difficult information for me to obtain. The related arts teachers were responsible for helping direct students to their rooms the first half day of school. We were handed a bulky, stapled set of papers of the students by classroom assignment. So if parents and/or students came to us to know where they should go, we first had to ask what grade and then shuffle through 5 sets of 5+ classrooms in each set to find that student's name.

After a few years of doing this, I requested a list of students from the school's office assistant as an electronic document. A couple of weeks before school started. However was easiest for her to send to me. It was usually in Excel and I just created a new document and sorted the students by grade level and then alphabetical order. Two columns–name and class assignment. I printed and gave 5 pages to all helpers, one per grade level. Easy.

We could also take the Excel file and create our own class lists that were tailor-made for each of us and be ready for the first day. I was always told they could not give us the lists until the first day of school because there would be so many changes. I explained that a few changes were easier than starting from scratch. It worked!

Finally . . .

It's that time of year when I start seeing posts on Facebook with questions from "What songs do you use first day?" and "What does your room look like? Where do you put your instruments?" to "When do you start teaching your rules?" Everyone posts picts of their rooms, reflecting the hard work and hours spent.

Then, three weeks into the year, the posts change drastically. "I don't know what to do . . . I'm at my wit's end . . . Not sure I'm cut out for this . . ." I know you've seen it.

Teaching is one of the most rewarding careers but also one of the most challenging. And teaching elementary music will drain you dry. But will fill you back up the next day, the next hour. Yes, it's hard. Yes, it's a roller coaster ride. But, oh, my goodness, what a thrilling ride it is when you can hang on during the climb and learn how to let go during the most exciting parts.

So . . . Ready or not, HERE THEY COME!!

List of Great Resources!

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