Survey: Back to School Rituals

Mike Lawson • Archives • September 20, 2011

The key to starting the new school year on the right note lies in preparation, and it seems that every educator has his or her own unique methods for getting the most out of the first few days of school, while also setting the tone for year-long success.  To probe a little deeper into the specifics of exactly what music educators around the country are doing to start the year off right, and what they’re excited or worried about for this coming school year, SBO sent out this reader survey in early August.

Let’s hope that the 26 percent of respondents who indicated that they weren’t ready for the new school year have since gotten up to speed!


Are you ready for the new school year?

“Next year will be my 40th year in education and I’m as excited to start this year as I was my first year.  I have great kids and I work in a fabulous school in an amazingly supportive community.”

Dave Hanke 

Slinger High School 

Slinger, Wis.


“I am a middle school band director and I have been assigned to also be in charge of the elementary band lessons this year.  I am really excited about this and am really looking forward to getting started!”

Jim Miller 

Laurel Highlands Middle School 

Uniontown, Pa.


“We are still under a very widespread construction project, and I am not able to have access to my building at this point.  Paperwork and communications aspects are progressing as usual, but the physical setup will be a very, very last-minute rush!”

Robin Linaberry 

Maine-Endwell Senior High School

Endwell, N.Y.


Have you developed any unique tricks or rituals for preparing to start the school year strong?


“I plan the first day in detail, even writing a script to be sure I cover the procedures, expectations, and paper work. I try to imagine what a ‘new kid’ sees and feels coming into my class for the first time, walking through every part of that first class.”

Martha Giarratano 

Austin Middle School 

Beaumont, Texas


“I get my orchestra room setup as well as the first several orchestra pieces selected the week before mandatory teacher workdays commence, so I feel empowered and energized to teach when stringers arrive in my orchestra room!”

Joel Jank 

Hastings Middle/Senior High Schools 

Hastings, Neb.


“In my partial retirement years, I have learned to ‘go with the flow’ more.  Since all I teach are beginners now, the start of the year is focused on getting the kids on quality horns that don’t hurt family budgets.  Sometimes it’s hard to convince parents to spend a little more for better instruments.  Rental plans seem to be the best way to get started as long as the rentals are also quality equipment.”

Harlan Yenne 

Chandler Intermediate School 

Chandler, Texas


“I enjoy the process of getting the classroom ready – cleaning parts of the room that usually don’t get cleaned, preparing instruments and music, and setting up the classroom. It’s nice to go in a few days before the year starts and work at your own pace, knowing full well you’ll never get ahead of the game, but trying nonetheless.”

Bill Martinez 

Hollencrest Middle School 

West Covina, Calif.


 What are you most excited about in terms of the new school year?

“Our brand new High School building and music area.”

John Stetler 

Elida High School

Elida, Ohio


“A new Principal that has already set a better tone.”

James Porter 

Springville Elementary 

Springville, La.


“As I am the only band director grades 7-12, I will be learning to say ‘no’ a lot more this year to administrator and people that want more of my time.”

Matthew Taton 

Mt. Pleasant High School 

Mt. Pleasant, Mich.



What are your biggest worries or concerns?

“We continue to go through budget issues in our state that force us to justify our place in the budget without staffing reductions.  We also have issues with instrumentation and retention coming up from the middle schools.  This is a continued challenge to find the avenue to attract the best and brightest.”

George Dragoo 

Stevens High School

Rapid City, S.D.


“As with most states, Wisconsin is going through a major change in school funding. Cuts have diminished the amount given to public school districts and schools are scrambling to find solutions without affecting programs that are offered to students. The elective courses seem to be the first area that is decreased. These classes which include the performing arts are important to the school curriculum. Students are more likely to achieve a higher level of success and will stay in school if there is something there that will attract their interest. We need to be concerned about meeting the needs of all students and learner types.”

Tim Meinholz 

Columbus High School 

Columbus, Wis.


“I had about 10 students who were great musicians move out of our area to another city, neighboring state, and some across the country because that was where their families could find work or a more affordable place to live.  Some of these families were our biggest financial supporters.  Some of the other families were some of our most consistent parent volunteers.  With the lawsuit my district went through last year about a ‘free’ public education as well as our lingering [troubled] economy, we are definitely seeing it affect our program’s financial status.  We are doing all we can to try to drive home that if we as a group are unable to come up with the required funds we need for the school year, we will be unable to participate in some events that we really should be a part of, like marching band contests, concert band festivals, and so on.”

David Lesser 

Clovis North Educational Center 

Fresno, Calif.


Is there anything you’re planning to do differently from last year?


“I’ve already started doing different things this year. I’m going to focus more on the positive and less on the negative, and let the batteries recharge when they need to be recharged. I’m ready to meet my challenges and face them, rather than try to hide them.”

Mark Webster 

TK Stone Middle School 

Elizabethtown, Ky.


“I plan on implementing the use of SmartMusic in the classroom and encouraging its use with all my students.  I will also be using it for assessment so that I no longer lose a week of rehearsal time for testing.”

Jeff Canter 

Thorne Middle School 

Port Monmouth, N.J.


“Make parental contacts a priority, even more than before.  It is important for parents to know what their children are learning and what the teachers’ expectations are.”

Ron DePascale 

David E. Williams Middle School 

Coraopolis, Pa.


“Be more of a stickler.  I think I give up before the kids do what I really want, and I plan to keep at it until I get my way!”

Margaret Cancino 

John Hanson Middle School 

Waldorf, Md.


Additional thoughts on the coming school year?


“I worry about the big picture. Numbers have been decreasing the past few years and the new 8-period schedule has had an impact this year, and it will continue to impact us. Unfortunately, I see more changes in the program down the road. We don’t seem to have or get the support we once had both, department-wide and district-wide.”

Allan Deitz 

Walt Whitman High School 

Huntington, N.Y.


“I’m finally ready to step out and present at music conferences.  I’m really excited.  I think that I have good ideas and a better perspective that can help other educators in the field.”

Juan Aguilar

San Marcos High School 

San Marcos, Calif.


“Planning is hardly ever perfect.  Being flexible and remembering that we work with students and volunteer parents are of the essence.”

Joel L. Denton 

Ooltewah High School 

Ooltewah, Tenn.


 “Positive energy from me makes all the difference, and as I get a little older, I have to occasionally reminded myself to lengthen my stride and pick up my pace. So far, so good!”

Rick Hammarstrom 

Sierra High School 

Manteca, Calif.

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