MAC Corner – Make this School Year Your Best Ever

Mike Lawson • Commentary • August 14, 2015

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By Dr. Charles T. Menghini
This summer while teaching a graduate class in the summer master’s degree program at VanderCook College of Music, I was once again reminded of how much we as teachers really do know. The problem, for me at least, is that if I don’t stop to reflect on those things that are really important I end up occupying my time in areas that may not always do me the most good.  For me, it’s not a matter of not wanting to do something; it is a matter of not remembering to do something.

Being from a generation of “writing things down” I still find the old tried and true method of pencil to paper works best. “Writing things down” should not only include your “to do” list, it should also include “reminders” of how you should go about your work; simple things to try and remember.
I asked this class to write down something teachers should think about as they begin the school year.  Here were some of my favorites.
“Remember, you will always have something else to add to your to-do list. Learn to prioritize what is truly important and to understand that some things may have to wait until tomorrow.”
–       Erin Egan, Lincoln Hall Middle School, Illinois
“On your calendar, write in the day you should begin working on your paperwork instead of just the date it is due.”
–       Curtis Schroyer, Fox District, Missouri
“We use the word ‘play’ to describe what we do with music for a reason. Never forget that.  Work towards excellence and make sure you are ‘playing’ music. Don’t lose the joy and childlike awesomeness of ‘playing’ music.”
–       Midge Karam, Western Reserve Academy, Ohio
“Get to know the staff outside of your department and make some friends if possible. Allies in and out of your department can give great advice on school-wide problems, dealing with other teachers, and be a great sympathetic ear.”
–       Christopher Berg, Mather High School, Illinois
“Plan your time and work your plan. Know your objectives before the year starts so when you are in the classroom or rehearsal you can focus your attention on the execution of those goals.”
–       Zachary Himelhoch, Graduate Student, Illinois
“Involve your students in developing goals and expectations within the class. When they have a voice in the system they will be more accountable and responsible.”
–       Kyle Muskopf, Williamsville Junior-Senior High School, Illinois
“Go out of your way to meet and greet both new and old parents, faculty, and students. Being sociable will show people you are friendly and wanting to know them. This will make people want to work with you.”
–       Michael Meza, Graduate Student, California
“Keep a ‘praise notebook. Collect emails and notes from students, parents, and administration to look back on during a hard day. This will remind you of the impact you are making.”
–       Erica Wilt, DeFranco Elementary School, Pennsylvania
“Take time to study the scores you intend for your ensemble to play, and don’t forget to plan the kinds of clinics and professional development you want to participate in this year.”
–       Jaime Bustillo, Harmony School of Nature, Texas
“Try to remember the joy and excitement you felt during your time as a music student (probably the same feelings that drew you to the profession of teaching). Share those memories in the most ‘authentic’ way possible.”
–       Nancy Bieschke, Graduate Student, Illinois
“Take time to get to know your students. Enjoy the time you have with them and remember that they are the reason you come to school day after day and year after year.”
–       Sarah Brown, Mona Shores High School, Michigan
“Be an actor or actress when you enter the classroom. Be like a duck — smooth, floating, and calm on the outside while paddling like crazy underneath. Remember, the teacher version of your character should never take things personally.”
–       Carissa Stout, Des Moines Public Schools, Iowa
“Go into your school year with a clean slate. This can be your best year yet. Forget past mistakes and regrets. The beauty of teaching is that you get a ‘do-over’ every year.”
–       Emily Plumlee, DuQuoin Middle School, Illinois
“Treat your students with respect. Never talk down to them or be condescending. Remember that students will give you the same respect you give them.”
–       Mark Hamada, Schaumburg Junior High School, Illinois
“Take time to build a safe, positive community in your music classroom. Have your students get to know each other and you through icebreaker activities the first couple of days. It will be well worth the time.”
–       Kate Truscello, Rotolo Middle School, Illinois
“Don’t focus on the crazy things outside of your classroom. Focus on the daily successes of your students.”
–       Dana Jones, Sherrard Junior-Senior High School, Illinois
“Take every opportunity to get involved with your school as you can!”
–       Cody Sheldon, Rushville – Industry High School, Illinois
“Find balance between your school life and your home life. Strive to maintain that balance throughout the year.”
–       Amanda Rahn, Graduate Student, Illinois
“Find ways to present musical concepts in a fast-paced and creative style.”
–       Matthew Juergemeier, Willoughby – Eastlake Schools, Ohio
“Remember to keep a positive attitude and demeanor. You may not know every student’s home life. School, for some, could be the only place they can be around positive role models.”
–       Patrick Hoadley, Plainfield Central High School, Illinois
“You are only going to be able to change a few things in the course of a school year. Choose wisely and have a long term plan to get your program where you want it.”
–       Anthony Lanzino, Saratoga High School, California
“Plan ahead with a main goal in mind. Be flexible and have backup plans in case of an unexpected change.”
–       Morgan Stevenson, Dunbar-Pulaski Middle School, Indiana
“Listen to the pop radio stations to help understand the mindset of your students’ generation and get familiar with some of the catch phrases so you can use them to help build rapport.”
–       Damen Tolbert, Graduate Student, Illinois
“You always have to do what is best for the students. That’s why you are there. There is a lot of bureaucracy that you have to deal with as a teacher so keep your eye on the ball and you will be proud of your work.”
–       Ben Saltz, Boone Elementary School, Illinois
“Do not procrastinate. Set monthly or quarterly goals and layout the timeline needed to accomplish them.”
–       Heather Hojnacki, Sabbona Middle School, Illinois
“Make sure you schedule time for yourself and your family so you avoid feeling burned out.”
–       Erin Gerig, Duneland School Corporation, Indiana
“Teach students to be music makers outside of the classroom. Too often we focus on creating music appreciators rather than music makers. Help create life-long music makers, not just life-long music consumers.”
–       Tom Pritchard, East Greenwich Schools, Rhode Island
“Take time to layout the ground rules and procedures on the very first day and keep reviewing them the first week.  An organized and structured classroom will be more successful than an unorganized one. The students (and you) will have more fun if everyone is clear on classroom expectations and procedures.”
–       Stacey Peterik, Urbana School District, Illinois
“Your ensemble in and of itself can be your best tool for student retention. If you can make your ensemble an exciting team that kids want to be a part of, retention will mostly take care of itself.  We gain too much gray hair from worrying about students that do not stay in our programs. The best thing I ever did for my own sanity was to learn to take a breath, make peace with the fact a student has quit and move on.”
–       Anthony Marchese, Ridgeview School District, Illinois
“Write out a list of five new ideas that you want to integrate into your teaching this year.  It can be teaching strategy, organization, classroom management, or anything else you can think of.  You should never teach the exact same way year after year.”
–       Dan Schraub, Lisle School District, Illinois
“Become good friends with the custodian. You will probably need their help at some point.”
–       Austin O’Brien, St. Patrick High School, Illinois
“Think about what you want to accomplish next year at the end of each school year. Write your plan and begin teaching it in the fall. Everything you do during the year should be part of the plan to achieve that goal.”
–       Rich Alifantis, Benet Academy, Illinois
“You have the power to make people feel good. Use it. Be responsible and take action.”
–       Lauren Schorsch, William E. Young Elementary, Illinois
“Do everything you can to learn your students’ names as quickly as possible and then use them!  This shows them right away that you care about them and their learning.”
–       Becky Fuller, Isaac Fox Elementary School, Illinois
“Establish procedures in your classroom first in order to maximize learning time.”
–       Andrew White, Ottawa Township High School, Illinois
“Read The First Days of School by Harry K. and Rosemary Wong to refresh and energize your idea of starting the year on a great note!”
–       Joel Shapiro, Clarke County High School, Virginia
“Every fall it feels like we come back to wanting to save the world.  But save yourself and your students’ sanity by selecting one thing to implement, improve, or experiment with.  Then do it really, really well.”
–       Sarah Anderson, McKinley Middle School, Iowa
“Plan for active music making. Talk less and help the kids do more.”
–       Ruthie Munk, Resurrection & IHM-St. Casmir Schools, Michigan
“Communicate. Then over-communicate. Then communicate again. Do all you can to ensure there are as few surprises as possible for students, parents, administration, and colleagues.  This goes for important dates, events, and concerts. It also goes for other items like the mission of the program. Communication followed by ensuring understanding can act as an ‘informal contract.’ It also gets you buy in and prevents the risk of someone saying you never told them.”
–       Brett Benge, Graduate Student, Illinois
“Start either a document on your computer or a good old-fashioned notebook and maintain it as a running ‘note to self.’ Write down everything that goes terribly wrong or really well. After that first concert/performance, there will be something to remember such as a backup power strip, or this parent can help or don’t forget to bring coffee for the custodian on concert days.”
 – Laura Shapovalov, Racine Unified School District, Wisconsin
There are hundreds more ideas to help you realize a great school year. Tips for Success are available as a free download compliments of the Music Achievement Council (MAC) of the NAMM Foundation. The 24 Tips for Success have been compiled to help you with all facets of running a school band and orchestra program. There you will find ideas and tips on recruiting, retention, working with parents, administration, developing a budget, creating an instrument replacement plan, music advocacy, and so much more.
The Music Achievement Council is an action-oriented nonprofit organization sponsored by the National Association of School Music Dealers (NASMD) and the International Music Products Association (NAMM). MAC is committed to helping teachers succeed and to create more music makers. Teachers will find materials online at  

In addition to finding the Tips for Success, you will find handbooks to help guide you in recruiting and retaining students. If you start beginners, I encourage you to check out First Performance for both band and orchestra. The First Performance incorporates just a few notes, comes complete with a script and sample program. It is a great way to showcase your students early in their musical development. Schools that have used First Performance receive rave reviews from students, parents, and administrators. Remember, the key to making music makers is to make music! Good luck!
Charles T. Menghini is president, professor of Music and director of bands at VanderCook College of Music in Chicago, Illinois. He began his teaching at VanderCook College in 1994. Dr. Menghini has written for numerous professional journals and magazines and is also co-author of the Essential Elements 2000 Band Method, published by the Hal Leonard Corporation, where he serves as an Educational Advisor. He also frequently serves as a national and international conductor, clinician, and adjudicator. An active performer, Charlie played lead trumpet in the Kansas City Chiefs Professional Football Band for fifteen seasons. Menghini is an educational member of the Music Achievement Council of the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) Foundation.


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