What NOT to Say to Your Music Teacher

I realize we music educators can occasionally carry a chip on our shoulders about being marginalized in education. You would, too, if you had to endure any comments from colleagues enumerating the differences between electives teachers and “real” teachers. I assure you, I am as real as they come. I’m not a unicorn. I went to college to become a teacher, just like the rest of my colleagues. I earned a degree in education. Actually, I earned two. File Dec 12, 1 46 53 PM

I’ve had the pleasure of working in several districts among numerous colleagues in all subject areas who acknowledged and respected my place in their school and the lives of students. Unfortunately, I’ve run into my fair share of educators, even administrators, who just don’t “get it”. I think in most cases they don’t mean to be condescending or to imply that I matter less than other teachers. They just don’t understand the implications of their comments.

So what follows is a guide. I know most of you “get it”, but for those who think I’m a unicorn: what NOT to say to your music teacher.   (Note: It’s a double transgression if you’ve said any of these things to a music teacher in December…when everybody is suddenly and miraculously a classical music fan and demands a performance at every venue imaginable. Namely the Hallejuah Chorus. Which is actually an Easter anthem. Just sayin’.)

“You’re so lucky. You don’t have to worry about OCCT/EOI/High-Stakes Testing.”

No. Instead, I have to display my students’ progress in a public setting in front of hundreds of people multiple times a year. And you’re only partially correct. I do have to worry about high-stakes testing. The rehearsal time lost to the constant interruptions while my students take multiple exams and I monitor them is a detriment to our preparedness for contests and performances.

“You’re so lucky. You don’t have all this grading.”

No. What I have is hours upon hours of the paperwork it takes to administrate a fine arts programs. Contest registrations. All-State Chorus entries. And don’t even get me started on finances. Fundraiser requests, receipts, deposits, equipment bids, purchase orders, invoices, account reconciliations, etc…for MULTIPLE financial obligations each year. Essentially, my students and their parents have to raise the money to fund our program. Contest fees, audition registrations, honor choir participations, hundreds if not thousands of pieces of music, uniforms, accompanist fees, transportation costs…even the costs of substitute teachers…are just some of the things we must pay for every year. Not to mention (but I will), we do have to worry about grading; specifically, how to quantify something that is subjective and differentiated for multiple students.

“You’re so lucky. You get to choose your own curriculum.”

This is true. We get to choose our own curriculum. For multiple classes, levels of ability, and purposes…several times a year. Do you know how difficult it is to find appropriate and interesting literature for a choir with 2 boys and 11 girls, 9 of whom are freshmen? We can’t teach the same 175 days each year. Our students have us for multiple years. That means, once we burn through an emergency sub plan, we can’t use it again for four years. Once we perform a piece of music, it goes away for several years before we pull it out again, if ever. My sister teaches geometry. She is given a textbook and a curriculum map. At any given time of the year, she knows approximately where she should be and where the other geometry teachers are in the curriculum. No such amenities are afforded to music teachers. Sure, some districts have an adopted music curriculum, but it’s rarely appropriate for all levels at all sites, and there is rarely anybody in place to train and monitor the teachers using it.

“You’re so lucky. Your students choose to be in your class.”

You’re right. We have to recruit and retain our students. Our jobs depend upon it. We have to walk the fine line of holding them accountable to a high standard of excellence, while making the course enjoyable enough they choose to continue enrolling in it. We have to worry from year-to-year what changes administration is going to make to scheduling and requirements that limits student electives. In some places, we even have to worry about students being removed from our courses on a regular basis for remediation. Because apparently, the way to help a kid who hates math get better at math is to make him do more math.

“You’re so lucky. You’re not a core teacher/your class isn’t academic.”

Fine Arts are listed as a core academic subject under No Child Left Behind. Districts are required to hire Highly Qualified teachers to instruct students in music and art. Students are required to obtain at least one Fine Arts credit for graduation, and music can satisfy that requirement. Music is academic. My students are assessed and evaluated. They receive a grade which is included in their GPA and on their transcripts.


If you are guilty of any of these transgressions, have no fear. Forgiveness is attainable. Show up to a performance. Include your music teacher at your table in the lounge. Even easier: be kind. Assume that you can’t possibly know the intricacies of each person’s role at your school, but you CAN respect each person’s role. And the person in it. Or the next time we’re selling “World’s Finest Chocolate”, I’ll put you down for a few dozen…boxes.



21 thoughts on “What NOT to Say to Your Music Teacher

  1. How many times have I heard ” do you have to write lesson plans?” Umm yes I’m a teacher I don’t go off the top of my head singing and dancing everyday. Are you serious?

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Regarding the question about writing lesson plans, I probably spend about 5-7 hours each week on planning alone. And, lest someone thinks it’s because I have all general music classes, I have four Senior High choral ensembles, Music Theory, and 3rd grade General Music. Additionally, I teach small group vocal lessons. It doesn’t matter what you teach; if you’re going to teach well, effectively, and efficiently, you should be starting with a good plan.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. When I first entered the teaching profession, I was given the highest compliment when introduced as the “retarded” teacher. I really do mean it was a compliment as my students, whether retarded or not were the kindest, most hard working students in the school. So if I was identified with those attributes, I will most welcomingly accept the title. I greatly appreciate all those music educators who included my students.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’ve heard and experienced all of the comments. I was once told by a fifth grade teacher that I didn’t really have a college degree since all I had to do was play the piano and sing, none of which she could do. The school administrator trusted me enough to teach PK-12, teach all general music classes.conduct three choirs, do a musical one a year and be responsible for all Friday morning assemblies!!!! I guess I was a pretty organized person to pull all that off. By the way, when I resigned they replaced me with three people!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I taught Spanish for 39 years. I’m grateful to my teachers for a great career. I was lucky enough to have five fabulous music teachers who have given me a lifetime of singing with a local opera company , a 50 year career as a church organist and the opportunity to share my piano and flute skills with my community. My life without these teachers would be diminished!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Your students know that you are legit and so do you. I was alternatively certified and had to endure comments like that. They did end, however, the day it was announced that I had achieved my National Board Certification, and on the first try. Oops. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  7. This post has some nice points, and we all feel this way much of the time, but I think the tone veered a bit too much toward complaining. Remember how great it is to be a music teacher!

    I try to view a lot of these things as positives — Yes, I get to show off how much my students have learned throughout the year/season. Organizing an instrumental music concert with 130 elementary band and orchestra kids can be a bear, but it’s also tons of fun, right?

    I get to connect with parents as they volunteer in my program, adding to its strength.

    My curriculum is always changing and needing to be revamped — this keeps things from getting stale and boring. Why would I want to teach/perform the same thing every year? As a musician, I enjoy the challenge of finding pedagogically sound, interesting, and relevant music for my students. Sometimes I even get to arrange it myself!

    Finally, I love recruiting kids for my program — connecting with them and helping them see how great music can be if they just give it a shot and don’t give up.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I feel that way, too, Walt. I’ve written about it several times including:



      And several others.

      Sometimes we have to get snarky to be heard. Case and point: those posts I listed have a few hundred views. What Not to Say to Your Music Teacher has almost 60,000!


      1. Thanks for the clarification. I meant no disrespect, and I this is the first time I’ve seen your blog — linked to it from a friend on Facebook. My comment was just my gut reaction to what I read.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. Thank you for writing this. I’m in my 31st year as an elementary music teacher. I never teach the same thing year after year. Concepts are the same, certain songs will always be taught, but never the same. I know I’ve touched lives. Before my PTO program in Dec I ran into a high school teacher that was a former student. He realized who I was an excitedly told me he had gone to college for music because I started his love for music. I floated thru my program knowing that no matter how stressed it is to pull programs together, I still love what I do.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. NOT a music teacher, but a pastor and husband of a special ed teacher (who by the way has her undergrad in music ed) and the father of a music teacher who has undergrad in music ed and master in music therapy. Before answering the call to ministry I was a string major in college. Anyone who thinks a music teacher has it easy is seriously uninformed! I would like to see some of those making the comments about how easy a music teacher has it to go and see how demanding the curriculum is for music ed– not only do you have to keep up with the education requirements, but there is the long hours of study and practice / performance of music!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I’m a high school math teacher but I’d never put down a music teacher. The way I see it, we’re all on the same team, trying to educate students and help them become responsible citizens. I’ve taught at schools that have successful music programs and schools that don’t and I can tell you, music brings a lot to the school. The best students I’ve had have been musicians. Music is an art, and it is expression, but it is also mathematical. There is so much math in music. I think I really learned fractions, not in the math classroom, but in reading and performing music, from the time signatures and duration of notes. If you’re making music, you’re doing math subconsciously.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Justin, you hit the nail on the head. That is actually something I say to my students all the time, “music is math!”

      Particularly when we’re talking about rhythm.

      My sister teaches math (Geometry), so hats off to you! And I can tell you, it works the other way, too. My best music theory students are usually very good math students.


  11. Thank you for this article. I don’t teach in a school, but I’ve taught private lessons, led children’s choirs, put together choral and orchestral programs, and for a while I directed a brand-new Gospel choir and had to teach them all how to read music in the process. Many people think it’s easy, but even though it’s definitely a lot of hard work, it is so rewarding to see people rise to musical challenges. I’m glad there was a comment about learning math through music and music through math, because I definitely improved in math because of music. Music also helps with language skills (learning about phrasing and dynamics), builds confidence (performances), helps with public speaking skills (projection, articulation, and breathing), improves self-discipline and self-motivation (getting better through lots of practice), even science (how instruments work, how to carry yourself and breathe to get the best tone quality, etc.). Without music, students would not do as well in other subjects.

    Liked by 1 person

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