Commencing a New Teaching Year

This week is the first week back at teaching for the year, which finally brings 2013 out of holiday mode and into that familiar routine, however, there is a little bit of effort required in the lead up those first lessons. Primarily this involves lots of phone calls to parents (and sometimes the students directly) in order to make sure that I haven’t scared any of them away the previous year.

In New Zealand, the first term for the school year starts about the first week of February (the Summer holidays are roughly December through to the end of January) and it’s important to get students into that learning mode before school starts. Why?

Because they haven’t practiced!

I admit it, that’s a generalization, but you find that three out of four students have barely got their instrument out of its case for 6 weeks, and the result is unexercised embouchure muscles that are going to start giving out half way through a lesson.

One of the most compelling reasons forgetting the musical routine working before the start of the school term is because the start of the school year is total chaos. This manifests itself from everything to motorways suddenly grinding to a halt because all the soccer mums start driving their kids to school, to all the Summer sports start trying to stuff up your timetable because they have irregular practice and competition days. Ah!

Another  import reason is that school bands usually start finding new members at the beginning of the year, and that may or may not involve auditions. Sometimes  just you (as teacher) mentioning to your student that you really would like them to join the school band, will prompt your students to keep an ear out for the school notices for when that first band practice is.

“But I teach for a living, why wouldn’t I want to start as early as possible?”

Okay, so that advice is for those teachers that actually do take a break and then tend to prolong the break even more out of the belief that students don’t really want to start until school starts. You’ll be surprised. As an aside, I encourage students (and parents) to not associate a music learning timetable with the school academic one. After all, music is there for the fun of it (they don’t have to learn from me), but one must go to school (unless you want Child Youth and Family knocking on your door).

So the trick to getting everyone sorted for the new year?

  • At the end of the previous year, tell everyone when you intend to start again. Write your start date in their homework notebooks.
  • Make sure that your student’s contact details are up to date. I get one heck of a shock when I ring a number expecting to speak to one of my Korean or Chinese students, and I instead get a thick kiwi accent is on the other side. Note that you probably also want to make sure you’ve got the parent’s first names. It might just be me, but I feel a bit awkward asking for Mr. or Mrs. Jacobson, and then you never know if the mother is actually a Ms, or if the parents have different surnames to the children. It’s a minefield; just get their first names.
  • Ask students/parents if they’re going away a holiday and when they come back. Conversation about holidays generally just happens anyway, so make a note of this so that you don’t try and contact them while they’re away. Write those dates in your notebook.
  • Come the following year, ring those that are not on holiday about you starting date. Hopefully it isn’t a surprise to anyone. The conversation with the parent will go something like…

“Hi, Kristine, it’s Glenn here. Just letting you know that I will be starting teaching again this week and am wondering if you’d like Michael to start lessons again at his usual time of 5:30 Thursday.”

Don’t do

“Hi, Kristine, it’s Glenn here. Just want to know if Michael will be continuing lessons this year”.

Phrase everything with the assumption that the student is coming back.

With any luck, that’s all the preparation required to have a flawless start to the year where one doesn’t have too many students missing in action.

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