Advice for Music Teachers Starting at a New School

There are so many things that need to happen at a new school. Meeting colleagues, remembering new school routines, memorizing your copy code, what’s protocol for the last coffee in the coffee pot, school discipline policy. . .

It’s enough to make your head spin.

And what’s crazy is that none of that even has to do with your actual teaching!

For any teacher at a new school, it's important to remember that adapting to a new teaching environment will take time. It will also take time for your students to get used to you. 

Give it time. 

Don’t worry about underperforming in comparison to the former music teacher. And don’t worry about outshining this former teacher. DO worry about setting your students up for success with you from day one.

Advice for teachers at a new school

In all likelihood, your teaching practices and teaching philosophy differ from what your students are used to.

With that in mind, give students (and yourself) time to adapt. This new philosophy doesn’t need to be implemented right away, but we do need to start preparing students right away for how music time may look different than before.

Today I’m sharing the top three MUST DO things for music teachers at a new school.

These have nothing to do with remembering your copy code, nothing to do with the process for replacing your lost teacher ID.

Instead, they are actionable steps about your music, your philosophy, and your students - the reasons we teach!

1. Establish routines

We’ll have a hard time learning together without good classroom management, and routines are a cornerstone for a classroom management system that works.

How do you want students to enter your classroom? What’s the easiest way for your class to get in a circle? How can you line the students up without kids bumping heads or cutting in line? Procedures are the glue of a class that runs smoothly.

While it’s hard to waltz in front of a new group of students and inform them of the new list of routines, it’s very worth it. It’s never too late to start implementing how you want your classroom to run, but it’s best to start the very first day of your teaching. Even teachers established at the schools take time to rethink routines and make sure they’re allowing the classroom to operate well, so don’t be afraid to change it up if the old system doesn’t work for you.

Think through your routines for entering the room, sitting, standing, making a circle, getting out instruments, moving to different parts of the classroom, changing activities, and lining up.

Learn Names

Even if you have an established, working curriculum, it won’t be fully implemented the first day, week, or even month. It will take time for the students to get on board with your new philosophy  and learn how their new music teacher will run things. It will also take time for you to get to know them, and that starts with knowing their names. Yes, all their names. It’s a process that takes a LOT of time. But it is very worth it. Here are some things that can help you remember the 600 or so names a little easier.

  • Name tags - many teachers have these already and are happy to hand them out before coming to your class. Send a quick email and find out! If teachers don’t have name tags, what’s a quick way you could create them? Could you print out stickers? Slip their names into a plastic name tag holder that can go around their neck? It’s worth the effort not to call a kid “buddy” for the rest of the year.

  • Seating charts - At the beginning of your time at a new school I recommend a seating chart, even for your littles (especially for your littles). You might assign their seats yourself, or let them choose their own and you can move them if it becomes a problem. You might also consider sending your seating chart to their classroom teacher for feedback.

  • Yearbook - This one is a great memory tester. Once you think you’ve got a lot of names down, see if you can get your hands on a recent yearbook. Cover the students’ names below their pictures and check if you can remember their names without help. It’s an added challenge that they won’t be in the class groupings you’re expecting!

2. Find Out What They Know


A pre-assessment is a MUST DO with a new group of students. It doesn’t have to take up a lot of time, and it doesn’t have to be painful.

Pre-assessing won’t give you all the information you need, but it will be a start. You’ll find other surprising information about the students later in the year, but the goal here is to get up and running. Remember that every assessment has limits to the data you can get from it, and remember that finding out what they don’t know is just as valuable as finding out what they do know. So don’t be discouraged if your students don’t do well on your assessment.

>>>>>>> Read: Assessment in music Part 1 and Part 2

Talk to their teacher

The absolute best resource you can use when creating your pre-assessment is the former music teacher. If he or she is around, you can have a nice long chat about curriculum, procedures, administration and parent expectations of the program, and what’s worked in the past. This would create a beautiful spring board for creating assessments so check to see if it's a possibility.

3. Sing Sing Sing

Don’t forget to make music in your first lessons!! Pick some easy, engaging songs (preferably with movement) and start singing.

While you’re in the process of figuring out what your students know you can still have meaningful and musical experiences. Don’t worry about songs being too advanced or too easy - just start singing. You don’t need all the data in to start making music.

  • Singing right away buys you time. Give your students time to adapt to your way of teaching, and remember that we can be musical even in the transition to a new philosophy or curriculum… The key here is to buy time, not waste it. Singing is perfect for accomplishing this.

  • Singing gives you valuable information about your students' musical maturity. Do your students know where to breathe in a phrase? Can they match pitch? Do they pick up on songs quickly and accurately? How is their tone? Can they notice melodic or rhythmic patterns? Singing together, asking a few questions, and observing will give you an enormous amount information on where your students are in their learning.

  • Songs you teach will become the backbone of your curriculum later. As music teachers, our songs are our curriculum so it makes sense to sing right away. Every time you’re confused about what your students know and can do, have them sing. Even if you teach a song in the first weeks of school and discover that your students aren’t ready to tackle concepts in the song, you haven’t wasted time. Students have enjoyed themselves and been challenged musically. You can pull the song out later when they are ready and they will have already have learned it! They’re ahead of the game.


Wondering what to sing? I have some great songs in the Folk Song Index. It’s a collection that I made for my own classroom and I use it all the time.


There are so many things to do when starting at a new school.

It can be easy to get overwhelmed by the list of things that need to be remembered, accomplished, and planned in the short term. However, remember that as teachers at a new school we're playing the long game.

When we need ways to get up and running in a way that will set us up for success both now and later, these tips will do the job!

Happy teaching.

The Hardest Thing Is:

Whether or not you're at a new school, I'd love to know: 

What's the hardest thing you're facing right now in your teaching?

Type your answer below. I'd love to hear from you!