Countdown to First Day: Be Prepared for Your Music Classroom with Checklists

Music Teacher Preparation-Beginning of Year Checklist

 It’s the middle of July, and you know you still have vacation left. But is it time to be prepared for your music classroom set-up? You are noticing announcements of PD Days for July. You see the dreaded Back to School Sales. It dawns on you that the fight for the copiers will begin on August 1. Then…………… THE LETTER arrives. I don’t know what you receive, but we always got the “Yeah, it’s starting!” letter from the superintendent, along with schedules and must-dos for convocations, team meetings, deadlines for insurance, building meetings, deadlines for watching the required HR videos…..the things that make your head spin because there are so many, no matter how experienced you are. Top that with the excitement of seeing colleagues again, and suddenly you realize you’re on Day One, your bulletin board isn’t finished, and it’s Open House. Your classroom isn’t set up, and you feel like a hamster in a wheel at rush hour. 

I’m going to be experiencing this for at least the first quarter. The impact of fewer teachers is all over, and I will be doing a long-term sub position for my old district (but a different building) because they had a teacher who moved on, but no one applying. So, I have to follow my own advice here.

We all know that checklists are important tools. When I use an organizer, I feel smug and adulting. When I don’t……Let’s just let me state the obvious and say you need to be thinking about this. You don’t need to necessarily ACT on it immediately, but making a list right now could save you headaches in late August or early September. What should be on these lists? Based on my experiences, your to-do list to be ready for the first day of school might look something like this:

  • Make a substitute folder. I know this is one of the most obvious and required things to do, but honestly, it’s also one that many teachers put off because it’s tedious, not fun, and difficult to think with the brain of a non-music teacher. And as substitutes might be more difficult to find again this year, someone from your building may need to step in. Below, I’ve listed a couple of fabulous blogs that might get you jump-started with this folder. Because you never know when you might need a sick day…….
  • Write down important dates (PD, Open House, End of Marking Period). Again, that should go without saying, but it’s easy to forget. And at the risk of sounding like an old Luddite: write important dates down instead of relying on your phone. Write them on a monthly calendar. Why? Often teachers live in the moment and don’t have time to think about the next hour, much less two weeks ahead. A monthly calendar makes it easier to glance at and see what’s coming up. I’ve also discovered a little muscle memory helps. I’m not saying DON’T use your phone. I do it all the time when I’m away from my calendar. Just make sure you transfer the information as soon as you can.
  • Have a number of 5-10 minute activities for kindergarten. Ah, kindergarten.Cute, adorable…energetic…..shy……..terrified………..spunky……..what a gamut you will get! Experienced teachers know that on the first day, there will be children will be running around touching everything to the child wailing at the top of their lungs. General rules of child development say to have a minute of the same activity for every year of a child’s age. This is when having a treasure trove of movement is a saving grace. I will say, although I’m not a huge fan of using GoNoodle for the music classroom (because I just believe music should be created by the child), this website is a lifesaver for those first weeks. I would advocate gradually using another music movement because classroom teachers use GoNoodle, too. If you want terrific recordings, Denise Gagne’s publishing company has great books on movement activities for children. (My students wanted to do “One Green Jelly Bean” through 4th grade!) Use Spotify or whatever music streaming service you have. Even though most have a monthly fee, this technology allows you to grab something at the last minute to use. I also have ideas in this blog post on successful activities to use with kindergarten (and PreK as well).
  • Build Spotify/iTunes playlists. As I mentioned earlier, Spotify is a LIFESAVER. Before iTunes went to pay-per-month, I had many songs on my phone (and iPod before that), ripped some CDs, connected with Bluetooth, walked around with the music, or kept the phone on a dock. Now, I use Spotify. Need a last-minute song to go with giraffes? I just put in “giraffe” and see if there are songs with the word in the title that stylistically fit my game plan. Here is my Spotify playlist called “for school.” (It would be a lot bigger if I hadn’t retired.)
  • Organize a number of kinesthetic brain breaks. This is where your playlist comes in handy. For example, use this Laban chart to get you started. Ask students to mirror you. Kids from third grade on up can mirror each other. Use selections to go with the use of yoga cards. Use an art mannequin. Only use GoNoodle in an “emergency.”
  • Write grants and store them in a safe place until the time to submit. Determine your wishes and write that rough draft out. It’s especially helpful if your principal or music supervisor tells everyone about a terrific grant opportunity, but you need to work fast because the deadline is tomorrow. I will have an upcoming blog on writing grants.
  • Make only a week’s worth of plans. Unexpected assemblies. Calls to go virtual. Late summer floods (yup, been there). A sudden change of schedule can throw your nerves in a whirlwind if you don’t have backup ideas. The first week is very fluid. Don’t make plans that are concrete. You can still lay a foundation for concepts with movement activities, name games, or assign “Getting to know you” papers.
  • Make Plan B’s. Speaking of the unexpected: always have a Plan B. What if the class can’t handle movement right away? What if a kindergartner pees on your rug? What if a student escalates into their red zone? What if a sudden assembly is called? Always have a Plan B. 
  • Be prepared for last-minute changes. This always goes with Plan B. Unfortunately, disciplines like music can be fodder for taking a room away because more class space is needed, or teachers are assigned to new buildings for whatever reason.
  • Organize room for just what you need for about a week. Speaking of Plan Bs, if you organize your room for the first week only, there is less of a chance of a child with a lack of impulse control trying to grab everything in sight. It also prevents kindergartners and new kids from feeling quite so overwhelmed. If you get a chance, ask older kids to help add items later as you get a feel for classroom management issues. Proactive is always best.
  • Establish rules. What worked last year? What didn’t work? Plan it out now, according to whatever character ed or management plan your building adopts, post it, and put it in your newsletter.
  • Get class roster rough drafts ready. I say “rough draft” because you want to take some semblance of attendance on the first day, but you will probably get a number of students enrolled at the last minute or some that never show up because the adult in their lives didn’t withdraw them. (Remember: if you hate paperwork, kindly treat your administrative assistance in the office.)
  • Update insurance and other HR paperwork/online forms and turn them in. Just get it finished as you receive it, even if you have to put a DO NOT DISTURB sign up to keep people from popping into your room to chat. Unless you LIKE missing out on that extra vision insurance you wanted or like getting nagging emails.
  • Turn in all summer PD forms to make sure you get credit. Have a safe place for it. If your district asks for a spreadsheet of all your PD activity, don’t wait until May to do it. (You say people don’t procrastinate? You don’t know me very well! ?)
  • Outline curricular goals for the year. You gotta have a plan so you know where your boat is going to land.
  • Copy a number of exit tickets, reward cards, etc. These work. They are nice to have, especially for those kids who don’t get much attention. See below for a free exit ticket.
  • Obtain as many existing IEP documents as you can. BY LAW, ANYONE who works with a child should have access to at least an outline or “snapshot” of the adaptations for any child who is in a program of some type. Although you won’t obviously be able to receive definitive information on new students or students who have never been referred before, you can understand the students who have qualified for special services and get the updated IEP after their new assessment. If you don’t, you are opening yourself up for trouble. Trust me. This was the topic of my dissertation. Get them and look at those babies! You will be doing what is needed for the child AND saving yourself some potential classroom management problems. Please make sure you keep them confidential and in a safe place.
  • Make any necessary orders for what you will need for the first 9 weeks. Generally, the new fiscal year starts July 1. If you have any budget money at all, take care of office necessities at least or items you KNOW you will utilize. If the building is all under the same budget (like mine was) be sure to have talking points to objectively advocate for what you need for music before it all goes to someone else. The principal may have to weigh which is more important, but at least you will be in there early advocating. Make sure you give the money decider a copy of your talking points and keep one for you as well.
  • Write music class newsletter. This is another item that music teachers may not want to do, but I did it every year and asked parents to return the signature page. I did this for several reasons: (1) It helps to establish music as part of the curriculum instead of playtime (2) If a parent returns the signature page and then says later in the year they didn’t know the concert dates (or your classroom management, etc.) All you have to do is pull out the signature page. Honestly? I just kept them in a portable file box in folders by teacher. Check the end of this blog to find out how you can receive a free newsletter template.
  • Enjoy what time you have left in the summer. This checklist doesn’t need to consume your life, even if it seems overwhelming. HR papers, for instance, only take a few minutes. Put up a “Do Not Disturb” sign, set a timer and a focus, and then promise the colleagues who want to catch up with you a time for lunch or Happy Hour!

Other stuff:

Keep your eyes peeled for Back-to-School announcements!

Next week: Name games and WHY they’re needed. (An updated post from last year)

And please, stay cool. This weather is whacky!

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Hi there!

I am an elementary music teacher and adjunct professor from Missouri and have completed my Ph.D. in music education through the University of Kansas.

I am an elementary music teacher and adjunct professor from Missouri and have just completed my Ph.D. in music education through the University of Kansas.


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