Teaching High School Music

Do you rock? Does music get you in flow, when time fades away and you’re completely present with the music? Do you know how to sing your heart out? Do you play an instrument and understand the elements of music?

Now: Do you love kids who rock? Does the idea that your students might already have a garage band, or even play gigs in the area, make you smile? Or does the idea that one of your high school kids might play in Carnegie Hall someday warm your heart? Or does the thought that one of your young adults might belt an award-winning ballad on Broadway make you sing?

Even if watching students reach musical stardom or even musical proficiency isn’t your motivation, perhaps you understand, down deep in your soul, that music reaches everyone who hears it or plays it and you want to help students access that.

Music is academically important as well. Social Science Quarterly reports that music classes or lessons during childhood and adolescent years has a positive effect on math and reading achievement. Thus, your role as a music teacher has the potential to extend far beyond music.

What is it like?

Your actual role or concentration as a high school music teacher depends on many variables—the size of the high school, the number of music electives offered, the number of other music teachers employed at the high school, the district’s arts budget, and your specific talents and skills as a musician or vocalist.

If the school is well-funded and has a large student body, you may be one of several music teachers; thus, you’ll be more likely to concentrate on certain specializations. One teacher may lead the vocal courses like choir, show choir, chorus, and music appreciation classes; another teacher might be the instructor for band and orchestra.

Some schools are smaller, with fewer resources, so one music teacher will teach choir, piano, band, orchestra, and music appreciation. In which case, be prepared to diversify. You might be teaching kids how to hold a trumpet one minute and instructing on the basics of reading music the next minute. You might be marching down the football field one day and playing conductor at a choir performance the next. And who knows? You might enjoy the variety.

And music classes are about more than just learning notes and instruments. Often, music class is the most creative thing students get to do all day. Even kids who struggle, academically or socially, sometimes find refuge in music classes. They can feel connected to other students and teachers in a more communal way, because making music is all about working together. This will be especially important for kids who struggle as they go from one difficult academic course to another, or who get teased or harassed for any number of reasons.

Music classes also get to go on field trips more often. Performing can be one of the most fun things to do as a music student, and also one of the most exciting responsibilities of a music teacher. Students often take their newly acquired skills on the road to malls, nursing homes, other schools, and larger college venues.

Musical Impact

Studies show that music has the biggest impact on teenagers, when people generally solidify their lifelong musical tastes. During a study of more than 3,000 people who were teenagers during the Beatles’ rise to fame, participants could recall numerous sensory experiences when listening to the band’s pop hits—including smells, sounds, sights, and even memories of experiences. It is believed that music plays a large part in memory recall, helping us to remember our experiences as we age.

Teachers of music usually have one or two classes of more advanced students who participate in competitions. There are district, regional, state, and national music competitions for all sorts of music categories. Show choir is popular right now, due to the television hit Glee. There are also marching band competitions, ensemble competitions, choir and chorus competitions, piano competitions, and orchestra competitions.

Organizing and leading band camp, orchestra camp, choir camp and other intensive preparation may be your responsibility prior to the start of school. This will give you the opportunity to create a bond between music students, as well as immerse kids back into their instruments after a long summer break.

Regardless of your specialization (or lack thereof), a high school music teacher will have a varied level of student skills to work with—sometimes within the same class. Some kids will be advanced piano students who’ve taken lessons for a decade; others may never have touched an instrument before. And that virtuosity might vary from instrument to instrument, even seemingly similar ones. One student might take to the strings of a violin with four left thumbs, but approach a guitar with natural grace and intuition.

High school teachers teach in blocks or periods and can teach more than 100 students per day. They usually get a prep block to prepare lessons and grade papers. A high school music teacher may have after- or before-school responsibilities, to practice for performances and competitions.

Can I get a job?

When the nation’s economy suffers, art, drama, and music education suffer along with it. By the same token, as the economy improves the prospects for music teachers will improve as well.

Teacher positions, in general, are expected to grow 17 percent through 2020; however, this again is a general number for all teaching positions. Throughout the century thus far, many music teachers had only part-time teaching positions with districts, and many have had to shuttle between different schools, teaching all the students in a given district. At the same time, schools often push as many students as possible into the one available music teacher’s classroom, making it much harder for the teacher to effectively do his or her job.

World of Music

Every civilization on earth has some form of music. Whether it’s beating on drums, rattling objects, or making onomatopoeic sounds, music appears to be inherent to the human experience. Some scientists in fact believe that music’s origin is “motherese”—related to the cooing, singing, babbling language occurring between mothers and their infants in every corner of the world since the dawn of time.

To ensure the best possible chance of an excellent starting salary, a high school music teacher should be willing to relocate. Many music positions will be located in urban and/or economically struggling communities, in schools that find it difficult to find and keep talented and qualified teachers. If you’re willing to relocate to these areas, it should be much easier to land a wonderful and satisfying teaching position.

That said, music teachers have alternatives when it becomes difficult to secure a full-time teaching position, their hours are cut back, or they get laid off. Private music tutoring will always be a valued position; many parents feel it’s important for their child to have a music education, no matter what the economic conditions. Likewise, many students want to continue to learn music regardless of whether it’s adequately offered in public schools. Private lessons can both supplement your income and be a fallback profession, and it can even be quite lucrative in itself.

Some districts and schools also hire music coaches who teach one specific skill, such as piano or violin, to students throughout the school or district. These teachers roam from school to school and teach students independently or in small groups how to play their instrument of expertise.

Community colleges and universities also hire musically talented adjunct professors to teach. An adjunct professor teaches one class or a few classes for a set pay in their specific field or profession. Again, as the economy goes up or down, so do full-time professors’ positions. This can be a good source of income for an underemployed high school music teacher.

The Music Teachers National Association has resources for those wanting to become music teachers, including scholarship resources, forums where you can ask questions, and mentors who’ll give you advice while you seek your degree and throughout your career. Their Future Teachers Network gives you tips on successfully interviewing for your first music teaching job and they offer a week of intensive instruction on helping you get a job during their annual Music Education Week conference.

What salary should I expect?

High school teachers are paid on average $56,760 a year. The pay range is wide, between $30,000 to $85,000. Public school teachers are paid according to district budgets, years worked, education achieved, and additional responsibilities.

Music teachers are paid the same as other teachers, although they may be qualified for additional pay as they take on before- and after-school responsibilities such glee club, choir tours, and band camp.

As a music teacher acquires classroom experience and additional education, he or she might consider pursuing an administrative position, such as vice principal, which pays much better than a teaching position. It’s expected that administrative positions will become more available, as these positions are expected to have a high turnover rate due to retirement.

How do I become a teacher in this field?

If you want to become a high school music teacher, you must have some accomplishment with at least one musical skill whether vocally or playing an instrument. Once you have that, then a bachelor’s degree in music education is necessary. Simultaneous to the bachelor’s degree, or after, a student must go through a teaching certification program. Explore Teaching-Certification.com to research exactly what each state requires for teaching certification.

Following the classwork for the teaching certificate, which can be completed online usually, classroom experience is required. Student teaching is an invaluable experience where teacher candidates experience actually teaching kids and managing the classroom with the supervision of a qualified teacher.

If music rocks, crescendos, or syncopates your world, and you’d like to spend your life teaching passionately, a vocation as a high school music teacher may be just your thing.

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