What do you do for a living?
I am the middle school Band Director at a middle school in the Southeast U.S. Basically I teach sixth through eighth grade band. And I also teach eighth grade general music. This is my first year of teaching.
I teach students on various levels how to play band instruments. I have about 52 sixth graders and about 25 of them are woodwind players; I start teaching band so that all the woodwind players are going to either play flute or clarinet and then later I switch them to the other woodwind instruments during an audition process, as an education sound-play, to make sure that they stay with band. I teach the fundamental techniques and concepts necessary to play a school instrument.
A big part of the job is helping students to be successful, because it is very difficult to learn to play a band instrument. A sixth-grader who learns he or she can make progress quickly when they practice and are taught appropriately, is likely to stay with the band for a long time.
In the general music class I begin with the music they are familiar with today, and work backward to the classics. The first week of class we do exercises on some certain type of music. For example, the first week I try to find what’s most popular for them, so I cover pop music and we listen to everything from Lady Gaga to Michael Jackson to The Rolling Stones. Just last week we covered Rock and Roll, and this week is country, so the kids learn a new song every week, and along with that they learn how to notate rhythms and how to identify pitches on a musical staff. They learn not just how to listen to it, but also how to write it and how to play it.
What does your work entail as a band director?
Probably the most time consuming aspect of my job is the lesson planning. I spend a lot of time planning 45-minute lessons for each class. But they’re just now learning on how to put their instruments together, they just got their instruments so I’m literally teaching them proper maintenance, how to piece the instruments together. The clarinet, for instance, has seven different pieces that have to be assembled before it can be playable.
When you’re handing it to a sixth grader you have to be careful, because if they start going to town on it goodness knows what you’re going to have at the end of the class period. So, we are very slow and systematic about that process, so that they take care of their instruments. On the average. beginning band instruments cost between $400-$500, so we really try to prepare them not to only be good musicians but to take care of their instruments.
I just knew that I was going to be a band director. I love music, it’s my passion and it was hard for me to imagine a single day that I didn’t play my trumpet or give somebody a lesson or show somebody how to play his or her instrument.
Another aspect of my job is fund raising. Nowadays we get so little support financially from the state and our county that a lot of my job is spent raising money. We’ve raised almost $2,000 so far, and that is just in the first four or five weeks of school. For a band program, that is pretty good. The band program needs that kind of monetary support because we need to buy instruments, have money to take the kids on trips, and other items to keep the band in working order.
What’s a typical workweek like?
I teach the same 45-minute periods every day. I usually come to work in the morning around 7:00 or 7:30 and at that point I start planning some lessons and doing some other things to keep the program running. At 7:45 I let my band students come in to practice in the mornings and they’re in there until 8:10. At 8:10 I dismiss them to head back out so I can take care of some things, get my room back in order and then at 8:20 I let them come back into the room and begin the first class.
My band classes are broken down by grade, and also according to type of instrument. I teach woodwinds together, and then I have classes in brass instruments. In between, I have a 15-minute break where I reset my classroom for the next section. Every day we do 45-minute lessons on the various instruments, where we do a warm-up routine and cover fundamentals, and then we get into our method book, which has four and eight-bar exercises. Then we actually pull out full pieces of band music and the sixth, seventh, and eighth graders all love that.
The exercises help them to build technical ability, and are a necessary part of learning, so that they can perform the actual music. For example, we have a piece called “The Volcano.” Much of the band music for middle school students have names like that, interesting pieces that bring the music alive for them, and teach them a concept, and then they understand how the music is supposed to sound. My band classes are by far my favorite classes, hands down. I have a break for lunch, 20 to 30 minutes to eat and then an hour of planning. I usually eat while I plan, so I have extra time for planning, because there is so much that has to be done. These are the instructional things that I do every day that are part of my job description. After school, I spend time planning for the next day, and do a lot of other things in the band room. Sometimes I work until 7 p.m. Then, I also work on Saturdays, at least an hour or so, and some Sundays, here by myself.
How did you get started?
I was always an active band student. I’m a trumpet player. My dad was a band director for ten years and then became a school principal and a school superintendent for the better part of his career for more than 20 years, and he had a lot to do with it because he was also a trumpet player. My brother is also a musician, working on a degree in music education. We’re both music lovers and we wanted to progress on our instruments.
But when we lived in another state, the school we were in was not really helping us develop into the musicians we wanted to be. When we came to the East Coast, my dad set us up with lessons, and I started taking trumpet lessons with the principal trumpet player of the local symphony – a really phenomenal trumpet player. He really did a lot of things for my playing and I kept taking lessons when I was a junior in high school. And as a senior in high school I just knew that I was going to be a band director.
That’s the most rewarding part of the career. To help students be successful, because when they are you’ll feel like you’re successful.
I love music, it’s my passion and it was hard for me to imagine a single day that I didn’t play my trumpet or give somebody a lesson or show somebody how to play his or her instrument. I started giving private lessons to kids over at the middle school – 30 minute trumpet lessons for five bucks apiece, when I was still in high school, and while I wasn’t a professional, I felt like I was good enough to help beginners to play the trumpet. And it’s funny now to look back and see where those students are because most of them are very good. I think probably one of my biggest strengths, as a teacher is that I’m really enthusiastic about what I do and I love seeing kids get excited about music and about playing their instrument. I think that’s what it really takes to propel a student through. I know what it is like to come from a school where the band directors are not very good, either because they are burned out or having other problems. When I really started to improve was when my dad and I would sit down in the living room and start playing trumpet duets. He taught me about things that I was not getting at school. When we moved to this part of the U.S., it was surprising to me on how much I had been missing out on because I came from a program that wasn’t very good into a program that was renowned – a really great band and music program. I spent a lot of time in the band room and getting better with my instrument and I had friends that were in band. I practiced a lot, did a lot of concerts and just knew it was what I wanted to do.
What do you like about your job?
I really enjoy students being successful on their instruments. For example I’ve got the sixth grade trumpet players, and there are sixth grade trombone players. They’ve gotten to the point where they can put their instruments together and they’re starting to play their very first note. And at first, none of them have any idea what they’re doing, so when you tell them to buzz at the end of the instrument, they wonder, “what is he talking about?” If you tell them the right thing, then it isn’t long before they are making that first note on their instrument, and it is thrilling to experience their excitement. For example, we go around the room, and one student will play a note, and I’ll say, “it’s not quite right,” and then I play it back to them, and they hear it. I remind them that this is a process, and before you know it, they are playing a note and they just can’t believe it. To watch a sixth grader freak out about that is really fun. It’s like giving them a coat of armor and saying they are some sort or king or something. It’s just really cool. I think the kids feel very empowered when they start to take control of their instruments and realize “Hey, I can be good at this, this might be my thing.”
What do you dislike about your job?
The thing I dislike the most is the complaints I hear from teachers who have been doing this for a while. I’m not sure if it’s just that they don’t make very much money or they think they have to work way too hard for what they make. I mean there’s no doubt about it this is not a job where you are gratified with the salary that is appropriate for what you do. But it could be that not all teaching jobs are as much fun as mine. Of course, we are working with middle schoolers everyday and they can be annoying as hell, no doubt about it. But if you train them up the right way and explain your expectations there is really no reason your class can’t go very smoothly.
Yes, every day you have problems. I’ve heard teachers complain about the fact they have to deal with parents, and that’s not always a fun thing because parents are kind of irritable, and they think they know the best for their child. You can’t argue with that because it’s their kid. But by the same token, in my field I’m the music professional and I don’t believe that there can be many parents out there that can call me and claim they know more about the music curriculum than I do. And that’s not to sound pompus or arrogant, it’s just to say “Gee, I’ve got that professonal degree in this, and I know.” But you have to be very careful about what you say, because you need parent involvement. I really haven’t had that many issues with parents so far, but I know it’s something that’s going to happen. I have found that if you tell a parent that you just want their child to be successful, most of the time you get a pretty big attitude change because no parent is going to argue with that. I work to develop a rapport with parents, so that the lines of communication are open but they let me do my job.
What is most challenging?
The most challenging thing is meeting the financial hardships of my students. Band can be expensive, so the trickiest part is finding ways for students to participate in band if they can’t afford the instruments. That’s a really important thing to me. When kids get turned away from band because their parents can’t finance or pay for an instrument, that is doing the student a disservice. So this weekend I spent a lot of time at pawnshops trying out different instruments.
I actually purchased a couple and had a couple of instruments donated this week, but we are barely squeaking by. I have several sixth graders who came in today and they simply don’t have the money right now for an instrument; you can’t turn that kid away. That kid wants to be in your class because they love music and they want to learn how to play a musical instrument and so you have to find a way to make that happen. A lot of times, unfortunately, mom and dad don’t care so much about that. They’ll just say, “well you need to drop that class. “ But it’s cheap to rent an instrument. You can rent a brand new instrument from the music store here in our town for $25 a month. For some people that is a lot of money, but you think that’s less than a dollar a day – so don’t go to the pop machine and you can rent a clarinet for a month. Because many people don’t see the logic in that, instead of arguing with them I go to pawnshops and try to find an instrument for their kid. So the tricky part is making sure every kid has their necessary materials, and is prepared for class. And another really difficult part is to simply managing all the details. One needs excellent organizational skills and planning skills to be a teacher, especially a band director.
What is most rewarding?
The most rewarding part of job by far is the part where I get to get on the podium and conduct my ensemble and know everything is happening because of how I taught it. And hopefully the skills I taught them, whether or not they go on to play an instrument in college, gives students a lifelong love of music. And really that’s the true measure to me of a good band director is how many of those kids you taught however many years ago, how many of them are still doing music or at least still go to concerts and enjoy the arts. We want them to be good and we want them to achieve but at the same time the ultimate goal is to give them the love of music and fond memories of their high school and middle school days. So the most rewarding part is definitely seeing kids perform and participate in music and knowing that you helped them to be successful. That’s the most rewarding part of the career. To help students be successful, because when they are you’ll feel like you’re successful.
How much money do you make as a Band Director?
The first year salary for a teacher in my school district is $32,595.00. If I worked an seven-hour day, five days a week, that would be something like $23.50 an hour, but teaching isn’t like that. I’m paid by the hours I’m in the classroom, but there is more to my work than being in the classroom. I’m at work every day and most nights I don’t leave until 7:00 PM because I have a lot to do, and I have to get my work done. And so you can say they pay by the hour in the classroom, which is 8 to 3:30, but Realistically no teacher is getting out of there before four, and then there is the preparation work to do and the extra-curricular work that all teachers do.
How much money do you make starting out?
It depends on the school district and the state, because as a public school teacher, salaries are set on a scale that includes years of experience and education level. Someone with a bachelor’s degree and no experience, straight out of college, is paid on a different scale than someone with a master’s degree and five years of teaching experience. The downside to the scale is, that most of them top out at a certain point, so that no matter how much education a person has, it will not increase your salary above the top level, unless the district imposes a new scale. Some districts pay band teachers an additional stipend on top of the salary, but this is mostly at the high school level, and is similar to the extra pay that athletic coaches receive.
What education or skills are needed to do this?
The most important skills for teachers of instrumental music and those who want to be band directors is experience with a musical instrument, starting in sixth or seventh grade, in middle school. There aren’t a whole lot of instrumental music teachers out there that don’t play an instrument. Every band director that I’ve ever met in this state has a primary instrument; they’ll play one of the band instruments or one of the string instruments. The education requirement in most states is a Bachelors of Music Education, with either an instrumental or vocal emphasis. Elementary music is a very popular field. But, getting a degree a professional Bachelors of Music in education degree is a requirement in most states. To prepare for the degree, most students begin in high school with taking the college entrance exams, which are usually either the SAT or the ACT, depending on which test is required for the college you want to go to. There are also requirements for entering teacher education that must be met. Today most states require students to submit to background and criminal history checks, and prospective teachers must be fingerprinted in most states. This is a cost to the student. If you have a criminal history, you will not be admitted to the program. Another requirement is a minimum GPA of, usually, about 2.5 on a 4-point scale. After the teacher education block, you must pass state exams to obtain a teaching license in your field, both overall and in your practice area. In my case, I had to take a test for my knowledge of music and music theory, music history. And then I also as an education major I had to take another practice exam – Principals of Learning and Teaching – to see if you know how to manage a classroom, if you have different strategies for how to present curriculum, both in terms of engaging students and getting their interest. While you are in school, it is important to foster good relationships with your professors, so you are able to obtain recommendations for teaching jobs. You will need a solid resume and good references.
How much time off do you get or take?
One of the main reasons people join the teaching profession is because they like the vacation time. We get two weeks at Christmas, we get off any holiday that the kids have off, and then we get a spring break week and then in the summer time they tell us we get two months off with no pay. And everybody is on a 12-month contract which means instead of just being paid for the weeks that you’re in school those nine months you’re actually get paid year around and two of those months you’re not in school. So, that’s pretty good to get a check when you’re not teaching.
What advice would you offer someone considering this career?
If you want to be a band director you need to be a great musician because if you’re not a great musician you’re not going to create other great musicians. And that may sound like a hard piece of advice for some people but the fact of the matter is the best teachers out there and the best band directors are also compassionate musicians, and if not, then they’re not giving their kids everything that they’re due. So that would be my biggest piece of advice. Master in instruments and develop enough skill on that instrument so you feel you can play it professionally. I had several opportunities in college to do that.
I played with the city orchestra and I played with lots of different groups with professionals. Most of them were not teachers; they were professional musicians. You also need to be dedicated to your studies in college, because teaching is the only profession where you can drastically affect population. In other professions that deal with money and that kinds of thing, and yes, you can affect population severely. But with teaching you are directly affecting people. If you are not good at your job, you are preparing others to not be good at their job. There was a philosophy in my education department that was written on top of the wall that said, “Teaching is the profession that makes all other professions possible.” That is a very important thing to keep in mind.
What is a common misconception people have about what you do?
I think the biggest misconception is that a teacher comes in and it’s a 9 to 5 job, and that’s just not the case. Also, you are not going to have a whole lot of social life the first year of teaching; you’re going to have a whole lot of personal life. You’re going to have to try and learn to balance things. Even if you try hard and you’re good at organizing, you will find it a very time-consuming job. The other thing is being realistic about salary. Some people have been doing this for very long time and make a pretty decent salary, but I think some people come in thinking the salary is going to be huge that first year and it’s not, it’s simply not. It’s enough to live on and get by and I’m not going to lie, I live comfortably, but I’m a single guy. I rent a duplex and it’s very comfortable to me and I like it but it’s not luxurious and it’s not going to be a job where you start at $50,000 – $60,000 a year; it’s just not going to happen.
What are your goals/dreams for the future?
First, I want to have a really phenomenal program. I want to have musicians in my band who are proud to be musicians and continue to do music for the rest of their lives because it’s something they are passionate about and that they love. I feel that if you have a good experience in learning how to play an instrument you’re going to always think back on those good experiences and they’re going to recreate those experiences in the future. My plan basically is to create a great band program that gives superior concerts and is able to travel. I want to be able to take my group to different cities. There’s a worldwide band clinic in Chicago every December at the McCormick center in Chicago, and professionals come to give sessions to students at that clinic. I would love someday to have a middle school band that was good enough to send an audition tape and be accepted to play at that clinic because for me, that would be the epitome of success.