Starting the Beginning of the Year Right

By Brianne Gruber

Every summer as school draws nearer, I start to think about what I want my band room to look like for the upcoming school year – not just the physical space, but more so how I want it to function on a daily basis. Despite my having taught for several years now, I find it is necessary every year to reimagine, tweak and improve from the previous year. Depending on your space, the number of kids in your program and your own personality, this will of course look different for everyone.

To give you some background and provide context to the tips and tricks I will be sharing, you should know that I currently teach junior high band. I have an average of 200 students per year split into 3 concert bands (and additionally, 3 jazz bands.) My band room is jam packed with activity – always. It’s a good sized room, but still requires well thought out routines and expectations to alleviate stress and management issues on a daily basis. I am a firm believer that routines and expectations are a teacher’s best friend when it comes to eliminating most behaviour problems from the classroom.

You must resign yourself to the fact that as a teacher you will have days that are not perfect. You have a room of changing humans whose moods you cannot control! (Does anyone else teach junior high too…?) I have a hard time believing every single classroom could be perfect every single day! – but things can run very smoothly 99% of the time if you start your year out on the right foot. Have high expectations for your students when they are in your band room – you would be doing them a disservice otherwise – whether that’s with regards to their behaviour, their fulfillment of expectations and their musical performance.


During the summer, I take the time to ensure my lessons are planned, my supplies are ordered, music chosen, concerts/combined rehearsal dates chosen, fundraisers organized, etc. I choose to do this in August because it makes my life easier for the rest of the year. I’ll share a secret with you … I don’t lesson plan during the year! I do it ALL during the summer. Of course I tweak things and adjust things depending on my students and their abilities, schedules, concerts, trips, etc. but my curricular framework when it comes to teaching fundamental concepts needs little changing from year to year. It’s taken me a few years to get here, but I know that by the end of June, my students will have accomplished the objectives in the Program of Studies.

During my first year of teaching I didn’t have this luxury with a contract beginning in May, and although summer was just around the corner and I was on a short contract, I didn’t feel organized and prepared. As my colleagues know, I am a very type A personality, and that just doesn’t work for me.

I also choose to go back to school early in August before the rest of the staff comes in. Again, I find it takes time to get a band room set up properly, and let’s face it – we don’t have time to battle for the photocopier. I have to give credit to the colleagues I have worked with over the last several years, and those I was fortunate enough to work with in my university practicums – they are masters at their craft. Not only did I learn about the teaching music side of things, but the organizational/expectation/routine side of things was absolutely vital in my success so far (so I’ve been told from others!). You can’t be a successful band teacher if you are constantly scrambling to do all the other stuff … the other half of the job, as we all know.

When you think about how you want your band room to look and run for the year, ask yourself these questions:

  • How should students enter the band room?
  • Where do they put their instruments? Where do they go during set up, rehearsal, clean up?
  • Where do students store their music? When should they get it?
  • How do students start the class? What are my obligations as a teacher at my school for the beginning of class (attendance, hallway supervision, etc.)? What are my obligations as a teacher in my school division for the beginning of class? (For my division, bell work.)
  • How do I want transitions to look during my class?
  • What are my expectations for quiet during rehearsal? When can students play their instrument; when shouldn’t they?
  • How do I want to close my class?
  • How should housekeeping items be dealt with? (Sometimes they can be a distraction…exciting school events, etc.)

Do yourself a favor and:

  • Put tape on the floor where you want chairs to be set up for rehearsal (thanks, Paul Stelter!) – keep things neat!
  • Set up percussion so kids aren’t scrambling to find stuff.
  • Plug in the jazz band equipment and make sure it works.
  • Go through your class lists and make sure you have the right number of instruments before the kids get there.
  • Give your feeder schools important transitional information for incoming students.

This seems like a lot, and perhaps it seems like I’m getting too far down into the nitty gritty – but again, I honestly believe that if you deal with these seemingly minute details at the beginning, do it! You will be thankful later!

The First Day(s) of School

I’m going to treat this as the first day(s) of band class – not the actual first day of school. I have read numerous books and some say that expectations should be dealt with on Day 1; others argue that you should keep the “rules” to a minimum and that you should play on the first day (or get down to “work”).

I believe that routines and expectations should be dealt with first – especially if you have students new to your classroom (in my case, 120 Grade 7 students every year) who have no idea what is permitted in the band room when it comes to behaviour. I try to limit expectations to take only 2 classes; the third class deals with instrument rentals/handing out music, etc., and by class 4 I am in regular rehearsal. With my older students who have had me before, I can do the above in less time.

Day 1

  • Prepare your band room by having music folders, your band handbook, and an activity sheet on their chairs waiting for them before each class if possible.
  • Greet students outside your door, ask them to read the instructions on the Smartboard/whiteboard (see example below.)
  • When you come in the class as the bell rings, students should be in their assigned chair, and should be quietly working on the activity given to them.
    • If it’s students I know, I do attendance silently. If they are new students, I do attendance out loud for these beginning classes to ensure I can pronounce their names properly, they are in the correct seat, and in the right class.
  • About me – I usually take no more than 5 minutes to tell them some things about myself. They will hand in their activity sheet so that I know some things about them.
  • Band Handbook – go over your band handbook with your class, beginning with expectations, concert attendance expectations, and performance dates. The rest can wait for Day 2.

** A band handbook is VITAL to the success of your program. You must communicate clearly to students and parents what your expectations are. Band is not simply an option course! It should be treated with the importance it deserves! Make sure you have a contract ‘assignment’ at the end of the handbook for both students AND parents to sign. Make sure you give your concert dates on the first day of school to avoid issues during the year.

  • Go over the routine for your classroom and get a student to be the “model.”
    • Example of my narration as the student acts this out: “Sally is coming into the band room at the warning bell, not the “beginning of class bell.” Then Sally goes over to the grade 7 folder rack to her assigned cubby and gets her music folder. Sally goes to the flute shelf to get her instrument. Sally goes to her chair, puts her folder on her music stand, and sets up her flute. Sally puts her empty case underneath her chair. Her backpack is also underneath her chair. If your belongings don’t fit underneath your chair like you are flying on an airplane, don’t bring it to class! Sally then answers the bell work questions on her worksheet page, and starts to warm up.”
    • I also show them my signal for the beginning of class. We practice “playing our instrument” by making noise, and when I give the signal, the class is silent. We do it as many time as it takes to get it right…
  • Take a brain break and do a 8-10 minute fun get-to-know-you activity at some point during the class.

Day 2

  • Have a bell work question ready to go, if that is how you/your division operates.
  • Review the entering the room routine.
  • Review attendance (with new to you students).
  • Review class expectations.
  • Finish going over your band handbook.
  • Play an interactive theory review game.

Day 3

  • Hand out music/method books/supplementary material.
  • Instrument rentals
  • Instrument name tags, etc.
  • Begin playing!

After three introductory classes, routines should be established – make sure you watch these first few weeks to ensure students are doing what they are supposed to, when they are supposed to. BE FIRM if they are not. Get things handled at the beginning and running the way you want them to. Students should know that while band will be fun, and we will joke and laugh, when they enter the band room it is WORK TIME. They have a job to do, and when the job gets done we have time for fun! When they don’t do their job (i.e., are not following classroom expectations and procedures) then the class cannot have fun because the teacher has to discipline.

Some resources I encourage you to check out, and that I have taken tidbits from to develop the system that works for me and my students are (I reread them every summer):

  • The First Days of School (Wong & Wong)
  • Band Aids (Dust & Dust)
  • Classroom Management in the Music Room “Pin Drop Quiet Classes and Rehearsals” (Newell)

To those wonderful band teachers in my midst that I’ve had the absolute honor to work with, and to whom I must credit some of my wisdom: Kathie Van Lare, Martin Kennedy, Tom Taylor, and Paul Stelter.