Feb 4, 2015

Music Teacher Organization in Two Parts. Part 1: How to Maintain Information for Hundreds of Students in Different Grades

Picture this: It's the end of the second marking period, and you need to give report card grades to 300 students. Nine of them are named Michael. Eight of them are named Ella. And you have six sets of twins.

Or, a parent stops in your room after school and asks, “So, how is William doing in music class?” You think, “Now, which of the seven Williams would that be? And which of my fifteen classes is he in?”

You see a great activity mentioned in an article that you'd like to use with your students, so you rip out the article and stick it in your in-box, and six months later you wonder where it is or don't even remember putting it away.

You get an email from a classroom teacher saying “please let this student use the bathroom anytime he asks for medical reasons, until further notice.” You are bombarded every week with new student information: IEPs, 504s, behavioral charts, paraprofessionals, pull-outs, physical impairments, temporary modifications, etc., etc.

How can a music teacher maintain accurate records for so many students, and easily access this information when necessary? How can an educator keep the myriad of helpful hints, activities, song lists, etc. so they are equally accessible? Below are a few ideas that take a little bit of time to implement initially, but the return on investment is great.

Student InformationFor each class I teach, I maintain three separate “charts.” One is a basic seating chart. Using PowerPoint or any other program that easily maneuvers graphics, I re-created my room and all its seating possibilities (carpet and tables):

Once I have assigned each student their spot at both areas, I take a photograph of the class in that setup. The two items (photo and seating chart) are placed in a binder facing each other. This is always on a music stand during class, so I can immediately begin addressing students by their correct name from the first week of school. Attendance-taking is almost instantaneous, since you can look at the chart and the photo and your class and see where the holes are.

On the back of the seating chart is an alphabetical listing for the class, created in an Excel spreadsheet. There are columns for attendance, grades, assignments, and also special information, e.g., is the student a twin, are they “classified,” do they have “pull-outs,” do they have an aide, are there any medical issues to be aware of, etc. The spreadsheet can be updated and reprinted each marking period.

This binder, with each class's photo, seating chart, and student info, has everything in one place that I need to address parent and teacher questions.

Where Did I Put That Song Idea?For each grade I teach, I have a folder labeled “Future Lessons.” This is where I put random ideas I read in journals or hear at seminars or from colleagues, that I won't be using immediately. If I'm stuck for an idea or have a class period I need to fill before a holiday I reach for this folder.

I also keep a separate folder for each concert I perform. In it are song lists (current and future ideas), check lists (for concert logistics), samples of programs and lesson plans leading up to the concert, memos and invitations that are sent home, teacher reminders, etc. The “concert checklist” is broken down by week, with a list of what needs to be done each week, counting down to the concert. The many logistical items that go into each concert are not so overwhelming when you are only looking at six or seven things each week. There is no reinventing the wheel when it comes to concert planning!

My Lesson Plan Just Blew Up—In a Good WayAfter each grade cycles through a lesson plan, I edit the paper copy in pen, and keep it in a binder for next year. When it comes time for that lesson again, or a similar lesson, I can immediately see what major things I needed to change or that occurred as a result of the lesson. This makes each year's lesson planning that much easier and less time consuming.

One might think that all this “paper” and all these binders take up lots of space, but they are very condensed and always in the same location for easy access. Some educators might want to put all of this information in electronic form. I also do this, as a backup. But for day-to-day use it is much simpler for me to see what I have in front of me—lots of stuff at the same time. It is also easier to show parents and teachers or leave adequate information for substitute teachers. Also, our state requires several years of paper copies of lesson plans to be accessible.

One Last Thought—Most of us have multiple classes, subjects, grades, duties, and other assignments each week to keep track of. I have created a half-sheet daily schedule that lists my classes, duties, etc. for each hour of the day. Each day I just circle the item that applies, and I don't have to rely on my memory (“Is it Day 3 or 4?” “Do I have Mrs. K's kindergarten today or are they on a field trip?” “Is it indoor or outdoor recess today?”) There is also an area for a To-Do list on the bottom (I love to check things off lists!). Just photocopy a few each month and cut them in half.

I hope your New Year's resolution to get more organized will be made easier with these ideas! Happy 2015!

Coming Next: Part 2—How to Manage the Crazy Number of “Objects” a Music Teacher Uses Every Week

Moving forward,
Ms. Snow has taught public school music for more than sixteen years and is currently the General Music teacher at Dickerson Elementary School in Chester, N.J. She holds a Master of Arts degree in Music Education from Teachers College Columbia University and a Bachelor of Music degree from SUNY Fredonia.

Besides teaching elementary school music, Ms. Snow’s other passion is Musical Theatre. She has been music director/conductor for such shows as Les Miserables, Sweeney Todd, Hello Dolly, Godspell, Into the Woods, and Grease. She has been involved in countless musicals across the northeast as a performer, conductor, music director, or vocal coach, and has been involved in community choruses for over 30 years, including being an original member of NJ WomenSong.