5 Tips for Young Music Teachers on Motivating Students

Many seasoned teachers will say the first year of teaching is the hardest, and they are not wrong! In fact, the first couple of years can be challenging and feel very overwhelming. There are so many new things being thrown at you constantly - new procedures, new colleagues, new grading software, how to get a sub, how to apply for professional development to maintain your licensure - the list is endless! On top of all of that, you have to teach your lessons and motivate your students. Here are some tips to help you keep your students motivated while you try to keep your head above water.

1. Be Authentic and Engaging

If you are not enjoying the lesson, your students definitely aren’t either. There’s nothing more motivating for students than seeing you being yourself and enthusiastically engaged in what you’re teaching. Try tying in personal anecdotes. Students love hearing about your personal interests and experiences. This will help them find ways to relate to you more closely. Just be careful not to overshare! Maintaining a professional distance from your students is important, but they also need to know that you are a real person with real interests just like them. Balance here is key.

2. Maximize Efficiency in Your Lessons

DiSOrGanIZaTiOn is your enemy. Did you notice it took you longer to read that word? That’s because making sense of disorganization takes time and we all know how precious time is, especially in the classroom! If you have to pause in the middle of a lesson to type in a web address or wait for technology to load, you are going to lose 60% or more of your engagement in the lesson. In those few seconds of down time, students are going to turn to the person next to them and start up a conversation, or worse, take out their phones! You will then have to get their attention back and end up repeating yourself, which also causes students to tune-out. Organization and planning are essential. Preload websites, test your technology before your lesson, and make sure everything is on or out of sleep mode by the time your lesson rolls around.

3. Saying “Good” is Actually Bad

Saying “good job” as a blanket statement doesn’t actually give your students much information and can leave them with more questions than answers. Was all of their work good? Was only part of it good? Which part? Give your students specific feedback on their work. Include details about what they excelled at and let them know what still needs refining, then guide them to their next step. Students aren’t always confident that their work is high quality, in fact many worry that their work is not good enough. Providing specific feedback gives them more information on what they are doing well and should continue to do, as well as what they need to work on.

Being acknowledged for success is incredibly motivating. However, success can be acknowledged while also pointing out an area that still needs refining. As teachers, we should reflect on our language often, especially in this area. If you find yourself stuck in the habit of saying “good job,” ask yourself, “what do I actually mean when I say good job?” Changing your language to offer specific feedback will keep your students motivated by celebrating their success and offering specific and clear guidance for improvement.

4. Play Games

Yes, play games! Games are fun and engaging and can be incredibly academic. There are tons of academic games out there (a quick web search will yield tons of results), and you could even make your own! Icebreaker games or improv games can help students get to know each other and facilitate a supportive and comfortable environment in your classroom. This can help students who may not otherwise participate feel comfortable to share answers or join the class discussion. Whatever games you play or activities you do, be sure to rotate them. Students who know exactly what is going to happen in your classroom every single day arrive disengaged and predetermined to be bored. Change it up often, and don’t let yourself or your students get stuck in a rut!

5. Give Your Students a Say

Students respond positively in atmospheres where they feel safe, supported, and heard. We all do, that’s part of the human condition. Letting your students have a say in your classroom is empowering, and you will find that they will be more engaged with everything you do.

A good place to start is with your classroom norms. Do an exercise where you create your classroom norms together. Write two columns on the board, one for student expectations and one for teacher expectations. Start with student expectations and come up with ideas that are agreed upon by the majority of students before writing anything on the board. Next, create teacher expectations together. Discuss why certain points are valuable and be sure to listen. Your students may surprise you and if nothing else, it is an exercise that makes everyone think critically about their role in the classroom. Even better, going through this exercise together creates a collaborative atmosphere in which your students feel their voice is heard. That sort of empowerment is incredibly motivating!

There are so many new things thrown at young teachers as well as a never-ending list of things to keep track of. Ensuring the quality of your student’s learning and their level of motivation certainly rank among the highest priorities. Remember to be authentic and show your students that you are a real person too. Stay organized and plan efficient lessons. Give specific feedback that celebrates success and supports improvement opportunities. Keep things interesting by playing academic games and let your students know that their voices are heard in your classroom. These are all great ways to keep your students engaged and motivated in your classroom!  


About the Author

Lauren Haley

Encore Tours Group Leader, Lauren Haley, is a music educator, performing musician, and avid traveler. She is currently the Director of Bands at Lebanon High School in Lebanon, NH. She received her Bachelor of Music in Music Education and Music Performance from Boston University and her Master of Music Performance and Literature from Northwestern University. She is a recipient of the Most Promising Music Educator Award from the Massachusetts Music Educator's Association and the Presser Foundation Undergraduate Scholar Award for excellence in music. Combining her passions for music performance, education, and travel, Lauren is a strong advocate for international performance tours as a means of enhancing a well-rounded education and opening young minds.

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