The following post is from Matthew Haas.  Matthew is a very recent graduate from Grove City College and a good friend of mine.  I was speaking to him at a recent event and he was telling me about his recent endeavours as a substitute music teacher.  I asked him if he would be interesting in writing an article for   The following is the result of that conversation, his article is both timely and informative.  Please join in the conversation by leaving a comment, story or note for us at the end of the post!

                 Joseph Pisano
 Like the vast majority of music education majors, I graduated with high hopes of attaining my dream job in an ideal setting, inheriting an outstanding music program with talented, dedicated and enthusiastic students and an excellent support base from the administration and local community.  I created a 10-hour drive radius from my hometown in Hershey, PA, and sent out applications from Maine to Kentucky.  I was invited to a handful of interviews, from most of which I left satisfied and confident I would get a positive response back from the interviewers.

June passed, as did July, and as August began to wane, I realized that the chances of me getting this dream job, or any full-time permanent position for that matter, were getting slimmer by the day.    Reluctantly, I began looking at other options.  Any good plan B must keep my musical skills and educational knowledge sharp, keep me active daily, and, of course, must net an income.  The following options can give you some ideas of how to keep yourself busy.

Substitute Teaching

Probably the most logical alternative to full-time employment is part-time employment as a short-term or long-term substitute.  Although you don’t have a program of your own, you are still working in a school environment with real, live students (and the attitudes that come with them).

Working as a short-term substitute is quite different from anything else.  Unlike a long-term sub, you will be thrown into different situations each day; some better than others.  You will need to be ready for just about anything.  Although music might be your area of expertise, the school may still call upon your to cover for when the Math or Phys. Ed. teachers are out.  Remember to follow the Boy Scout motto: Be Prepared! 

Working with several different school districts is an excellent way to ensure a full weekly schedule.  You will be able to see how program structures and styles differ from school to school.  If you find yourself in a position that works, find out what is keeping everything running smoothly, and remember that when you apply for permanent positions later.

Tips for Short-Term Substitutes

*1 Arrive at your destination early.  Take time to look over the lesson plans supplied  for you.  Familiarize yourself with your surroundings – know where everything is.

*2 Meet with the other teachers in the music department as well as teachers outside of  the department.  Get their input on how classes are to be run.

*3 Bring along sure-fire lesson plans that your feel comfortable teaching and are  appropriate for the students you have that day.  You may find a lesson that was left  for you is out of your ability level.  Always have a back-up.

*4 Be confident in what you are teaching – even if it is not your specialty.  Students  will be more cooperative and gain more from the lesson if you present it   comfortably and confidently.

*5 Work with the students.  They can be a wealth of insight as to how everything is  run.  Some ensemble groups may have student leaders or performers that can help  to take some of the responsibilities off your back.

*6 Take note of the materials that the teacher has around their desk – textbooks,  activity books, etc.  If the classroom teacher has kept these items with them, there is  probably a good reason.  These are materials you should look into getting for  yourself.

*7 Use everything that is at your disposal.  Use items that will help you come across to  be a better teacher, and keep your task simple.

*8 Many portions of the country have substitute teaching services that collaborate with  several school districts.  Working with services like these can keep your weekly  schedule full, and can keep track of where and what you are teaching so you do not  double-book yourself.

Private Instruction

Opening yourself up to private instruction is another way to keep both your educational and musical skills up to par.  Removed from the formal school setting, and the extra classes and duties that come with it, private instructors can teach strictly to their specialty.  Private instruction can be based from a school or church building, a music store, or even the comfort of home.  Instructors have the luxury of working one-on-one with their students, and can go a long way to improve every aspect of the student’s musical competence.

Tips for Private Instructors

*1 Be flexible!  Try to keep a handful of evenings free so you can work with  everyone’s hectic schedules.  Students will miss their lesson for one reason or  another.  Allow them to schedule make-up lessons to keep them playing.

*2 Work on constructive material.  The student may be having fun if all their lesson is  is playing along with a CD.  You are here to prepare them for future musical tasks,  and to make them a better musician.  Do not waste their time.

*3 Keep the students excited and coming back for more.  Play duets along with them  and demonstrate how excited you are to be playing.  If you are happy, they will be  more inclined to stick with it.

*4 Consult local teachers to determine the established average hourly rate for private  lessons.  Depending on where you are, and where your students are coming from,  you may be able to make more money than you had thought.

Performance Opportunities

Becoming a member of a full-time performance group is one of the best ways to keep your personal musical talent fresh.  Find out information about the professional and community ensembles in your area, and meet with the directors.  Even if you are only positioned as a sub, you will still be practicing and maintaining musical focus. 

Tips for Performers

*1 What at first might seem to be a manageable schedule can quickly become too  demanding.  Do not become involved in so many ensembles as to spread yourself  out too thinly, and to undermine any other activities you wish to participate in. 

*2 Keep the directors and other performers informed of your current employment  situation.  More than likely they will have their ‘ears to the ground’, and will be  able to tell who is leaving where and when.

*3 If you can’t find a particular ensemble that best fits your specialty, then help to  create one!  Chances are that there are others like you waiting for someone to kick it  off.  Specialty groups will always be in demand.

*4 Even if you work with a volunteer ensemble, you are still getting your name out  there.  People will begin to recognize you and your talent, and will ask for you by  name.

Employment at a Music Store

Although you might not think of employment at a music store as being on par as a full-time teaching position, there are many benefits that can transfer from one job to another.  Working at a music store requires a great deal of specific knowledge; far more than what one would think.  Do not let that discourage you though, if you keep your mind open and hungry for knowledge, you will be able to sell a twelve-string guitar or an intermediate level oboe with confidence. 

Tips for Music Store Employees

*1 Learn everything!  Be curious and inquisitive.  The more you know, the better you  will be served to help the customer.  That in turn means more profit for the store.

*2 Discuss with the store owner topics relating to schools – instrument rentals, repairs  and ordering, music ordering, etc.  Know the business aspect of keeping a good  music department running.

*3 Ask to go into the schools on behalf of the store.  You can pick up and drop off  repairs, bring supplies, etc.  Ask to demonstrate the instruments to first-time  beginners in local elementary schools.  As a certified educator, you should not  encounter any legal issues for entering the school buildings.  Work for, and with,  the school teachers. 

        -Matthew Haas for


Matthew Haas is a substitute teacher in South Central Pennsylvania.  Based in Hershey, Haas works with over fifteen school districts in Berks, Dauphin, Lancaster and Lebanon Counties.  He has taught all grade levels in vocal, instrumental, orchestral and general music settings.

In addition to substitute teaching, Haas is employed with the Cagnoli Music Co. as a salesman and school representative.  He has collaborated with many districts on behalf of the company.  Haas is also an arranger and composer, and has written several original works for various instrumental ensembles.

Haas is a 2007 graduate of Grove City College, where he earned his Bachelor’s Degree in Music Education with emphasis in Tuba Performance and Instrumental Conducting.  During his tenure at Grove City, Haas held leadership positions in numerous ensembles within the music department, and served as a Student Conductor of the Symphony Orchestra as well as President of the Wolverine Marching Band.

[tags] substitute teaching, music education, teaching music [/tags]
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