First Year Instructor

Hello, First Year Colorguard Instructor!

First of all, congrats on landing your first teaching job! I hope you find the experience of guiding young minds and passing the proverbial torch of colorguard rewarding!  Before you begin your journey, however, I hope to offer a few snippets of advice for your season!  These are some tips offered by experienced instructors who were asked, "what do you wish you could go back and tell your first-season-instructor self?" 

-Don't be afraid to ask for help! You can't be expected to know everything (even seasoned instructors don't know everything), so use your network!  The people with whom you have marched drum corps or winterguard, and your past or current instructors may be able to offer helpful advice, support, and assistance throughout your season. Not sure how to fix that awkward transition in your ballad? Ask another instructor to take a fresh look at it.  Need silks for your opener, but don't have the budget to buy a new set? Maybe someone with whom you marched this summer is teaching a high school program that will let you borrow some. 

-Outline your expectations; literally write them down!  Use this as your game plan for the season.  It helps to talk to your students about these, or even provide them with a list or a handbook so they know what to expect. My standard colorguard handbook has a section that lists "what is expected of performers" and "what is expected of instructors" in a bulletted format.  I like my kids to know that I will hold them AND myself to a high standard. It also helps to go back once and a while and review your list, to make sure your season is still on course to meet your goals.  You may want to consider having your students and their parents sign off that they have read and understand your policies. This can eliminate a lot of confusion later. 

-Approach rehearsals with a To Do List! What are your goals for the day? What should take priority? Make a list and stick to it! Often, I will schedule out my sectional time so I know when to move on to the next item on my list.  Sure, I could spend all afternoon cleaning drop-spins, but I really want to teach that new choreography too! Sticking to that schedule helps me get to everything on my list.  I'll admit that there are plenty of times, when I have to change my plans.  Just because you made a schedule doesn't necessarily mean you HAVE to follow it to the letter.  Allow yourself a little flexibility, when necessary. 

-Something I have witnessed many fresh-out-of-drum-corps, brand-new instructors do is approach their new program with a lot of intensity. Not that having high expectations or being intense is bad, but I have seen more than a few people get burned out very quickly as they passionately throw themselves into trying to make their novice colorguard of 8 high school kids throw rifle fives, perfect flag doubles, and do death drops because "it just takes passion and hard work and anything is possible!" Woah, there! Developing a program with highly-skilled performers who really buy into the intensity and hard work of colorguard takes time! Pushing too hard too fast will make you, and your kids, frustrated very fast.  It's great that you are passionate (maybe even a little obsessed, as I am) about the colorguard activity.  Of course you think everyone else would be too if they only knew what it was like to experience a great performance with an ensemble of other passionate performers.  Just remember, many of your high school students probably won't go on to march drum corps or independent winterguard.  ALL of your performers deserve a positive colorguard experience, regardless of what their plans are after the season is over.  Play to their strengths, give them a just few challenging elements, provide them with a show that they can relate to and enjoy, and they will ask for more as they feel successful and begin to love guard. 

-Don't sweat the small stuff.  Teaching requires some flexibility. I remember being a new instructor and wanting to fix every single little detail.  Try to focus on the big stuff, and the things you actually have the power to change first. Does that melodic line in the mellophone line sound odd to you? That's probably not in your power to fix; don't waste your energy focusing on it. Giving yourself a headache stressing over how that one rifle performer is a step and a half to the left of their actual drill spot may not be the best use of your energy if the ensemble needs help reviewing the choreography for that same section of the show.  It can be easy to get lost in the little things!  Your job is to make decisions that will prove most beneficial to the ensemble as a whole. Once that choreography is in their hands, and that awkward drill spacing is the thing making the ensemble look less than their best, THEN focus on fixing it.  

-Read up on all your circuit's rules and regulations, and understand the judging sheets.  This will guide many of your decisions in designing your show and teaching the choreography.  If you've read my post about the "Space, Time, Weight, Flow" dance exercise I often use, those terms come from the terms WGI movement judges are trained to use when talking about dance.  I hope that using this exercise helps my kids better understand what is expected of them from the judging community and they'll get more out of judges comments during the season.  This will also help you to avoid plenty of potentially frustrating situations during the season:  "What do you mean no live animals are allowed on the floor?! Our whole show is designed around Lucky the flag-catching golden retriever!" or  "Spinning golf clubs doesn't count as equipment time?! We only spin flags for 32 counts of the show, and now we're going to have a major penalty!"

-Keep learning. The colorguard activity is constantly evolving.  Last year's hot trick tosses may be passé this season.  Watch videos of colorguard (it doesn't hurt to know a little about guard history!), watch live colorguard, take a dance class, attend a spin clinic...keep learning new things and you will continue to grow as a teacher. 


I hope some of these ideas are helpful to  you during the season.  If you have other ideas/tips I would love to hear them! Good luck to everyone this fall!!!