It’s no secret that there’s a lot you don’t learn in your methods classes. Even student teaching doesn’t quite prepare you. Lucky for you, you’re reading this!
In addition to the subject knowledge you have, and the pedagogical theory you’ve picked up in your training, here are fifteen pieces of gold that will save your sanity when you jump into those first years of teaching.
1. Be clear about procedures and behavior expectations from the first day. Practice them, practice them, and practice them some more.
2. Learn to operate and troubleshoot your technology well before you need it. This includes whatever sound systems you encounter, projectors, computers and whatever software or websites you’ll use. It’s very possible that not every classroom has the same setup or same equipment. Be prepared. (And have a backup plan just in case it fails at the last minute!)
3. Teaching is only a part of what you do—sometimes it feels like a very small part. Learn how to manage your time for planning, meetings, extracurriculars, assessment, parent communication, equipment maintenance, and a dozen other things you hadn’t thought about.
4. If you were trained in North America, you probably know a lot about advocacy and recruiting. Know how to work some of this information into every single interaction you have with a parent, fellow teacher, or administrator. Shamelessly plug the great learning that takes place—not the showpieces, but the learning.
5. If you are struggling with classroom management, look at yourself first. Take videos of some of your lessons. Look at the relevance and depth in your content. Self-reflection is the critical first step in improving your classroom environment.
6. A phone call to parents is way better than an email. You’ll get much better results this way.
7. Children that make your life difficult are just kids that have an unfulfilled need. Don’t take it personally. These are the kids who really need you. The ones who are hardest to love are usually the ones that need it the most.
8. Secretaries and other support staff are your best friends.
9. Unsupportive administrators are a red flag. Get out. Get out now.
10. Don’t engage in the negative talk. Every school has it, and it will just drag you down with it. Surround yourself with colleagues who see the positives, and who are focused on solutions rather than problems.
11. Your class will keep going if you stay home sick. You need rest to get better, so you shouldn’t be in school. You might be contagious, so you shouldn’t be in school. The bottom line is that if you are sick: Stay. Home. Sick.
12. There is a limit to what you can (and should) do. You probably became a teacher because, like me, you have a starry-eyed idealism and want to change the world one inspired child at a time. But in those first years, when you are overflowing with ideas and creativity, you can burn out pretty quickly if you don’t take care of yourself. Your family, your hobbies, your friends—you need to balance your work with your time for them. On top of that, the more you show admin that you can spend tons of hours working without compensation, the more they will keep piling on. Your students deserve the amazing things you have to offer, but you also deserve to be valued. See this post about the “professional no”.
13. It’s a lifelong struggle to find balance. In my first years (before I had my own children), I spent hours every night preparing or assessing. In as few years as possible, find your healthy work-life balance. Once I had children of my own, I had to let some ideas stay as ideas because my kids needed me as a parent. Teaching is the most amazing job in the world, but at the end of the day, if it comes down to your sanity/health/family versus your job, you need to be able to accept that it is just a job. Find your balance, and accept that some weeks you probably won’t do everything you dream of doing in your classroom.
14. In some places, the goal of your first year may just be to survive. The learning curve is steep, so take it slowly.
The heart of it all
15. Take risks and be ready to fail. Sometimes it will turn out to be absolutely amazing!
16. Don’t think about your job as a teacher of music. You are a teacher of children. More than just music, you will teach them about kindness, integrity, respect, belonging, diversity, resilience…the list is endless.
Bonus: You will love your kids with all your heart, and you will miss them (yes, even those ones) when they are gone.