Teaching is hard. Teaching music is both exhausting and exhilarating. Your first year in a school is bound to be challenging, maybe even make you question what on Earth you are doing there. Just breathe: It’s totally normal. You have probably learned a lot about pedagogy, methodology, and theory. But the trickiest parts of the job are never what they taught you in school…
1. Be consistent…but with flexibility. I’m sure you’ve heard the advice “be consistent” before: consistent with your classroom routines, your warnings and consequences, your assessment standards. Consistency seems to be the key to so many things! However, it’s never too early to show children that context is everything, and sometimes there are exceptions. If the usual thing isn’t suitable in a particular context, make it a teachable moment. Explain why we sometimes need to stray from the norm to do the right thing–just like how there are times when it really is okay to interrupt.
2. Be willing to go off track. You will spend hours and hours planning the perfect lesson, the perfect assessment, the perfect form. But the hallmark of a great teacher is responsiveness. You might walk into your classroom and find that they are having a particularly bad day and just can’t access what you’ve planned. Or maybe you’re in the middle of a lesson, and someone asks a really insightful and relevant question–it’s more than okay to put your plan on the back burner and follow the children’s interest.
3. Remember that you are human. You don’t know everything, and not only is it nothing to be ashamed of, but it’s something to model to the students. “Hmmm…I don’t actually know why the trumpet has three valves, Ariana. Why do you think that might be? How might we find out?” When the students see that you are willing to admit you don’t know, and that you will take the time and effort to find out, then they are empowered to do the same. And that’s what learning is!
4. Don’t try to do it all or do it perfectly. Start with small steps–a few concepts you really want to focus on for the year. Do those really well, reflect on how the students respond, and then build a little at a time from there.
5. Get to know the people who make the school run: maintenance/facilities staff, secretaries, teaching assistants. Give them the respect they deserve, help them out, make them a nice treat to say thank you (because you WILL need them urgently one day).
6. Remember again that you are human. Practice self-compassion. You will have lessons that absolutely flop, even though they were perfect on paper. Reflect, learn, move on.
7. Feedback is most effective when it is immediate, and it is only effective if there is actually a chance to apply it.
8. Drink lots of water. Lots.
9. Wash your hands. Wash them often. Rinse out with a little mouthwash after school. Build habits of wiping down things that little hands have touched (presumably after at least some of them have been in a nose or mouth).
10. Keep in your desk at all times: mints (or even a toothbrush and toothpaste), a change of clothes, deodorant, a hairbrush, hand sanitizer and/or wipes, and chocolate, tea, or whatever indulgent comfort food will make you feel better when a child has driven you to tears. And of course your water bottle, and some hand lotion to balance all the hand washing.
11. Visit your children’s classrooms. Ask permission first, but as a specialist teacher you get a very short and unique view of your students. See what they are like in their classrooms, and see what their classrooms are like for them.
12. Take a sick day. If you are sick, stay home sick. Recover and come back to work the next day feeling much better. Trying to do this enormous and exhausting job when you are sick means that you will get more sick, and without rest, it could drag on and on and on. Also, if you are contagious you should absolutely not try to be a hero and go to work. The children will survive.
13. Don’t. Engage. In. Negativity. Sometimes teachers gossip with other teachers about *that student* or *that parent*. Don’t engage. Sometimes people are just worn down and consumed with negativity about everything. Don’t engage. Sometimes the latest PD, or educational trend, or policy is just an unreasonable expectation! Some will complain, and people who are complaining often seek affirmation in their despair. Don’t. Just don’t. Choose positivity. See the best part of it. Be solution-focused and think about your own wellness.
14. Every moment is a choice. Don’t punish your second period class because you had a sour first period class. When a class has pushed all your buttons in one lesson, start fresh with them the next time you see them.
15. You can always do more, but don’t. It’s the most amazing job in the world, but it’s a JOB. You cannot do it well if you spend every waking moment planning, assessing, studying, and writing. Find your balance, get enough rest, do work that makes you proud but not burned out.
Remember why you are here. Remember your passion, your idealism. What are your beliefs about education, and why music education is vital to every human being? You are about to do some really amazing things, change some lives forever–maybe without even knowing it. Best of luck, and come back here to tell us all about it!