At times teaching music can be particularly overwhelming. Duh, you say. At times you may feel like that poor spud; coming apart at the seams. Oh YES, you say.
Like the beginning of the year when you have hundreds of children's names to learn, or the first concert of the year, or how to deal with all those IEP's or behavior plans. Or holiday concerts; sacred versus secular, or how about recapturing their attention after the holiday break, or what about that one class that consistently misbehaves? And how to integrate technology in a meaningful way? Time management, how do you balance it all? Or how about keeping up with whatever new educational trend your leaders are encouraging/mandating? Project Based Learning, technology integration, differentiation, relational teaching, integration, Maker Space activities, Assessment Models, Gamification, Flipped Classrooms, Autonomous Learning Model, Brain Based Education, and more!
Which can lead us to all feeling like this:
See the horse on the top, yes, at times that is me. Although with a bit more of bottom horse's eye roll and neck twist.
Is your head feeling like an overfilled balloon? Is it going to explode or simply take off on a five year trip to Mars? Deep breath. Music teaching (without losing your mind), really filters down to two BIG ideas. PAB and Tightrope walking. Yup, really.
PAB: Plan, Anticipate, Be (Prepared). I'll go over that in just a minute. Let's get to the one you are scratching your head over first.
Let me ask you, tightrope walkers, what do they do? If you answered eat or drink nothing for an hour before a performance you are probably right, but we are not talking about that. BALANCE!! Read on...
1. Plan, Anticipate, Be Prepared
Many successful, happy teachers will tell you it's all in the planning. Organize and plan your scope and sequence for the year, anticipate the problem areas in the lessons, and be prepared to adjust. I know teachers who have a complete specific plan for the year, but snafus happen with snow days, field trips and those lovely, last-minute assemblies or pep rallies. Hip hip hooray!
What skills, concepts, and behaviors will be studied each month? I have lists of songs along with musical elements and select ones that will work together. At the beginning of each month, and then each week, I plan more specifically. This allows for adjustments to be made without throwing off (and out) the complete scope and skill sequence for the year.
Plan how you are going to organize your materials and files; everything digitally, a mix of digital and written, files organized by theme, grade level, month, etc. Sometimes these evolve over time and there is no "One Size Fits All". Everyone has their own system that works for them and sometimes they need BIG overhauls; plan for what works for your strengths and situation.
Plan to be involved in your school; frequency, length of time, etc. This is a BIG one folks; plan for balance between home and school. Will you work an extra hour on that program after school in order to avoid bringing it home? My rule is always "Family First". My family, and my daughter who is in elementary school, come first before anything else, hard and fast rule and NO apologies about it. Plan ahead to understand the IEP's or behavioral issues, plan for consequences when students misbehave, plan for the bad days; they will happen. If your school follows a specific educational model, engages in a behavioral idea, or uses technology 1:1, plan for how YOU are going to use it in the music classroom.
Anticipate not only the lesson (what might they struggle with) but for the time when your principal walks in with visitors and the superintendent and wants your "elevator speech" (quick 5-7 sentences, 1-2 minutes) about music education. Anticipate that there will be days when a parent might give you a dressing down in the hallway, or send you a nasty email about how you treated their child. Anticipate that the copier might not be working today, or that the secretary forgot to order post-it notes, or that your paperwork request for _____ got lost. Breathe, smile, force your face to relax (be mindful of wrinkles, dear), and move ahead. The world will not end, I promise.
As you anticipated, you also were probably thinking, "If that happened, I would do _____". Be prepared to follow through on your plan of action, whatever it may be. Be prepared when the classroom teacher is 5 minutes late picking up their class. Oh, that never happens? Lucky you! Here is a blog post about ideas and activities for just those times.
Be prepared when the classroom teacher drops them off and says, "Have fun singing!". Instead of knee-jerking to let them know there is more to music than singing and going into a long explanation about Italian dominant 7th chords, say, "Thank you, we are going to be making some fabulous music, can you come back a minute or two before the end so the children can share with you?".
Make sure that your attitude is prepared also; "Choose your 'tude". You have the power to make it a lousy day, and to crawl home feeling like a worm, or to have a little cry, pick yourself up, slap on some lip gloss, and sing "Let It Go" at fff!
A friend once told me to think of teaching as a marathon: The good stuff doesn't happen all at once.
A moral of a race between a rabbit and a turtle: Slow and steady wins the race.
Sometimes you just need to give it time.
2. BalanceWhen I first started teaching I gave ALL my energy to the students. I quickly found I had no energy left for anything else. I still struggle with this as I really love what I do. As my sister says, "Everything in moderation including moderation". That is not to say I don't give my all every day, I do, just as there are moments I have to give 110%,. But I also have had to learn to pace my energy levels for each class and not to jump/dance/move with the kids for every lesson when there are 6 classes all doing the same thing that day! Although it is a fabulous workout and gets my workout out of the way, I just end up hot, sweaty, and tired by lunch!
I have taught for 24 years and in that time I have had some major life changes; cancer, 14 surgeries, moving from Maine to North Carolina, marriage, adopting from China, 6 more surgeries, knee issues, presenting at workshops and conferences, publishing my first and second books and now working on third and fourth. Oh, and blogging. All of these things were filled with many emotions and all of these were time consuming. I didn't fall into a black hole in the sense they consumed my whole life, but I was able to have balance through most of these life events.
Teaching music is different from many other educational fields in that our jobs are often 24/7; music is pervasive. Whenever we go to a concert//listen to music/go shopping we are analyzing the music and looking to see if that ____ (book, bowl, ball, etc., fill in the blank) can be used in our classroom. Most of us perform in an ensemble or as a soloist outside of school, and music is as much a part of our lives as breathing.
A teacher friend once said, "School is school and home is home". Define in your mind where that line is drawn. Try to NOT work on school outside of school. I know... easier said than done.
When I began this blog it was an extension of teaching music, but it's not school related. I happen to enjoy writing music and sharing lessons and ideas, so while it is music education related, it is not school related and it is something I enjoy greatly! This brings balance to my life.
I also exercise, hike, draw, sew, craft, bake, and ensure that my weekends and summers are not filled with school stuff; I have found I need summers and weekends "OFF". That means while I enjoy children, I do not teach Sunday school at church or summer camps at my school. I indulge in binge watching Orphan Black or Odd Mom Out, read books that are not about education, usually Dean Koontz or thrillers, travel, hike, watch movies, and enjoy my family.
Find other things you enjoy and ways to become involved in those activities; recharge your batteries and leave some energy in reserve at the end of your teaching day so you can find your balance and be
Have a wonderful week!