Today I'm writing with advice for those teachers who are new to music education. I remember how nervous I was to start my first teaching job, so here's some advice for those of you just starting out teaching, and/or starting at a new school. Although some of the tips are specific to music education, many of them could apply to any teacher!
#1: Have flexible expectations
As you're thinking about what your teaching situation will be like, it's easy to idealize that vision, to think that you know exactly what it will be like. But the thing is, you don't. No matter how much you've learned about the district, the former music teacher, the principal, etc., there will be something with this job that will be a surprise. There will be something that you will be asked to do that you didn't realize was part of the job. Try to have your expectations be flexible, because as a music teacher, it is so important to adapt to challenges and situations as they arise!
#2: Remember to smile
When I'm stressed out, I forget to smile. I'm so focused on whatever I'm stressed out about, I have to remind myself to smile. Teaching is sometimes a bit of an act, so even when you're stressed out or depressed, you may have to have a little voice in your head, reminding yourself to smile at the kids and act much happier or relaxed than you actually are! This tip also refers to smiling at adults. My second year of teaching, a colleague told me that the office staff thought I was unhappy. I wasn't unhappy, I was just stressed out, and so I was forgetting to smile…and then giving off the vibe to everyone around me that I was miserable. You may need to remind yourself to smile at adults too, even when you have 17,000 thoughts in your head all at the same time, or it's the day of your first concert and your stomach is in knots.
I've noticed that sometimes new teachers feel a need to prove themselves…so they talk a lot. I do understand the need to prove yourself, to show everyone that just because you're a first year teacher doesn't mean you know nothing. However, I do feel it's important that you listen more than you talk. The staff around you have been here for longer than you. Listen to how they interact with each other. Listen to what your principal says. Listen to the way the kids interact with each other. If someone asks you a question, of course, answer it, but try to listen more than you talk. You will learn SO much!
#4: Ask questions
I'm always shocked when a student teacher or first year teacher has absolutely no questions. I think it's related to what I said above, that they feel a need to prove themselves, and are worried that if they ask questions they will look like they don't know what they're doing. But you won't. You will look like a teacher trying to learn. There is so much to learn that first year–content, what the kids have learned before you were there, school routine, behavior management, district protocol, how to fill out forms when you're sick, what you're expected to leave for a sub…the list could go on and on! Ask lots of questions. As long as you're not asking really obvious questions or questions you've asked repeatedly before, everyone will think it's completely natural and understandable for you to ask lots of questions!
#5: Use ideas and resources of others
There is absolutely no shame in using something that someone has handed to you, or that you've downloaded from TpT, or that you learned about from a workshop, because those are tried and true resources that have been proven to work! While you may have created some really awesome games and activities during your student teaching, you may be lacking in your teacher toolbox. So use other people's ideas! I have gone to SO many workshops and conferences in my career, but even after 17 years of teaching, I always walk away with so many ideas. If you're looking for Kodaly or Orff chapters in your area who hold workshops, check out the OAKE website and/or the AOSA website.
As far as resources go, I still buy plenty from West Music, and even though I have my own store of music education resources, I still buy products and download freebies on TpT, because I love seeing other people's perspectives and trying something new. (If you've already started downloading and are getting overwhelmed with how to organize all of your digital resources, see this blog post.)
#6: Get a lesson planning system
Whether you decide to write one lesson every day, or all lessons on the weekend, deciding on a system is really helpful to keep you in a routine. My first few years, I always wrote lessons on the weekends, but the last couple of years, I write two lessons a day, during my planning and/or after school. Then on the last day of my rotation (I am on an ABCDE rotation), I have all of my lessonss written, so I get all of my materials ready for A day. Deciding on and sticking to a routine has really helped me! For more thoughts about when to lesson plan, see this blog post. For more thoughts about how to lesson plan, see this video tutorial.
#7: Plan ahead
I didn't really understand how to long-range plan until I took my Kodaly training, and then I was hooked. When long-range planning, you are looking at your entire year, your standards, your curriculum, etc., and figuring out what you want to teach when (like a scope and sequence.) To better understand how to write a year plan, see this video tutorial. To better understand how to write song lists, see this video tutorial. It is SO helpful to know what you want to teach, when, and which songs and activities you are going to use!
#8: Firm + positive
As a first year teacher, I struggled with being firm with students when managing behavior. I worried they wouldn't like me or wouldn't like my class. Over the years, though, I have refined my balance of firm yet positive demeanor. When dealing with a difficult situation, you do need to be firm, but you can do so in a loving, calm way. I think many new teachers either tend to not deal with a situation out of fear or anxiety, or they let their frustration take over and yell. There is a delicate balance between the two. Even when I've been pretty firm and I worry that a child will be upset, I often get hugs either from that student or other students, because I've disciplined in a caring way. They need that structure, and they need to know that even if they make mistakes, you will still love them. For more advice and suggestions for how to do this, I highly recommend this book:
#9: Don't be afraid to try something new
It can be easy as a first year teacher to only stick to what you know, for fear of a lesson failing. Don't be afraid to fail. Even as a veteran teacher, I've had things fail, but I'd rather try it out, have it fail, and learn from the experience so I know how to teach it well, than not try at all!
Think through each step of your lesson. Teach the lesson to your spouse or to the mirror. If it still fails, think about why it failed and what could be done better (and don't be afraid to ask the students what they didn't understand! They can teach you!)
#10: Know that things will get easier
The first year is tough. On the first day of teaching, after teaching the same very rambunctious Kindergarten class twice in one day for forty minutes each time (I'm not kidding), I thought to myself, “Maybe I didn't pick the right profession.” However, the second day was easier. Each day after that, then each year after that, got progressively easier. I won't say it's ever totally easy, but it gets easier.
There will come a day when you will be teaching, and you'll think to yourself, “I get paid to do this?” There will come a day when you will smile–not because you're reminding yourself to smile, but because you mean it.
And those days make it all worth it.
Good luck on your first year! For more thoughts on my first year, see this blog post. For more advice for new music teachers, see this blog post by Tracy King. If you are a veteran teacher and have any advice, please leave it below!