Welcome to Part 3 of the Stress Soothers Series!!
Each Tuesday in March, I'm bringing you tips & tricks to beat that spring slump and re-energize your teaching. Today is all about advocating for your program and working happily with all your colleagues. Let's jump right in!!
Part 3 - Advocacy & Respect
It seems like, more often than not, music teachers (and elementary music teachers specifically) are the only one in their subject area at a campus. Being a party of one has so many challenges that comes with it, namely being on your own "team" and being isolated in terms of subject area (more on this next week!). But aside from that, we're often lumped into "specials" categories which is more often a curse rather than a blessing. Whatever your situation or perception of your role at your campus, here are 4 tips for how to field some of these challenges.
Tip #1 - Embrace & Live Up to the Title "Specialist"
Well let me just come running out of the gate and give you my honest opinion about something that might be controversial in the elementary music teacher world.
I like being called a "specials" teacher. Because I'm a music specialist.
To me, the word is NOT synonymous with "babysitter" or "extra," but truly that of a specialist. I am an elementary music specialist. I have spent a lot of years and still spend an extraordinary amount of time focusing on music pedagogy. I am highly qualified to teach music, and therefore am in a specialized subject area.
I recognize that my colleagues in art, physical education, and library are all specialists in their field of education. I understand the general gist of their curriculum, but I don't know the ins and outs enough to teach it beyond our few collaborative projects a year. I adore the classroom teachers work with because they have so many moving parts in their classroom, are with the same group of kids all day, and have truly mastered the art of cultivating a beautiful classroom environment. I would argue they are classroom specialists.
I know what you're thinking. Good for you Anne, way to claim and define the title on your own terms. That doesn't change how people view or talk about my subject area in my building. Here's my gentle response: have you lived up to your specialist title?
Have you found ways to do collaborative projects with other teachers at your campus? I know, where's the time, but any small connection can make a big difference. Have you explained to your students why you're called a specials teacher? Each year I explain to my kids exactly what I outlined in the paragraphs above. They get it. Do you show teachers and administrators what your classroom really looks like?
This brings me to...
Tip #2 - Share the Music Making
If no one ever sees or hears what a real music classroom is really like, the only thing they have to equate it to is (1) the performances you put on, which admittedly are not always demonstrative of your classroom environment... that's a whole other blog post; OR (2) what that teacher or administrator experienced in their music class how many years ago.
I guarantee what you and your kids are doing is very different than what teachers, administrators, or even parents think you're doing. So show them!
This year, one of my buildings is under construction and I'm visiting classes to have music on a cart. Most of the teachers flee during their planning period, but a couple stay behind to do work at their desk while I'm teaching their class music. One first grade teacher in particular stopped me after school one day and said,
"I just have to say I am so impressed with how you teach. You are actually teaching the kids music. Each week you are obviously building on concepts you worked on before and it's really cool to watch! I'm not sure I could do the things you're asking them to do."
Okay, but honestly, this response was not because my teaching is the best ever. I have some pretty solid teaching strategies in place, but I guarantee the so-mi-la patterning she was referring to is something that happens in most first grade music classrooms. But guys, they just don't know what we or the kids are doing. They don't realize what happens in our music classrooms. Show them.
Send parents an email with video or audio, ask to be a co-teacher in SeeSaw, and invite teachers and principals in to see your class in action. I've done all of these things this year, and it has worked wonders for my relationships with other adults, not to mention confidence and self-efficacy boosts for kids. When people begin to understand what and how you teach, they start to really respect your specialist title. Because they realize how well deserved it is!!
Tip #3 - Make Everything About the Kids (...because it is.)
This might seem like a bit of an obvious tip. And in our music teacher brains, I know that what is best for kids is always at the forefront of our agenda. But does your language reflect it? Do your emails, conversations, and meetings take you out of the equation? Because, quite honestly, any hot button issue that involves your opinion should be an opinion you hold in the best interest of children making music.
I have 2 specific examples I can think of to illustrate this point. The first is scheduling. Ah yes, the sweet sounds of this person wanting their prep here and making sure that math because after ELA and the only time fifth grade can honestly come is at the end of the day after they've packed up all the things and have completely checked out of the school day.
Been there, played that game.
The second is performances. You need help supervising all 200 kids in the second grade for the big important production that the parents and the teachers said was the most important thing ever, but now you have no help during the dress rehearsals and can't possibly run sound and conduct at the same time.
Two for two, kid.
We've all been there. Our job is stressful because we're working with lots and lots of personalities and lots and lots of kids. Like, all the children. In an entire school. To the tune of 600 kids, sometimes more. And they are the reason we do what we do each and every minute of each and every day.
So when a conversation about scheduling comes up, focus on how certain prototypes just don't work because the kids miss out. Having first grade, then kindergarten, the first grade, the fifth grade, and then second at the end of the day without a break in between guarantees that each class will miss out on some instructional time because set up is impossible for that many grade levels back to back to back (not to mention we drink a lot of water. and coffee... infer what you will). Notice there's no "I statement" there?
And with the performances, the kids really need extra support to have the best performance experience possible because there are so many support positions beyond conductor to make it all successful. Could we offer them that support? Not a single "I'm overwhelmed" etc, because it's all about the kids. And yes, we are the one person who facilitates all of these things, and we need help, but we need help to make the kids have the best experience possible.
And when everyone is working toward the common cause, we are SO much more successful.
Tip #4 - Be Part of the Team
If everyone is focused on the kids, this part is easy. And it's all about give and take.
If I'm willing to switch a couple classes so fifth grade can still have music on a field trip day, I will absolutely do it. It makes that day nutty, but at least my classes don't get behind or off, and I'm setting a precedent that I am part of the team.
If you can accommodate someone, just do it. Unless it's an impossible feat or won't be beneficial for kids, help your fellow teacher out. You will, after all, need someone to run the lights for a program, or cover for the first ten minutes of your class when you're running late from a doctor's appointment. The more you think of your colleagues as your school family, the more warmth they will feel and shoot back in your direction.
Coming up in this Stress Soothers Series...
We've got one more installment left!! Check out Part IV next Tuesday, March 28th, when we chat all about Professional Development & Music Teacher Isolation... geez, sounds joyful doesn't it?? No worries, it will be by the time we're done!!
Something else you would love to chat about, but it didn't seem to make the list the time around? Drop me a line here! I would love to hear from you. :)