One day, on an off-handed whim, I posted a simple question to instagram. I wasn't expecting much of a response, but.... Holy Moly, did I get one.
This question was simple. I asked, "What's the most stressful part about being a music teacher?" I got so many different responses, but one thing is for sure. Being an elementary music teacher (or any type of music teacher) is not an easy job. There are lots and lots of stressful parts of our job, some that can be temporary (think being on a cart or program prep), or permanent (...like being on a cart).
I've had my fair share these experiences, so I totally feel your pain. Right now I'm traveling between several campuses, living out of my teacher bag, and working with different administrators' expectations and campus styles and vibes. So I get it. There's a lot going on. And sometimes it's impossible to figure out how to handle it all.
If you're feeling all the overwhelm and stress, this FOUR-PART BLOG SERIES is just for you. And guess what? It starts today!! *cue happy dance*
Part 1 - Overall Overwhelm
I got to a point last week where I could feel myself breaking. I had just had my formal observation, was working on updating my yearly goal (per my observation follow-up) and trying to figure out how to shove all my remaining assessments into the short time before report cards are due. Not to mention that my third graders were putting on a huge musical, one of my buildings is packing up to move into our new school next month...and it was Dr. Seuss week.
Ugh. I couldn't even.
But I had to keep going and going and going, because there were kids in my classroom expecting their music teacher who is always on and ready to go. You see, we music teachers have a very unique teaching situation. Our classes are often back to back, different grade levels, with no prep time in between, and a solid 30-45 min of direct instruction that is predominantly teacher-led.
Yes, I incorporate station work and project based learning when possible, but very rarely does my lesson plan allow for 10-20 min of independent or small group work where I can collect data and provide individual intervention when needed. Instead, the large amount of material and relatively short amount of time I see my students doesn't lend itself to this model. As a result, music teachers are "on stage" a good 98% of the time, at least.
Add in all the stressors like collecting data and assessment in a way that mirrors the rest of our campus, performance expectations and obligations, differentiating instruction for every single student in the building, and making sure our classroom is exciting and vibrant and purposeful and sequential and doing all the wonderful world-peace creating things that music is supposed to be.
I mean, c'mon. At some point, something is bound to give. And it can't be your spirit.
I'm sure you've had at least one time you've felt like this. Everything comes to a head and you can't even begin to wrap your head around what you're going to do the next week, day, or even class period. Take a deep breath, and do this.
Make music with your kids. Everything else will follow.
Yes, there are standards and report cards and performances that we need to address and accomplish. But take a moment and re-center your teaching with activities that engage your kids and that both you and your students love. Play singing games, folk dances, try a new instrument activity that is quick and accessible so that in one way or another kids are actively making music in your classroom.
Don't worry about which standard box you can check. Don't worry about posting the right learning target. Maybe for that one class, day, or week, your objective is "I can be part of a community by making music together." I guarantee you can find additional learning objectives for your next lesson that will relate back to the activities you've chosen just for the pure sake of making music.
But most importantly you are accomplishing exactly what I stated above: building community by making music. If you allow yourself to have these positive experiences with your kids, it will do just that.
If you're still with me at this point, you're probably thinking, okay Anne, I was looking for some real strategies to help me chill the you-know-what out. That wasn't it.
I hope you don't think I'm being too much of a Positive Polly (is that a thing? can we pretend?) BUT, I do think that half the battle is taking a breath and appropriately framing your situation. Yes, a job is a job is a job, but the core of what we do each and everyday is nothing short of amazingly joyful. And I find that when I choose joy and re-center myself with why I became a music teacher (to make music... with kids), everything else doesn't seem quite so overwhelming.
Still struggling to find that happy place in a sea of overwhelm? Think about these questions, or take a few minutes to free write with your favorite flair pen:
- Why did you become a music teacher?
- What favorite games or activities have you done with your kids this year? Which haven't they learned that you love and could teach quickly and efficiently? (This could inform your plans for a week of joyful music making).
- What was one time that your kids completely took you by surprise?
- Think about a time(s) a student said something that touched your heart.
- What about your job keeps you going back day after day? (Hint: it's not the money. Starbucks has benefits, girl!!)
Take another five minutes and just breathe. What else makes you smile??
Coming up in this Stress Soothers Series...
(how's that for some alliteration?? #yourewelcome)
If you're looking for some hard and fast strategies to conquer some of the biggest stressors on your to-do list, I've got you covered every Tuesday in March. Check out the topics on the docket for the rest of this series:
- 3/14 - PART II - PRODUCTIVITY & PLANNING
- 3/21 - PART III - ADVOCACY & EARNING RESPECT
- 3/28 - PART IV - PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT & MUSIC TEACHER ISOLATION
See something you need a word to the wise on, but it didn't seem to make the list the time around? Drop me a line here! I would love to hear from you. :)