There are about a million and one pieces of advice everyone spouts at you when you’re a first year teacher. Helpful hints about this curriculum, that activity, and the other classroom management plan you should definitely subscribe to that will magically fix your classroom. And while that’s all well and good, the things I would go back in time and tell myself has little to do with what curriculum or concept to use, and much more about how unexpected life as a first year teacher was. I was overcome with all of these changes, all these pattern shifts that I didn’t deal with well. Overtime, although these feelings haven’t gone away, I’ve found a few ways to cope and make things better.
Yep, there I am. Trumpet in hand, about to embark on a crazy journey I couldn't even imagine. Here are some things I would tell myself, if I could turn back time. (I know you're singing it in your head--I definitely am.)
1. You will be tired.
I mean, yes, if you move from college life (even student teaching) to teacher life, the shift hits you hard and fast. But it’s not just a “oh now I have to be at the place and do the things” kind of tired, but more like you have to run a marathon and then go home and get ready to do it all again tomorrow. Trust me, I’ve run a few half marathons in my day, and although that is exhausting, the new teacher tired is real.
This even hits “fill in the blank” year teachers. The shift from the summer back to the classroom and right into the first week leaves all of us dying to catch up. You will pour your heart and soul into your classroom and your students right out of the gate, no doubt wanting to be the best teacher you can be. And you should want to be the best teacher you can be. But not to the detriment of your body being completely run down. It’s hard to catch up once you hit the ground running that first week of school—after the first week, there’s the second, and this event to plan for or that concert. It’s a lot.
And it’s not only prepping for the “big” things. The day to day as a music teacher is constantly up and moving. There is little to no down time, except for when you (maybe) get a few minutes to plan or eat lunch. Other than that, you see a lot of kids consistently each and every day. Every year when I step back into the classroom, I inevitably loose my voice and take a nap when I get home from work everyday.
All this to say, it’s the best kind of tired. You will pour your heart and soul into being the best that you can be, because you became a music teacher for all that you could give to your kids. Your body does get used to it, and you learn to manage your energy better.
What will help:
- Take a nap everyday. Seriously. Even if I didn’t go to sleep, I took about 30 minutes to sit in silence, close my eyes, and decompress the minute I got home from school my first year. The dishes can wait.
- DRINK WATER. It’s hard not to run on caffeine and sugar alone, and yes it’s hard to find time to run to the restroom, but reach for water as much as you can. Your body and your voice will thank you.
- Take some time to breathe. If you’re new here, this is something I say a lot. Taking the first 5 minutes of your already rushed planning time to sit in the silence seems counterintuitive, but giving yourself little breaks where you can throughout the day is invaluable for your state of mind.
2. You will be overwhelmed.
No matter what kind of first year teacher you are, there’s a lot. Likely lots of life changes, a new found sense of independence, a paycheck, a “real person” job, etc. And then aside from the fact that your whole world is just different, you’ve started this new job with all this stuff you have to do. And then, as a music teacher, that’s generally multiplied by the number of grades you have to teach.
You’ll write lesson plans for each and every grade, you’ll learn the standards and create assessments, and do the best to learn each and every child’s name in your classes—which is likely the whole entire school. That’s not to mention the performances, the extra stuff (choir, Orff ensembles, etc.), running the sound for the school assemblies, DJing field day, and whatever else falls under the umbrella of the music teacher at your campus.
Yes, it’s a lot of responsibility. Yes, you will be working with everyone—all the students, all the teachers, all the staff. But guys, you’ll be working with everyone. One of my favorite parts about being a music teacher is that I see every kid in the building, I work with every grade, and I am central to the community because of that. What an overwhelming, special, important job.
What will help:
- Assigned seats. Even if you want to be free and give kids agency, this is not the place to do it—at least in the beginning. Having assigned seats in your classroom puts you in control of behavior management and allows you to move kids around when you need, easily keep track of assessments, and most importantly, learn names.
- Find resources that already have a curriculum map or outline. Search blogs, Pinterest, Teachers Pay Teachers, subscribe to newsletters, and look for things like the Anacrusic Resource Library. Being a first year teacher now is so much different than when I first started out—most of these amazing online resources hadn’t even been created yet! Take advantage of them, that’s why they are there.
3. You will feel isolated.
I remember when I first started teaching, I was so stinking excited to have my own music classroom down at the end of the hall where no one would be walking by and my kids could make music freely without worrying about disturbing testing or the library or anyone else. As someone who loves sort of being under the radar anyway, it was seriously the cherry on top. But as the first weeks of school went on, I realized that my geographic location in the building was super indicative of how I felt as a member of the school.
Yes, like I mentioned above, being the music teacher is ah-mazing, because you get to work with everyone on the campus. And although you may be on a team with your art teacher or PE coaches, it can feel very lonely to be the only one. It doesn’t mean you are destined to be the lonely music teacher, it just means that since your network isn’t as built in at the campus level, you have to work a little harder to find your people.
What will help:
- Find your tribes: on campus, in your district, and even online. Yes, some of the music teacher Facebook Groups are a little overwhelming, but there are a few full of genuine people who want to share and help one another. #TAP Insiders, the group for The Anacrusic Podcast listeners, as well as The Music Crew Collaborative, are two great places to start to look for likeminded and friendly music teacher friends.
- Eat lunch in the staff lounge. Ok, this is a thing I never do on a daily basis, but at least two to three times a week, I try to eat with other teachers. This is important to build genuine relationships, not just exchange emails about the latest program practice.
- Be a team player. Do your best to work with people when it comes to changing rehearsal times, working on grade level programs, and any other interactions you might have with your staff. If the only experience colleagues have with you have been negative or difficult, it will only lead to you feeling more and more like you’re on an island.
4. You will second guess yourself.
If it’s your first year teaching or at a new campus, there are likely traditions and expectations and experiences that came before you that can be loved, or despised, or expected. Aside from that, everything is new. The kids, the lessons, and whatever systems your school has in place for discipline or otherwise will be totally unknown for the first couple of weeks. You are bound to make mistakes, have miscommunications, or need to ask questions as a first year teacher. Do not feel bad about any of it. You are strong, you are capable, and you were hired to make music with children. Aside from keeping them safe, that is your number one job. As long as you are doing that to the best of your ability, you are doing everything you’re supposed to.
What will help: Do the best you can with the information you have at the time. Let everything else go. End of story, period.
5. You will be overcome with joy, love, and purpose.
Yes, you will not feel this all the time. I mean, did you see the four previous things in this list? Embarking on this career path is not for the faint of heart. But what you put into teaching, you will get out of teaching. Remember that thing I said about pouring yourself into your kids? It might not happen straight away, but you will get all of that back ten fold.
What will help: Your job, the thing that pays your bills, the thing that you get to do each and every day, is make music with kids. Keep that at the forefront of everything you do.