It’s easy to look back on my first year of teaching music and cringe. It’s like going through puberty all over again, except instead of raging hormones, you’re responsible for hundreds of student’s music educations. Every mistake has the potential to be seen by children, administrators, and parents. My first year of teaching elementary music had nearly zero resemblance to the place I’d imagined during my years as a music ed major. My scant knowledge of methodologies was somewhat helpful, but it was the day-to-day teaching life that made me question if I was doing anything right. I mean, what textbook could’ve adequately described the subtle art of corralling 25 kindergarten students into a circle whilst tying 10 pairs of shoes, giving Johnny the don’t-pick-your-nose look, and hoping that Mary finally learns the importance of personal space? Ultimately, I learned those subtle arts with time and experience.
“Experience: that most brutal of teachers. But you learn, my God do you learn.”
― C.S. Lewis
Still, there are moments I think back to those days and wonder what I would’ve told my first year teacher self. Personally, I wouldn’t choose to travel back in time even if The Ninth Doctor himself were offering me a seat on the Tardis. However, I do hope my reflections on that first year will be helpful to those of you in your first, second, or third year of teaching music. Without further adieu, let’s head back to 2007 and see what I would’ve told my first year teacher self…
You’ve been placed in a school in which your administration may know very little about music education. However, they still have an opinion about how music education should be presented to the public. Question this…often. Ask yourself what is best for your students, and push back when necessary. Will your students be best served via a traditional music performance every semester or will their time be better spent showcasing their knowledge of music via an informance? Don’t hesitate to educate your admin and school board about the importance of music education and the reasons behind your decisions. Over time, they’ll come to respect your passion and professionalism.
Remember, when it comes to music education, you, your teaching mentors, and your students know what a good music education looks like.
You Have an Impossible Job, Be Nice to Yourself
You have unreasonable expectations placed on you, and over time, you’ll become desensitized to this fact. Please don’t. You’re expected to provide an excellent music education with only 50 minutes of teaching each week. Your national standards spell out everything you’re supposed to achieve each year, yet those standards contain no warning label. These standards (which your principal look to for guidance) say nothing of the woefully small amount of time and resources you have to complete your task. Just imagine your administration asking any other educator to teach a new language proficiently with only 50 minutes of class time each week.
It sounds unreasonable, and that’s because it is.
Children deserve the opportunity to practice the language of music every day, just as they would with any other subject. Don’t let any situation desensitize you to the point that you start to believe music is “not as important” as science and math. You know better.
You Are More Than Your Career Choice
Right now you expend all your energy trying to be the “perfect music teacher”. This is an impossible goal that will only serve to make you feel horrible about yourself. Yet, you think it’s the right thing to do. Well Jennifer, you’re wrong. And perhaps the following song will help remind you of this the next time you try to reach the impossible goal of perfection.
You are so much more than your career choice. You’re a friend, a musician, a lifelong learner, and a compassionate human being. You are all of these things and more. Your career is important, but it’s not your whole life.