Music teachers are perfectionists. Take a moment and let that sink in, because odds are it is 100% the truth. (Or, you know, at least 80%). I saw this meme on Facebook the other day that said something about rewriting something on a new piece of paper because the first time wasn’t neat enough… this is literally my life.
But over the last couple of years, with the age of reading lots and lots of personal development books and, honestly, becoming a mother, I’ve learned to let this perfectionism thing go, at least as much as my Type A brain will let me. Because the truth is, perfectionism isn’t real. And striving for it will only burn us out faster and faster as teachers who strive for awesomeness and care so much about what we do.
5 Times You Should Give Yourself Some Grace:
1 – Leaving school when your contract time ends.
When I was full time at one campus (which has happened a grand total of 1 time out of the handful of teaching positions I’ve held in a handful of states), my car is never the first one in the parking lot. However, due to choir rehearsals, planning, or just getting caught up in all the things, there are plenty of times it is the last. I remember feeling a sense of pride when this happened. It had gotten dark, I didn’t have to worry about the rush of traffic heading toward downtown to get home, and I felt like I was committed. But really I was just exhausted.
The fact of the matter is, the early start time for elementary school meant that if I was just leaving the parking lot and it was already dark, I would have to be back at school in less than 12 hours. Sometimes, less than 10. Of course, there are some days that this is warranted—concerts, field trips, and other events. But these late nights and living at school should really be the exception not the norm.
Part of the reason I love my job so much is because I’m crazy motivated to plan and create lessons and to feel musical and creative with what I bring to my kids. I truly believe this feeds the vibe in your classroom (more further down the list). But I also learned that doing that at school wasn’t always the best way to feed my creativity. So I started leaving at contract time. There were days I was one of the first cars out of the parking lot, and I started to take some pride in that as well. It didn’t mean that I wasn’t dedicated (I mean, for real, I still spend tons of time creating and thinking about pedagogy because, well, #nerd, but also it seriously lights me up), it just meant that I was going to take some of those things home and give myself a breather after a full day of singing and being on my feet moving and making music. And other days? I just needed a break. And rest.
2 – When a class is a DISASTER.
This is one that always gets in my head. I pride myself on building really great relationships with students and creating a classroom climate where very little “official” procedures and rules need to be listed out on the wall and copied ten times and memorized and all the things. BUT, that doesn’t mean my classroom is perfect (that doesn’t exist, remember!) and it surely doesn’t mean that I don’t have a class every once in a while, or fairly often, that isn’t a hot mess express.
Now there are a couple things at play here when you have a class that is just a total scene.
(1) It can be the combination of kids. It seems like there’s always a couple of classes, or a grade level that is just sort of… off. And a lot of times it’s because as fate would have it, all the kids who perpetuate the “off-ness” end up in the same class. This has absolutely nothing to do with you. I guarantee if you start chatting with other teachers and allies about what’s happening, you’ll hear about a lot of similarities. So give yourself some grace! (And also, legit make those peeps your allies and figure out what makes that class tick!)
(2) It can be the day. Or the hour. Or the minute. Because our music classes are often a snapshot of the day or even the week, we often have absolutely no clue what happened in a classroom or to a kiddo or group of kiddos before they walk into the music room. Maybe they spent all morning testing. Maybe the class pet escaped and they still haven’t found it. Maybe it’s been raining or a full moon or the newest Harry Potter film just came out. It’s not you, it’s legit them.
(3) It can be you. There are those times that we just have off days. Or bad days. Or days when things just don’t click. It’s not everyday, but it will inevitably happen. Because we’re human and it’s okay. Take a breath, recognize that you do play some responsibility in the situation, and that it may legit be your attitude and approach to the day or the class.
3 – When a lesson doesn’t go as planned.
This is one that I feel like we should not only give ourselves grace for, but we should legit, celebrate. If you have a lesson that doesn’t go as planned, it means one big thing to me: you are challenging yourself and your students and you are growing.
I’ve talked in the past about how we need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable and how growth will always happen outside of that comfort zone. So if you insert something that you haven’t tried before, that you aren’t sure how it goes, and it “flops,” give yourself some grace.
Take a breath, and then really think “was that a flop?” OR “did I just not get the result I expected?” Because no matter what the outcome, when you try something new, you will either get the result you expected or the lesson you needed. And in this case, the lesson is to look back and see where the holes were. Where can you re-scaffold? Where can you draw on previous experiences, on what students are used to? Where can you insert a transition or a procedure to help the kiddos be more successful? All of these questions are so important, no matter what your perception was of that lesson.
Because remember: (1) we’re often waaaay too hard on ourselves and have a distorted perception of what really happened, and (2) just because the result was unexpected doesn’t mean it was a flop. It just means that it needs some tweaking. And try, try again.
4 – Re-using a successful lesson.
Now, total disclaimer here: I am not the person who has a lesson plan binder that say “this week do this thing, then that.” I would go bananas crazy with boredom. Because, as I mentioned before, what I love about being an elementary music teacher is the space it provides for my own creativity. But that doesn’t mean I re-invent the wheel each and every time.
Case in point: my levels trainings and workshops I’ve participated have taught me so many amazing ways to teach music to kids. And as I first began to add those tools to my toolbox, you better believe that I took the sequencing and lessons verbatim (with permission from instructors) and used them in my classroom. And then, over time, I was able to use the essence or inspiration of that lesson and approach in lessons I created, but that doesn’t mean I don’t still use those tools.
Similarly, when I’ve created something that is legit the perfect storm, where the kids are successful and excited, and I’m excited to share whatever I have planned for the day, I definitely use it again and again. Sure the context or the details might (and probably should) shift slightly, (remember that whole time bound, situational, and always changing thing about teaching), but just because I used this song last year for this thing doesn’t mean I won’t do it again.
And believe it or not, I will likely reuse successful activities week to week. BUT, with one caveat: scaffolding instruction to obtain a new or expanded behavioral objective. That was a lot of mumbo jumbo to say, to get the kids to the next step. But in order to get them to the next step in a sequence, I’ll definitely revisit an activity and then add the next layer. This isn’t necessarily “reduce, reuse, and recycle”, but it is about being efficient with our time and brain power as educators.
5 – You need a change.
This is really what prompted me to want to record this episode and share things with you. In last week’s episode of the podcast, David Row and I talked all about transitioning to a new campus. The logistics, things to consider, but perhaps most importantly, the fact that it’s okay. It’s okay if LIFE happens and your spouse gets a new job. It’s okay if there’s a job closer to your house where you could run home at lunch and let the dog out and pick the kids up from school. It’s okay if YOU just need a change because you aren’t feeling like it’s the best place for you to feel creative and musical and give your best to children each and everyday. All of these are okay.
I’ve been there— it’s hard sometimes to make a shift like this because it feels like your kids are your kids, and there’s this weird abandonment feeling that comes with leaving a position. Especially if you’ve been somewhere for a few years and developed relationships with students and staff, you’re invested in that community. But they will be okay. And it’s important that you are thriving in whatever environment you spend the majority of your days in. If something feels off, if you aren’t able to find the joy, or if LIFE just happens and something new and exciting crosses your path, that’s your signal to from the universe that you’ve served your purpose (go ahead and thank it, Marie Kondo style), and there might be something else waiting for you.
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