Today on the podcast, I’m sharing a letter I wrote to all first year music teachers. But if you’ve tuned into this week, and you are not a first year music teacher, I want you to stop. Collaborate. And listen. AND YES, I”m serious.
We’re all first year teachers. Because, yes, we were thrown into the ring last spring with all the distance learning and all the things that happened in what seemed like overnight, and we were literally surviving. It was our first taste of adapting and innovating and doing a complete 180 from what we’re used to, and now… we’re back. In whatever capacity it may be, we’re back for more of the unknown, the unexpected, and most importantly, providing our kids with what they need now more than ever: music making.
So yes, while it’s important for us all to love on our first year teachers who definitely, undoubtedly had something completely different in mind for this year, I’m willing to bet that you did too. You probably had the best ideas for when we get to make music together again… and now it looks different. So take a few minutes, listen to this brief, but important, letter. And realize that yes we have to innovate, yes we have to adapt, but someday we will make music again.
Dear first year music teacher,
My first year of music teaching was many moons ago. And I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. Sure, I had a couple of performance degrees in my back pocket, but that didn’t immediately translate to helping Kindergarteners sing a circle song, let alone help them remember their own names. I wasn’t sure how to teach this concept or the best way to get my older kids engaged with an activity. My classroom management was atrocious, and there was that one fifth grade class that made me, a grown woman, shed real life tears of frustration (with my back turned to the board of course). And it was hard.
But there were absolutely amazing moments too. The excitement about setting up my classroom, what would be my home for many hours from September through June. The first time I had that lesson, that just flowed, and the kids loved, and we lost track of time until their teacher walked into the room five minutes after their class was supposed to end. The excitement I felt about setting up my classroom. And the first hugs and high fives from my itty bitties that turned into a daily routine.
The first year is… a year. It’s hard, it’s challenging, and it’s the best.
And now, for you, as you head into 2020, it’s a cluster. I know that’s crude, but let’s just call it what it is. All of us have a little bit of time to try to plan for something we have no idea how to plan for. And for you, dear first year teacher friend, this is not the year that you imagined.
And because of that, even though we all feel like first year teachers this year, I have some thoughts for you. And even though my first year of music teaching was many moons ago, and I doubt you’ll get this dated pop culture reference—it’s important that you stop, collaborate, and listen.
First, STOP. And take the time to mourn this year.
This is the time of year that teachers stroll the target dollar spot, break out their circuit machines, scroll instagram and Pinterest, and get all the ideas for their classrooms. And, if you’re like me, put up your trusted Wicked Poster in the corner and call it a day. But the idea remains the same. Just like any good holiday or vacation, every teacher would admit there’s a buzz of excitement about the start of the school year.
And this year is different.
There’s fear, there’s doubt, there’s frustration, there’s disbelief, there’s all the things that you aren’t supposed to feel in the lead up to the school year. And it’s crippling.
So I want you to take the time to mourn this year.
I for one, am a huge control freak, which is something I’ve admitted and will continue to admit time and again on this podcast. And a big part of my control freak tendencies is to get pretty frustrated when my expectations aren’t met, or quite honestly, things don’t go my way. It drives me especially crazy when I can’t do anything to change it.
Guess what’s going on in my brain right now? I’ve been loosing it. Teach music through a computer? No singing? You’ve got to be kidding me?!
I’ve been going around and around in circles desperately wishing and hoping that things could just go back to the way they were. You may have heard that hope is not a strategy. Throwing the penny down the wishing well may make us feel better, but it’s not something that will actively invite change into our lives.
So what do we do? Yes we take the time to be sad about the year that we wish we were having. Then we focus on the things we can control, and bless and release the things that we can’t.
You were so excited for a classroom and now you have to teach on a cart? Make that cart the coolest thing since sliced bread! You were beyond pumped to teach all your favorite singing games? Turn that ish into an awesome speech piece and come up with a new way to play.
2020 is not over. It’s just beginning. And although I know it’s difficult to not get bogged down by a lot of the frustration and unknowns all around us, strive to see the good. Because your kids need you, and you were meant to be their music teacher.
And please, go ahead and head to Target. By those mini erasers and that class calendar. Because someday you will make music the way you imagined this year.
Then, COLLABORATE. You have important things to share.
I know as a first year teacher, you might feel as though you’re the new kid on the block, the baby, the newbie, and all those other descriptors that hint at the fact that yes, you’re new to to the profession, but also downplay the strengths that you have to offer your kids, your campus, and your colleagues.
Just like you were meant to be your kids’ music teacher, you’re meant to be exactly where you are right now. And that means sharing the gifts you have that are uniquely you. You have the fresh eyes that so many of us need right now. As you’ve probably observed, there’s a lot of focusing around what is changing, what is different, and the things that we can’t do.
But you, sweet new teacher friend, although you are coming in with some admittedly smashed expectations of what would’ve or could’ve been, are coming in with everything new. This year, more than ever, this is a true blessing. You’re coming into this rollercoaster with your hands raised high to the sky, ready for the ride, when so many of us who are more set in our ways are riding with our eyes closed, holding on for dear life, and waiting for the ride to be over so we can be back to stable ground, the familiar territory that we know.
But for you, everything is new this year. There’s no having to adapt from your usual routine, or having to innovate, because it is all going to be purposeful music making in it’s newest, purest form, with the excitement and exuberance we all need to adopt to thrive this year. So share that excitement, share your ideas, because we need you.
We need your energy, we need your creativity, and we need the genuine excitement that we are able to wake up every single day and make music with kids no matter what it looks like.
Before all of… this, happened, it wasn’t always easy to collaborate with colleagues. Yes, there were live workshops, and a few facebook groups here and there that you could jump on if you felt the nudge, but largely there wasn’t a whole lot accessible to us as music teachers, especially as the only “one of our kind” on our campus.
Holy moly, the tide has changed. And y’all, it’s high, so go ahead and grab that boogie board and ride the wave. If you haven’t noticed, you are in the era of ALL the professional development, totally accessible, with people sharing left and right and up and down and all the different ways.
Take advantage of all of the things. But in a meaningful way. Don’t consume just for consumings sake. If something doesn’t feel good, realize that it doesn’t serve you. In the buffet of music teacher instagram, Pinterest, teachers pay teachers, facebook, and everything in between, there is really and truly something for everybody—but do NOT stuff yourself.
So listen to your colleagues, take advantage of all that is happening, but also be selective and listen to yourself. You were given gut instincts and a conscious and all of those things for a reason and it’s always important to follow that so that you are your best teacher-musician self. Just because someone is sharing something that worked for them, does NOT mean that it works for you.
Something I often say is that teaching is time bound, situational, and always changing. And holy cow is it true now more than ever. But don’t mistake that to mean that just because we’re all teaching in the age of COVID-19, everyone is faced with the same challenges and needs to adapt in the same way. There is power in collaboration, but there is peace in honoring your own truth.
And last but not least, listen to your kids. Realize that there is still music happening. It looks different. It sounds different. It feels different. But remember that music making really does transcend all physicality in nature and this is something that we can get through together.