There is an article out about the mistakes new teachers make. Read through it last night and I am totally with the author, I’ve made almost every one of them! And I am glad!
Life is all about process, music has certainly shown me that, and teaching is similar. Each day is a new opportunity, a new performance, a new coaching gig where the players can be predictable, but often are not. Building off of what they know and leading them, sometimes it feels like pushing them, into new territory. Love the process, live in the process, and slowly, the effects will start to show.
My biggest mistakes (so far):
Writing incredibly detailed lesson plans. This, fortunately, did not last long, and really it cannot. Depending on what you are teaching, one college-length lesson plan for each day and class is so time-consuming. That is not to say planning is not important, far from it, they are just far more concise plans. It was wonderful that my college professors encouraged us to plan out what to say and how to say it, because it is very important when keeping pacing and interest up. Though after the first month or so, there may be a phrase to stick into the plan and remember, or a short list of points to address, not a screen play.
On the flip side, going to clinics and other professional development opportunities is very helpful when picking up good phrases to use with students. (A great book to read on the subject is Choice Words by Peter H. Johnston.) One of my favorites now is when addressing music students missing rests or notes, I ask for a show of hands of who missed it. Then, when they think they are in trouble, I encouragingly say, “Great! You heard what happened, so you know how to fix it!” or “Good listening! Can we try it correctly?” Mistakes happen, it does us no good to fall away from them feeling awful or wanting to quit.
Never leaving school. I am still guilty of this and my colleagues have been commenting. It is difficult to begin sorting through resources, finding resources, deciding what might work, and how to put it all together in a meaningful way. It does take time, but we also need to live and prioritize. A fifth grade teacher applauded when she saw me walking out the door at 4:30 yesterday afternoon, I am typically one of the last to leave. However! I have learned to limit the amount of time I am working after school. I will stick around until 4:30-5:00 and then anything after that is practice time. My music room is a fantastic space to play euphonium; plus, it is wonderfully cathartic.
Trying to re-invent the wheel. Entering into the field, particularly after living in the ideal mindset of the college experience, we want to change the world! Should we do things differently? Yes. Do we need to create lessons from scratch every single time? Absolutely not. The best thing about finding resources, they are tools. Tools we can adjust to suit our purpose without developing the whole process ourselves. How do we become great teachers? Imitate great teachers and use the supplies they readily hand us.
Now, my successes (so far as I can tell):
There is routine, but also lots of variety. Although I consider this a bit back-handed since I know I will change the order and how I taught a number of things in the beginning of the year, it is still a success. I set up many clear routines and procedures that students now do without question. They know where to go when entering my classroom and what happens if they are or not focused. When I say certain phrases, everyone understands the expectations and what will happen if they do not meet them.
Where I missed a few spots, a procedure for asking to use the bathroom and consistently letting students know where their overall behavior stands during class. The classroom teachers have their own bathroom signals I thought I could just work with, and that is okay with kindergarten, but for the other 450, they each seem to have a different signal. I have a five-star system where they can earn up to five stars in a class. It was going great until I started focusing on some other aspects and would neglect to build up those stars as a visual. We’ll fix this next week, but it will not be engrained until late in the school year. It takes time.
They know me and my classroom as a safe place. If nothing else went well all year, I would still be doing cartwheels about this success. The most important and effective management tool, is a safe environment. Not only management, but it helps when getting to know students. One of my favorite things is hearing stories about non-school related activities. When they just start talking, I know that we have a connection and we can work together. It is more apparent in the upper grades where they are not as trusting. Although, it is awesome to have a cafeteria full of kindergarteners trying to run up and give you hugs while grabbing lunch.
Looking forward to the rest of the school year. There will be some rough moments, and each group can be different day-to-day, but having a little more solid footing is helping. It also helps having more of a life outside of school.
Onwards and upwards!