So for years I've toyed with the idea of writing a book about my adventures in teaching so far. One inspired title is "Tales of a Crazy White Lady; My life as a Public School Teacher in an Urban School District" and the other is the title of this blog "Things they don't tell you in college about being a Public School Teacher". Even though this idea might never go further than this blog post, I do feel it necessary to lay out some things for those who are currently in school to become a music educator, or otherwise.
August 2003. School is two weeks away from starting and I have an interview for an Assistant Band Director position with Hickman Mills High School. I remember everything about that day. How hot it was, what I wore, my first drive along what is now my daily commute, how I had to wait in the mall area outside the office for what seemed like forever before being called in by Marilyn. How I hoped and prayed throughout the entire interview that my wit, charm, and education was enough to land me the position. 3 days later it was mine.
My first day was actually a couple of days after school had already started. Talk about getting lost from the get-go. Not only had I missed out completely on the summer band camp, but I was also hired after all of the initial beginning of the year meetings so I missed out on all the pertinant information needed to start the year off right. My first day was really weird and stressful. I walked in through the doors that morning with my box full of stuff to encounter a throng of kids so vast, loud, and *taller* than me it was unreal. I suddenly felt very small and out of place. I went to the office because I had *no idea* where my room was. There hadn't been time for a tour of the building and the head director wasn't there that day so I was on my own. The scene replays in my head somewhat like this: I walk into the office that is a beehive of activity. Kids are standing at the front desk needing everything from ID badges to schedules. The secretaries are running around, answering phones, radioing to the administrators on the walkie-talkies and trying to calm down irate parents or students all before the first bell rings.
What am I doing here.
Marilyn catches sight of me and says "Great! You're here! Here are your keys, you know the way to your room, here's your schedule, have a great day!" and with a turn she was gone.
What am I doing here.
I looked at my schedule and it said room 313. Okay, I thought, I'm an intelligent human being, I can figure this out. Surely there are signs on the walls that indicate what rooms are which way...thank goodness there were! I found my way to the band room and met the other Assistant Director. He was taking care of rehearsal that day and I just basically stood back and watched. After band he took me on a tour of the district so I could see where the elementary school's I was assigned to were at. We got back near the end of the day and after a faculty meeting where I sat in stunned silence I gratefully walked out to my car to head home. Only I'd left the lights on all day and it was dead. Thankfully a colleague gave me a jump and I was on my way home shortly after thinking the whole way...
What am I doing here.
1) As a teacher you are not just there to teach your subject; you're there to teach yours *plus* everyone else's as well. You're the band teacher and had panic attacks in school when doing math? Too bad! You have to incorporate math into your lesson plans and rehearsals. This is still something I struggle to do. I'm pretty good at it during marching season because we have drill that is written on graph paper and it's easy to talk parallel lines, right angles, perpendicular, etc and hit on "FOIL", and there are some signs between the two that are similar (< and >) but that's about the limit of my expertise but I do what I can. Mixing in Comm Arts is easier because I can always have the kids write a concert critique, there's bellwork, vocab words all the time *and* most of those are in Italian.
Science? I'll tackle that one next year
2) You have to go to meetings...a LOT. It's called #ProfessionalDevelopment breathe it, live it, own it, *love it* cause you'll be doing a lot of it. If you're a core subject teacher, these PD's are useful and informational. You're presented with tools that you can use immediately in your classroom that will produce results. For the band teacher, especially at the high school level, who is trying desperately to get their group ready for contest it can be hard to work these tools into rehearsal. Usually the criteria is met through the use of bell work but even then I don't feel like it's enough. Oh well, there's always next week's PD to get new ideas to try.
3) You're going to be more to these students than just their teacher, you're going to become that constant adult presence in their life, their safe zone, the one they can trust. Many of them you are going to invest a lot of time in, many are going to invest a lot of time in you. Treasure that relationship because *that* is how you educate them and turn them into the productive and responsible citizens we *ALL* want them to become.
4) You've got to adopt your own style of teaching, that's for sure, but if I can give one piece of advice. Always have them think you're *just* on this side of crazy. I know my kids think I'm nuts, and they're right...I am. You have to be a little crazy to become a teacher because otherwise you'll go insane!
5) Know that even the most incredibly, frustratingly, irritatingly, annoyingly, seemingly disrespectful student needs you. They're the ones that need you to stop them in the hall with a firm word and ask them if they've gone and done lost their mind! They need your redirection just as much as they need your softer side; the squeeze on the shoulder, the kind word, the "You did a good job"...those are the ones who need the full meal deal and then some. We're the ones who can give it to them.
6) Know who *really* runs the school. No it's not the students, and no offense to any administrators, but anyone worth their salt knows that the secretaries and custodial staff are the ones who keep the building running. These people are the salt of the earth and angels in disguise. They are your best friends and you should treat them accordingly. They put up with a lot more than us teachers will ever know and they still manage to get donuts ordered for our staff meetings (at least they did before funding got cut...again).
7) You're going to have a lot of "extra duty" opportunities. Some of them you can choose to do, some you have no choice. Some you will get paid for, others you will not. We all must do our share in order for the kids to be able to have their games and dances, career fairs and graduation. Just make sure to still leave time for yourself. Some of my teacher friends I worry about because it seems like they are *always* at school. Granted I was there a lot more before cancer and now it's made me put some things into perspective, but I still have my 3 long days a week and usually 5 during marching season. Suck it up and do what you have to do but also learn how to say "I just can't do that right now, you're going to have to find somebody else".
8) You should have a mentor your first year and if something happens where you slip through the cracks, like what happened with me, please demand to be paired with a veteran teacher. This is vital to our success in your first few years. I felt like I was out there treading water on my own for a couple of years and even though I feel as if I've hit my stride this year I still feel like I'm playing catch up.
9) If you haven't already found time to substitute, DO IT NOW. I spent a semester substituting and not only did it open my eyes to a lot of behavioral issues out there, but it helped me better prepare for when I had to do it for real. So get your name out there and sub a couple of times, you'll be glad you did.
10) You are going to spend more time addressing dress code and ID badge violations then you know what to do with. You are also going to fight the sagging, short skirts, legging as pants, untucked no belt-wearing issue all.the.time. Prepare to give up portions of you plan time to deal with these issues when you're on hall duty. It's just the way it is.
11) Your acronym vocabulary is going to *explode* your first couple of years. AYP, QAR, MAP, NCLB, PBTE, SMART Goals, DOK, GLE, the list goes on and on. Listen up in your staff meetings to find out what these are all about and ask your mentor or trusted veteran teacher what you're supposed to do with them.
12) REMEMBER: YOU are in charge. Not the students. YOU run the show. YOUR success as a teacher and their success as a student is more important than whether or not they like you all the time. I've seen it happen before with first year teachers, especially those who are close in age with the seniors (i.e. 21 and 18). They think they can just be the student's friend and everything will go just fine. Not so much. You can be their friend in a fashion but you are also the teacher, disciplinarian, adult in charge, and mentor. If you just try to be their friend they're going to steam roll over you like they do their other friends (especially if they're a dominant personality), so rather define the line, let them know you're just about half crazy and proceed through your day. Things will go a lot better for you.
13) Hall Duty, Bus Duty, Lunch Duty, Restroom Duty, Hall-sweep duty. 5 things in a teachers day that are all incredibly important and incredibly annoying. Just like PD, live this, breathe this, own this, love this.
There are so many other things that pop up daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, semesterly, and yearly that I *still* think to myself "There's another thing I wish I would've been told in college", that it's impossible to list them all. I'm not trying to scare you, brave soul, cause Lord knows we need you in our schools to take the torch from those who have gone before you and continue to carry on, inspire, and educate. I just want to bring into the light some things that they don't tell you about in all of your method's classes as you're standing there in front of your friends who you just partied with the night before and who now have to act like teenagers in a classroom (reality? I think not). I want you to know so you're not caught off guard when you finally sign on your dotted line, get your wad of keys and find the way to *your* room.
Just remember to take deep breaths, go to your happy place and remember why you entered this profession in the first place and you'll find the strength to keep going.