The first year of teaching can be a stressful, intimidating, difficult experience, full of information overload. This is due, in part, to the onslaught of new information and unfamiliar responsibilities that come with being a music educator. Of the many things for which I prepared, via methods, conducting, and theory classes, the unknown and the unexpected moments for which I did not prepare, provided much of the challenge and reward of my first year teaching. In an effort to support and encourage both young and experienced teachers, I am sharing some of what I learned from my first year of teaching.

  • Longer workdays do not mean better teaching. While I do believe it is important for young teachers, particularly teachers at small schools or beginning programs, to throw themselves with passion at the position, 80-hour workweeks are not a positive. Give yourself permission to take breaks and find time to relax. I highly recommend having other outlets, hobbies, and regular time with friends. Try to take time every day to do something just for the joy of doing it.
  • Seriously, sleep. Several times throughout the year I found myself more irritable, less empathetic, and a worse teacher. When I stopped to ask why this was happening, or more often, “why are the students being so annoying today,” I often came back to my lack of sleep. This became an important lesson. If ever frustrated with results or behavior, always first turn back to self. It is likely the issues may stem from the teaching.
  • Stagnation is easy. I find myself occasionally falling into a rut (yes, already) with my skills, knowledge, and daily routines. Often, I am simply focused on the next thing, achieving or accomplishing it. Rarely did I actively look to improve during the year. Without this intentional push towards growth, it’s much easier to stagnate. I have found some of the following strategies to be very helpful:
    • Read articles, books
    • Listen to recordings
    • Go to concerts, conferences
    • Tape your rehearsals
    • Shadow other teachers
    • Structure lessons differently
    • Ask students for input
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help! The community of music educators has been a huge place of support and encouragement for me. I often try to do too much, taking an unhealthy pride in how much can be accomplished, even if the quality suffers. The more I utilize parents, staff, students, and colleagues, the more enjoyable the process and the more successful the results.
  • You will have struggles, disappointments, and difficult days. I knew this going in. That being said, I had, and still have, to a point, the inability to forgive myself. When you are in the middle of a tough day and you are low on confidence, remember, this is normal. Every great teacher I look up to has had days where they weren’t their best selves. Additionally, one of the great things about teaching is you always have tomorrow. It is okay to tell yourself, “So, I messed up today. Tomorrow, I will be better.” I often have to actively remind myself of the positive. Encouraging sticky notes, returning to inspirational videos, and grabbing coffee with friends are all avenues, which have provided comfort and encouragement throughout the tough times.
  • Why do I do what I do? Several times throughout last year, I found myself obsessed with the results or the performances, rather than the process and the people. I needed to remind myself of my priorities. Reflecting on what I want to give my students, what I want them to experience and learn, and what gives me joy are the things I want to be focused on in the coming year.

Here’s to being a better teacher today than I was tomorrow. Have a great year!

My First Year Teaching: What I Wish I’d Known

By: Hunter Boe

District 1E Representative

October 1, 2017

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