As the end of the year is coming to a close, I find it hard to believe that I have almost completed my 4th year of teaching orchestra! While some weeks seem to last forever, I have found that the sayings are true “The older you get the faster time flies.” There were a lot of moments this year that seemed to drag on, but this last week in particular seemed to fly by, and I am already getting teary eyed with the thought of loosing my 8th graders.
There are many amazing parts to my job… for one- I love music and I get to be surrounded by music all day long! I get to teach my passion!!! It is wonderful! The other thing that is truly amazing is being a teacher that teaches a subject for all 3 years- I get to watch students grow mentally, socially, physically, and musically. This is one of my favorite parts of my job, but also the tough part of my job! All of my students become my “kids” and are referred to as such every day through my speech, and every year I loose my 8th grade students and I get emotional.
Something I started my 2nd year of teaching and that has become a tradition is reading Dr. Seuss’ book “Oh. The Places you’ll go” to my 8th grade class. I know, I know… it’s a children’s book and I teach middle school students- Yes, but I think it works well for the place in life that they are. The students are getting ready to leave middle school and take a new route, go down a new path and succeed or make mistakes- the book is all about that. It’s actually kind of funny how much my 8th graders enjoy it… I tell them that we are about to have story time and then they move closer and get ready. At the beginning it is usually still a little loud with students moving about, whispering, moving in their chairs, and then as I continue into the 3rd and 4th page, they get more quiet. After I finish the book, I tell them why I read this book to them. I tell them because it has become tradition… I tell them because they will be going on a new journey and they may succeed or they may fail, but if they do fail to pick themselves up and try again… I tell them to think about the group of friends they chose to be a part of… I tell them to be leaders, that everyone is a leader but what kind of leader will you be remembered as… I tell them to lead with integrity, passion, strength, kindness and to think about the golden rule… I tell them that I am proud of them, no matter if we have had struggles within the year or if they have decided to continue in orchestra… I tell them that I will always love them and I am excited to see what they will do over the next couple years- it’s all true! I mean every bit of it and of course, then I cry. I seriously cry over everything- a trait I received from my mom!
With only half a day left of my 4th year of teaching, there are many things that I have learned about myself and teaching middle school students in particular.
One, You can try your best to be a perfectionist and have everything ready and all planned out, but lessons rarely go off seamlessly. I have gotten a lot better about being flexible and not getting frustrated if my lesson doesn’t go the way I planned. My 1st year I planned so much and packed so many things into my 45 min with the students- it was overload for them and I felt like I was running a marathon. The good thing was that if I didn’t make it to all of the things planed on that day, I had things to do the next day. I would definitely say if you are a new teacher, always plan more activities and more in general then you think you may need… it will save you!!!! I still try to think this way, but I have made sure to give the students a little more time to process. I mean they are middle school students and their brains don’t work like mine. I have to remember all of the info, techniques, and lessons I am teaching are new to them, while for me it is second nature- ( I didn’t really factor this in my 1st year).
Two, you never know the impact that you are making on students. They may tell you every day or they may say things sparingly, but if you are passionate about what you are teaching and you truly care for them as people, They will love you! I have a hard time with feeling appreciated sometimes, because for me my love languages or my way of feeling appreciated comes in acts of service and words of affirmation. I love when my students ask me if they can help me with things and when I get letters from them, it always gives me such a joyful feeling. At the end of the school year I always receive a lot of letters from students and I cherish them. Here are some of them from this year:
Above are letters from some of my 6th grade students this year!
This letter is from one of my 8th Grade students who has worked extremely hard and is a wonderful violist… she wouldn’t have had a chance to play an instrument if I had not gone into her general music class at the beginning of her 6th grade year and asked the simple question: ” Is there anyone in here that has thought about playing an instrument and would like to join orchestra?” – that question changed her life.
I also received some beautiful flowers today from one of my 6th grade parents with a super sweet message:
Three, you don’t have to do everything on your own... the kids want to help! Give them a task or an assignment to help you out and they will! I am a control freak, so my first year of teaching I felt like I had to do everything all on my own, especially for concerts. Worst thing ever! I would spend about 15-30 min setting up the gym for the concert with all the chairs and stands set in the proper spots. Now, I tell students to come early if they want to help and I usually end up having anywhere from 8-15 students who want to help! I make set up charts and delegate the set up to the students! I tell them how many chairs need to go in row 1, 2 ,3 and 4 and they set it all up- Best thing ever! And we get done in 5-10 min!!!! Students also like to help in the class. Tell them to hand out papers, or pencils or clean things up… it will save you so much time!
Four, keep everything that you have ever used- it will save you time and energy later. I got this advise from a teacher my 1st year and I am so glad that i listened and kept everything. I put every single worksheet, paper test, assignment, etc into a huge black binder and I have continued to add things. This saves me so much time- I can just flip through the binder and find the paper and make copies. Saving things in google docs is also great. Just this year I began doing everything on google docs and I love that it saves everything and I will have all of my documents, tests, and forms, available to me using any computer.
Five, push your students to go further than they think they can go, they will thank you for it one day and they will feel a sense of achievement. I have always done this, and sometimes I have thought I push them too much and maybe I make it too hard, but what I have learned and seen is that many students will try to reach the level you have set for them. Have high expectations for them, but not too high that they will fail or never be able to reach it. And always challenge the students to do their very best and keep going after they have made mistakes- this is a life lesson that will help them forever.
I push all of my classes to do their very best but the one class that I push the hardest is my elite group… the Strolling Strings. This is my auditioned before school group that has played at all the concerts, but has also performed outside of school 8 times this school year!!! They are amazing! Here’s a pic of my 2016-2017 Strolling Strings students and my 8th grade Strolling String students.
Cheers to another great year!!!! Hope you got some good advise and enjoyed the read!
Check out some of my other blogs about music.
March was music in our schools month and I had a lot of fun musicians come in to perform for my students and my students write about why music is important to them.