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Tuesday, April 12, 2016

first year flashback

Today I'm linking up with Shelley at Pitch Publications to reminisce about my first year of teaching. It has been really fun to read the posts from all of the other teachers who have written about their first years as well- be sure to click on the picture to check out all of the other linked up posts! 

This post is by Pitch Publications with Shelley Tomich and is a linky party where several music teachers link up to talk about their first year teaching. For some it has been a decade, for others a few years. #pitchpublications #elmused #iTeachMusic” data-pin-media=

What subject/age and where were you teaching?

I did my student teaching at an international school in South Korea, and I was lucky enough to be able to land a job at another international school while I was there. The school was a relatively new one, and my first year teaching was their first year in a new building. It is now one of the biggest international schools in South Korea, but at the time everything was still very new. I taught K-5 general music.

What was your first classroom like?

As I mentioned, the building was brand new- I was the first one to teach there- so it was in good shape. BUT it was one of the worst classrooms I have taught in ever. The room was pretty small. When I showed up the first time, they had a class set of desks with the little desks attached. When I ran to the office to complain, they told me that the previous music teacher (whom they had consulted about how to set up the room, what to order etc) had suggested those. Turns out she mostly did music theory and music history. She taught K-12 music, though, and was primarily a string player with little background in elementary music. Thankfully they got rid of the desk-chairs and brought in some folding chairs, which they eventually replaced with some actual music chairs before the end of the year. 

The worst part, though, was that the classroom was in the 2nd basement. As in, the basement below the basement. I had a dehumidifier permanently running in there that I emptied at least once a day, and I had no windows so I never knew what the weather was like. I distinctly remember a day when the students came in from recess with snow all over their shoes and I had had no idea that it was snowing! My allergies did not fare well that year either because of the mold.

Were you given supplies and materials?

The previous teacher who ordered supplies did not know what things were most necessary for elementary music, so although the school invested a good bit of money into setting up the room, they didn't put the money into the right things. When I showed up, I had 20 soprano xylophones (but no alto's, glockenspiels, or any other variety of barred instruments), 20 guiros (yes, guiros), and the old Share the Music textbooks. No hand drums, no rhythm sticks, no triangles... There was also an electric piano, CD player, and a SmartBoard, which was awesome. Thankfully I was able to get the hand drums and rhythm sticks while I was still there, and got them started on some other types of barred instruments, small percussion, and other supplemental teaching materials for the following year.

What do you remember about your first day?

Honestly, not much. I remember the general feeling of, "what if people find out I have no idea what I'm doing?!?", and I remember that at the end of the day I felt completely exhausted and also excited, because I LOVED it just as much as I thought I would (and I was so relieved to have made it through the day). I remember too that my teaching schedule was very predictable- I had 5th, then 4th, then 3rd, and so on down to kindergarten every day in order- it was beautiful. The biggest difficulty was that kindergarten was at the very end of the day AND they combined two classes for specials, so I ended up teaching almost 40 kindergarteners at the same time (with no aid or other adult). I was terrified but I really love teaching the younger ones best so it was fun too :)

What was the hardest part of your first year?

The hardest part was the general stress and busyness of my life. I got engaged at the beginning of the school year and married over winter break to someone who taught on the other side of Seoul (which, if you don't know, is a pretty big city). And of course I had no curriculum to follow, so I spent a TON of time planning lessons. I was so tired.

What was the best part of your first year?

I think the best part was the teaching itself. I really do love teaching elementary general music. I was pretty sure that it was the job for me, but I still wondered if maybe I only loved it in theory and would end up hating it and/or being really bad at it once I actually started teaching. That didn't happen. 

What did you discover your first year that you didn't learn in college or student teaching?

First of all, I had really excellent preparation in my college classes and my student teaching, so all of those things that typically are surprises for first year teachers- how to prepare for a concert, how to make a bulletin board, how to run light and sound equipment- were not new for me. Because I literally wrote their elementary general music curriculum for them during that year, I think the biggest thing I learned was how to go about long-range planning. It was really a good exercise for me, and I think being fresh out of college actually worked to my advantage in some ways, because I still remembered all of the stuff from my child development classes and was in tune with the national standards and the latest research in music education.

Where did you draw most of your lesson plan inspiration from?

Most of my lessons were modified versions of the Share the Music textbook lessons. I also had some lessons that I had developed as part of my elementary music methods class in college, and TONS of lessons that I had stolen from my cooperating teacher during my student teaching. 

Is there anything you taught your first year that you still teach now?

Yes, quite a few! Most of my introductory lessons to start kids on recorder are the same, and I have a lot of activities and songs that I still use from the textbooks- "Hunt the Cows" for first grade and "I Have a Car" for second grade come to mind. Some of my classroom management techniques are the same as well- the hand signals I use for standing and sitting were stolen from my cooperating teacher in student teaching, and my classroom rules were ones I came up with for my first year and are still the same. I still use the same line up procedures as well.

What is one thing you know now that you wish you knew then?

I wish I had had the confidence to know that I am a good teacher. I spent so much time and energy my first year worrying about whether or not the students were learning enough, learning the right things at the right time, developing a lifelong love of music, etc. It's a crazy feeling that first year when you realize that someone has given you full control over the musical education of hundreds of children, and that the group of kids standing in front of you have been totally entrusted into your care. It was scary, really! I wish I had had the assurance, at least, that I was doing the right things (for the most part, anyway!) and that my students were getting a good music education from me.

Well, that's my first year of teaching for you. What are your favorite (or least favorite) memories from your first year? Share them in the comments or link up your own post here!

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  1. I've been reading through all of these flashback posts and keep marveling at the similarities we all shared, particularly with the textbooks in our rooms ;)

    1. Haha, yes very true. I suppose the kind of people who would end up starting a blog about music teaching are the same kind of people that would avoid a standard textbook... :P