I'm teaming up with Shelly at Pitch Publications for a First Year Flash Back. We will have several posts on this topic to give beginning teachers some tips.
1. What subject/age and where were you teaching?
I really have two first years. I taught high school band many years ago and started teaching elementary school general music 7 years ago. Since the general music position is what I do now, I'll talk about that first year. I taught Kindergarten through 5th grade part time as the 2nd music teacher in a low income school that had too many classes for one teacher. The other teacher taught through 6th grade.
2. What was your first classroom like?
I taught part time but had a regular full sized classroom. I taught only one class in each grade level and taught early morning choir, so I spent my free time (unpaid) planning and learning. I thought of it as an internship.
3. Were you given supplies and materials?
The full time teacher gave me the materials I needed and our district had a curriculum that we generally followed pretty closely. I took advantage of learning from this mentor teacher and really appreciated her help. In my district, we get very little money for anything. Over time, in my new school, I have put in for and received grants for 2 sets of drums, 2 sets of electronic pianos, and 30 ukulele's.
4. What do you remember about your first day?
My mentor teacher has a theme of the year and always starts with fun activities to help introduce the theme. I distinctly remember doing a western theme that year and we set up a pretend campfire and told a story with instruments. I recall the kids being curious about who this new teacher was. I also remember the oldest kids pushing me-- so typical of older kids.
5. What was the hardest part of your first year?
Being a 2nd teacher is challenging because the kids know who the established teacher is and you have to gain their respect. Also being a first year teacher, even in a new school, is challenging because you don't know the kids and haven't earned their trust. This position was known as turning over to a new teacher every year, since it was part time and was only paid aide wages. It takes time to get the oldest students on your side, especially when they are afraid you will leave after one year, which ultimately happened. I learned so much from my mentor teacher that year and wanted to use my creativity to take my own position, which is the school I now teach at.
6. What was the best part of your first year?
The best part of my first year was having a wonderful, supportive mentor teacher to work with and learn from. I owe everything I know back to my time with this wonderful teacher. It can be very lonely if you are the only music teacher at a school, which is often the case. I LOVED having a team. It is important to try to find other music teachers to team up with, even if you are the only music teacher in your school.
7. What did you discover your first year that you didn’t learn in college or student teaching?
You honestly learn most about teaching from teaching. I actually didn't study much elementary music during my bachelor's degree. I was a secondary band teacher. I later took a Kodaly certification course, was inspired, and realized I wanted to teach elementary school. I learned mostly from the other full time teacher, and spent tons of time reading through the curriculum and asking questions. It is important to spend the time learning, studying, and writing out lesson plans in your first year to learn all you can about making a cohesive curriculum for the kids.
8. What are some things you know now that you wish you knew then?
I didn't realize that having a great behavior management plan is the most important thing. If you don't have control of your classes, you can't teach the kids. I now use a combination of good lesson plans, good pacing, positive comments, posted and reviewed rules, and special plans + school plans for the hardest students to make a good classroom environment. Also I wish I had known that you can gain kids' trust by loving them and showing them that you really care. It works almost every time!
Check out my post about behavior management and grab my free posters and contract that I use with my very hardest kids.
9. Is there anything you taught your first year that you still teach now?
I love teaching recorder. I taught recorder as was shown in the curriculum and it wasn't going well for me or the kids. I was only part time, so I decided to spend time observing the other full time teacher. She was having challenges with losing her voice, so she decided to start a new program with her 5th graders. I took that basic program, tweaked it to make it work for me and it has now developed into a thing at my school that my 5th graders love and all kids look forward to for years where kids are motivated and work at their own level.
10 Where did you draw most of your lesson plan inspiration from?
I was fortunate to go through a Kodaly certification program that had a curriculum that we all used, going at our own pace and adding our own flair to things. I still use our district curriculum songs and add my own ideas to make it my own. I also learn from other district and outside teachers to make it interesting and to make it work for me.