What I’ve Learned From Student Teaching

There are so many things that I’ve learned this semester while teaching.  Some of it’s realizations about myself, others are teaching tips I’ve found useful, and some are things I’ve learned about kids and people in general.  I thought this list would be helpful to those of you going out to student teach soon, or it might be interesting for anyone to read more about what it’s like to be a teacher.  Here goes!

1. Wear a watch.  

Doing so is incredibly useful.  At my first placement, the few clocks that were in the school were usually wrong or broken.  I know tons of people use their phones, but in my opinion, it’s not professional to pull out your phone during the school day.  You may really be only checking your phone for the time, but what happens if the principal would walk in at that very moment?  Unless it is used for something like playing a piece of music or relevant video, I think a teacher’s cell phone should stay in a coat pocket or bag until the end of the day.  Just my thoughts.

2. Put an extra change of dress clothes in your car. 

I wish I had done this earlier in the semester.  You never know when you’re going to spill a drink, a snotty kid decides to hug you, or you wear something to school but decide later in the day it’s not comfortable or doesn’t fit right.  It’s always good to be prepared.

3. Keep hand sanitizer and cleaning supplies handy.  

Especially now that I’m at the elementary school, you realize how quickly germs can spread, especially in the music room.  We’re constantly passing instruments and books around, and holding hands for dancing.  I’m a bit of a germaphob, but it’s kept me healthy almost this entire semester.  Also, you never know when a kid is going to throw up or get a bloody nose in your class.  Just this past week, it happened in first grade when we were all sitting on the carpet and a little girl got blood all over the floor.  Again, always be prepared!

4. Pick music you really really like for elementary school general music.  

You’ll listen/sing to that same song or piece dozens and dozens of times.   Some of the little rhythms we sing get stuck in my head for days, and then it makes me want to throw a brick at the sound system.  Sometimes I feel musicked out (a word of my own invention), just so sick of hearing sound in general.  I usually listen to classical radio in the car, but sometimes at the end of the day, all I want is blessed silence for those 25 minutes.  So pick stuff you love, because it’s going to live with you for a long time.

We’re doing Carnival of the Animals with first grade, and that’s a wonderful piece.  I’ve probably heard it at least 6 times in the past week, but I’m not tired of it!  It’s such high quality music and pleasing to my ear that I won’t ever mind listening to it.  I’m definitely not going to be able to listen to it for a long time on my own after we’re done with this lesson cycle, but for now I enjoy hearing it for all the first grade classes.

5. Don’t be too sensitive.

Future student teachers, you are literally going to be criticized for how you teach, dress, and interact with people.  Every.  Single.  Day.  For 14 weeks straight.

After a while, it can really beat you down.  It’s important not to take things personally.  Obviously, you want to improve your teaching as much as possible and it’s important to listen to your co-op and supervisor, but don’t beat yourself up too much about it.  If a lesson doesn’t go well and you get critiqued harshly from it, just nod your head, take some notes, and try again the next day.  This advice is coming from a person who is naturally pretty sensitive, but I’ve learned not to let it bother me.  You could cry, or complain to your friends/parents about how mean your co-op or supervisor is.  Or you could accept that you need to constantly improve, and move on. 

6. Which leads me to another piece of advice: be humble.  

Yes, we’re college students who are up to date on the latest technology and resources.  We’re young and motivated and energetic, but we really hardly know anything yet!  The people critiquing us are usually right, so get over your big ego and listen to them.  There are reasons why our co-ops do things a certain way, and we have to learn from them.  They’ll learn from us too, I’m sure, but it’s more important that we listen to their advice first.

7. Ear damage is a real thing.

When I was at my high school placement, this didn’t bother me a whole lot.  But surprisingly, now that I’m at the elementary school I’ve found I need to watch out for myself more.  I use the speaker system a lot in general music, and my place in the class is pretty much right in the front of the speaker system so I can turn it on and off easily.  After doing this all day, I actually have gotten headaches (which I never get) and I can feel my hearing is deadened.  And we’re not even listening to music loudly, but being so close to it all day is affecting my hearing.  

Also, since I’m helping with my first placement’s musical, I’ve had to drive over there every day for the past few weeks.  This past week we got the rest of the pit at rehearsal, and my head was absolutely pounding after the first night because of the trumpets right behind me and hearing so much bass.  So since then, I’ve worn earplugs to protect myself.  It makes it more difficult to hear myself play, but I’d rather be safe and hear everything muffled than be deaf in thirty years.  

8. Accept that there are seasons in life for everything.

This is something I learned from my mom a long time ago, when I was super busy in high school and trying to juggle 14 things at once, and this advice has gotten me some pretty tough times.  I’ve had to accept that this winter was awful.  That plus being busy equals Monica gaining a couple of pounds from not exercising hardly at all (and still eating the same amount of food I was before).  I’ve decided that it’s okay not to be super physically active right now because my focus is on other things.  Of course, it’s not okay to gain weight and it’s been a wake-up call that I need to eat less when I’m not exercising, but another season of my life is starting and things will change.  

Now that this crazy musical is over and I won’t be doing 12+ hour days, and the weather’s getting nice, I’m going to lose those 5 pounds and get back to where I normally am.  It’s just a season.  I’m learning to just let things go and not get too mad at myself for not being perfect.  I’m only human.  But, now is the season for getting back in shape and getting out in the sunshine!  I love doing musicals, but I love this next part of the year.  

9. It’s okay to change your mind.

I touched on this a bit in my last post, but here it is again.  For the past year or two, I thought I wanted to teach elementary school general music.  I had such strong beliefs about this.  I always really enjoyed doing sample teachings for general music and I thought I was suited for the lifestyle.  But, now that I’m at the elementary school, I’m not sure if it’s for me anymore.  It’s kind of scary to think that all this time I was wrong, but I’m accepting that it’s okay to change my mind.  I don’t think I’m the same person I was 2 years ago, so it’s okay that my preferred level of teaching changes too.  We are constantly changing creatures.  Life would be so boring if we just remained the same.

10. Do things that aren’t teaching-related.

I learned this from a pre-student teaching co-op I had over this past winter.  I asked him if he ever got burned out from being a high school band director, and if so, what he did to prevent/help with it.  He told me he always enjoyed coming to work, and he’s never, ever gotten sick of it.  

Then he said something that really surprised me.  In my experience, when you ask a professor or teacher what they do to prevent burn-out, they respond with something like, “Go to workshops to get your passion back.  Listen to music to re-focus.  Join a community band to play your horn more.  Start a private studio.”  Do more.  More, more, more.

But this pre-student teaching co-op told me, “I have things that I enjoy doing outside of school.”  I have never been told to do fewer music things to get re-energized.  It’s always more.  

So I listened to his advice.  I got my sewing machine out again.  I started growing herbs indoors.  I started this blog.  I wrote to my sponsored kids in Thailand and Burkina Faso more.  I started cooking like a fiend and trying new recipes.

Let me tell you, I have never felt more passionate about teaching music than I am now.

11. Appreciate your parents.

My mom and dad came to visit yesterday to see the opening night of the musical.  It was the first time I’ve spent time with them since my winter break in January!  Yes, I’ve been home several times since then for drill, but those visits usually include me doing a load of laundry then going to bed and waking up ridiculously early for a long weekend of work.

It was wonderful seeing them.  They loved seeing the show and meeting my first co-op as well as some of my students.  It was so good just to talk to them.  And I wasn’t expecting it, but they helped me out with so much stuff.  They came to my apartment yesterday before we left for the show to hang out for a few hours.  I felt bad, but the apartment was pretty messy – as a result of having zero time at home this week.  The next thing I knew, my mom told me to take a shower while she washed my dishes and hung up some of my laundry, and my dad returned the Sound of Music to the video store (I had rented it for the 4th and 5th grade lessons) and took my car to the mechanic to check something quick.  Sometimes, it’s just really nice to be taken care of.

After the show, we went to the Dillweed Bed & Breakfast to stay.  It’s their third or fourth time there, and they love going there.  I had been there for breakfast once, but this time I spent the night too.  It was great getting out of Indiana for a bit, and to stay in a gorgeous little B & B.  We were the only ones there that night, so we got to explore all the rooms to our hearts’ content.  Image

Here’s a view pictures of what the inside of the building looks like.  It’s so homey and wonderful.  The breakfast we had this morning was delicious – Cindy, the woman who owns the B & B, makes great scones.  We also had tons of fresh fruit and a ham and potato bake. (I gave my dad my ham!)  She’s such a nice lady to talk to, full of interesting stories and a great attitude about life in general.  

I feel so refreshed after staying there with my parents last night.  My mom and dad are awesome.  They have never doubted my decisions to go into teaching or to join the Air Guard. (They sometimes think I’m crazy, but they never doubt my goals).  They’re so supportive and I love telling them all of my funny teaching stories or the moments when the kids “get” it.  I know they’ll back me up, no matter where I end up living and teaching.  

12. You will always, always love your students.



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