After I graduated with a shiny new undergraduate diploma in vocal performance, I knew that singing wasn’t what I was going to do to pay the bills. I’ve always been pretty pragmatic and realistic about a performance career–in that I knew not to expect making money that way. Performing would be more of a complementary part of my career. Putting food on my table trumps fame (the actualization of the term starving artist was not one I pined for). So what was the best way to get my music “fix” and pay bills? Teaching.
However, I did NOT study education during my undergraduate years. I knew of other music students who did and they hated it. The education courses were not prepared to serve the needs of music ed students. I took an alternate route to teaching called a Teaching Residency through a teacher-training program. They provided me with the courses I needed to obtain my teaching certificate. There are other programs out there to help you get your foot in the door. You just need to do a little research.
It wasn’t easy transitioning from an office job (and performing) to the classroom, but here are a few guidelines I think might be useful.
Quit Taking It Personally.
I can’t even begin to describe to you the challenges that awaited me in my classroom. But I had to keep reminding myself to stop taking it personally.
That student who’s rowdy and uncooperative? He never got anything to eat the night before…OR this morning.
That student who constantly disrespects you and talks back to you? She can’t read and is crying out for help. No one has picked up on this because she’s slipped through the cracks of the education system.
That student who is constantly interrupting your classroom with jokes? He is looking for the love and affirmation he doesn’t get at home.
Quit taking it personally, and you’ll see all the shades of grey.
2. Know who to befriend.
The best piece of advice I received when I first became a teacher was to befriend two people: the school secretary and the school janitor. When you’re in a pinch they can give you immediate assistance like no administrator ever will. That’s why they both got gifts from me for Christmas. And in return, I was always taken care of when I needed help.
Also, make sure you know who your emergency and/or support contacts are. Para-professionals, security, the IEP office, get to know them. Administrators are usually elbow-deep in bigger issues to give you help when you need it.
3. Know your rights.
I can’t reiterate this. As a new teacher, read through your teachers’ union pamphlet. Your rights are spelled out in there. Sometimes a school will ask you to teach subjects that are not covered by your teaching certificate out of lack of resources for hiring additional teachers. Make sure that your certificate is not jeopardized in the process.
Also, become familiar with basic legal terms. A restraining order/peace order is NOT the same as pressing charges for assault or attempted assault. I had a situation arise where the parent of one of my students tried to assault me in my classroom (long story) and I had to call 911 for help. After I went to court and was granted the restraining order, I later found out I should have also pressed charges.
I never had a problem like this in my life before, so I didn’t know what to do. Odds are you won’t have this problem, but it’s better safe than sorry.
Know your rights!
4. Network, network, network.
Have a LinkedIn account? Connect with people above you in your school system. Same goes for college professors and old college friends. You will never know what connections can help advance your career.
Have a Facebook account? You’ll be surprised at how many friends of friends and family are teachers. Consider this a resource when you’re stuck with certain issues. Just be careful about what you post on there (complaining about day-to-day stuff, etc) as teachers have lost their jobs due to Facebook and their openness.
Make friends with your fellow teachers at your school. You’ll be amazed at the wealth of knowledge your colleagues will be more than happy to share.
5. Look for resources.
My best friend. I used this online grade and attendance book that saved my life as a teacher: Jupiter Grades. There’s a free version and a paid version. Trust me–splurge on the paid version. It helped me document students’ bad behavior, latenesses (and cutting class) and I was able to e-mail parents through the system and they kids got punished at home. Priceless.
This AMAZING resource helped me buy materials that I could not afford out of pocket and supplementary materials that my school did not have money in their budget for. I was able to get a $400 projector, manipulatives, BoomWhackers (plastic tuned tubes to make music with), education DVDs and more.
I taught highschoolers. Most of them had cellphones. Remind101 was a free text-messaging system that allowed me to remind my forgetful and disorganized students about a test the night before, or even to bring in a trip permission slip the following day. It was so helpful.
Do you have any tips for new teachers?
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