This year was my first year teaching, and when I say first year, I mean that I was a maternity substitute for the fall semester and accepted my current position maybe a week after that maternity leave was over. Many people tell me how they don’t envy me for starting halfway through the school year. I don’t envy me either.
When I accepted my job, I was so thrilled to be employed full-time that I didn’t really think of how much coming in mid-year was going to affect my teaching and my students. I had so many ideas and activities and plans, and I thought the kids would love me. I was dead wrong.
The first time I came into my school to meet everyone was on a half day with a teacher institute in the afternoon. I walked into the office, and the first thing I was told was that no one knew the teacher I would be replacing was leaving. What a terrifying way to start an introduction day! I was taken to the cafeteria where everyone was eating at a luncheon. I sat next the woman I was replacing and the band director, who happened to be my secondary methods teacher in college. In the middle of the luncheon, the superintendent stood up to make announcements. She shared that I would be replacing the current music teacher, and people were absolutely shocked. From what I know, the former music teacher at my school was well-loved.
After that day, I knew that this was going to be a more difficult road than I anticipated. I came in to observe some of her classes before winter break. The week before winter break, she told her classes that she was leaving. The little ones took it a lot easier than the older ones, and considering they had the same teacher for four years prior, I understand where they are coming from. I figured they would have time to recover over break.
Over winter break, I worked my best to develop lessons for the elementary students, select music for the choral concert, and create a rehearsal schedule for the musical. Those few weeks felt like only a few short days, considering all the work I had to get done. I’ll admit, I didn’t even get it all done before the first day back, which happened to be my first day.
On that first day, things were working out so well in my elementary classes, and I was so happy that I was able to pull off what I thought would be the impossible. Little did I know that the impossible was yet to come. Musical theatre class was at the end of my day, and choir was after school. The junior high students started to arrive, and by the looks of it, they weren’t happy. I tried to show them how excited I was and that I was passionate about musical theatre, but it really didn’t help the situation. They missed their old teacher, and there was nothing I could do about that.
I always considered myself to be a “junior high person” in that I loved teaching junior high students and felt that was where I could really make a difference. I spent my student teaching in a junior high, and I even went back to the same junior high to be a maternity substitute in the same classroom. On my first day in this new school, I didn’t think I would make a difference at all.
Throughout the first week or so, I thought I would never break through, until one day, one of my eighth grade students came into my classroom during recess time. Her name is Kayla, and she is a wonderful, sweet girl that has a lot of vocal and instrumental talent. She was the only junior high student that attempted to connect with me when first meeting me. She talked to me about herself and some of her issues at school, and I realized that it would only be a matter of time before I could reach out to other students as well.
Before starting the semester, I had ideas of what to perform on the spring concert, but I threw all of that out. I walked into choir and told the students that I had a theme idea and wanted their opinion. Some of them actually got excited. I wanted to put together a concert of musical theatre works, some choral and some solos. They loved the idea. We sat down and came up with ideas for pieces for the concert for the whole choir to do, and I went home to find pieces that could be done as solos. The next day, we began working on “We Go Together” from Grease while I waited for the rest of the music to arrive in the mail. We ended up performing four choral numbers, including the aforementioned piece. On that concert, my principal and superintendent were both impressed to see the expression on my students’ faces and their genuine happiness to be there. I told them that the students selected all of the music and that it made a huge difference.
Time went on, and I would start to see some other students in my room during recess. Students were beginning to open up to me, and I was able to let them into my life a little as well. There were still a great deal of students I had not won over yet, but it was only March, so I couldn’t give up.
The most trying time for me was the couple weeks before and week of the musical. The previous teacher had chosen the show (Willy Wonka Jr.) and had already cast all of the roles. I had students walking around like they owned the place, acting like they didn’t have to do any of the work. Most of my leads were unhappy with how the show was going, and that honestly hurt me a lot. I did almost everything for the show. I couldn’t get parents involved, nor the students. I ended up staying late so many nights that I wasn’t getting enough sleep. Students complained to their other teachers about me, saying that the musical was not nearly as good as last year and that their previous teacher did it better. They wanted to complain to my superintendent about me. I thought I was doing just as good a job as she was, and what they said broke me.
I came home that very day, a week before the musical, a Friday, and just cried. My boyfriend, Brad, had to console me because of how awful I was feeling. Being the kind man he is, he told me that all I can do is my best and that I just need to teach them music. He’s right. I had gotten selfish. I wanted the kids to like me, and that’s not my job. My job is to provide students with that outlet to express themselves, to build their musicality, to teach them about my passion, to provide an amazing show for the community.
The beginning of musical week, I had a conversation with my students that I hope really stuck with them. I knew their spirits were low, and I asked them if they were happy the way the musical was looking. They weren’t. I knew they weren’t. I told them that all of us, every single one of us, including myself, had to put in as much effort as they could to make this show amazing and a show that they want their families to come see.
It was opening day of the musical, and we had two in-school performances to do and an evening performance that night. I saw a big difference in morale and attitude that day. They put on an amazing show, in which they didn’t even need my help. I was able to sit back and watch while they did all of the work that I helped teach them to do. My lighting and sound students did it all effectively, my student director was backstage, fixing problems before she even had to come to me with them, and all of my actors were able to get through the show without massive pauses or completely forgotten lines. They finished the run of the show in this fashion, and I was so incredibly proud of them.
Now, this story is not to tell you that I won them all over. I definitely did not, but I came to school to do what I love and teach the students all I can. If I had the opportunity to do it all over again, I would reach out even more to my students to get them more interested in the course to create an even more amazing product. I would have shown them a performance of my own to show them how serious I am about musical theatre and how important I think it is. I would have created more assignments for them that aligned to what we were doing in class to keep them on track. Most importantly, I learned a lot about myself and my teaching. I learned that there are so many things that I could be changing in my day to day lessons because what might be effective in one school might not work in another school. Needless to say, there’s still more to the story of my first real semester of teaching, but we’ll get to more of that in time.
P.S. If you were in my situation, what would you have done differently? What else would you like to know about my experiences? Leave a comment below or drop an e-mail!