“Take the attitude of a student, never be too big to ask questions, never know too much to learn something new.”- Og Mandino

This week was definitely a challenge in many ways. As it gets further into the semester and further into my second placement I am taking on more classes which requires more planning, ensembles are starting to perform more, and the job search and application process is now in full swing. All of these things keep me extremely busy and this week it has been a challenge to find a balance between them all. I feel that one of the biggest challenge as an undergraduate from freshman year to senior year is keeping everything in balance. I also believe that this will continue to be a struggle once I start teaching, just in a different way. In regards to teaching I felt like this week went very smoothly and I had a lot of success with my lessons. Each week I am still amazed at the amount that I am continuing to learn. Below are some of the challenges I faced this week and lessons I am learning.

Challenges

  1. Disruptions/Schedule Changes- One big challenge I faced this week was dealing with constant disruptions and scheduling changes. I feel that scheduling changes are always a challenge for the teacher because you have to change around your lesson plans and often have to re-organize your entire schedule for that day or maybe even the week. This week was full of schedule changes for me because of PSSA testing, assemblies etc. One challenge this brought to me this week was because of an assembly we combined some of our classes so no classes would miss music. This was definitely a challenge because now I had to teach classes of 35 kids, which is very challenging and exhausting. There are also many disruptions that take place daily that are challenging to deal with because the get the students out of their routine. Some disruptions I faced this week were fire drills, announcements in the middle of class, students getting called to the nurse for hearing tests etc. Scheduling changes and disruptions are not something we can change as teachers, but I believe it is important for undergraduates to be aware of them and realize what they may have to deal with in the future.
  2. Student Accountability– This is an area that is definitely a challenge, but not something that I am able to deal with during student teaching. It is very hard to find ways to keep students accountable especially when it comes to areas such as practicing. As I said this isn’t something I can change during student teaching, but I am thankful that I get to experience this and see how my cooperating teachers deal with it because I am sure that I will be faced with this issue in the future. My advice to undergraduates is to starting coming up with your own ideas now of how you might deal with this situation when faced with it in the future.
  3. Adjusting to Different Grade Levels- Another big challenge that elementary general music teachers have to face is adjusting to different grade levels very quickly. For example on Mondays I teach two kindergarten classes in a row and then have two sixth grade classes. This is a huge jump and your entire way of teaching has to change almost instantaneously. It is even hard to switch between grades such as kindergarten and first because there is such a difference in development, maturity, and behavior. I believe that this is something that just takes getting use to and after time the adjustment isn’t as challenging.
  4. Multi-Tasking- Elementary music teachers I have found are the wearer of many hats and must be very good at multi-tasking. There are days when I feel like I need multiple sets of hands and eyes in the back of my head just to teach a lesson. This learning to multi-task definitely takes some time and was overwhelming at first, but is starting to get easier. For example I am often finding myself playing piano, singing, leading the students, watching the students for behavior, correcting behavioral problems and assessing student performance all at the same time!!!
  5. Balancing- As I said at the beginning of this post, this week I have definitely been struggling with balance. Student teaching takes up so much time and energy, but I also have nightly ensemble rehearsals, and many job applications to finish. It is a challenge to balance these things without getting burned-out. My piece of advice is to prioritize everything and be realistic when setting weekly or daily goals. If we are not setting realistic goals we are just setting ourselves up for failure which leads to more frustration. I believe this is a challenge that everyone from undergraduates to experienced teachers are faced with continually.

Lessons Learned

  1. Be Prepared for Questions– One lesson I learned this week is to be ready for all kind of questions especially with the younger students. Many times these questions are great and lead to more teaching opportunities, but many times the questions are completely un-related to what we are talking about, but still may be a good question. I have found that it is important to not let questions through you off guard. One piece of advice I have is when preparing your lessons come up with some questions that you think students may ask. This may also help you in figuring out the timing of your lesson.
  2. High Expectations– It is very important to set high expectations for our students and to challenge them. I have learned that usually the students surprise us and rise to the occasion if they know what our expectations are. I believe that what we expect is what we are going to get. For example this week I did a recorder lesson where not only was there a simple recorder part, but there were two other classroom instrument parts. This was definitely a challenge for the students, but before we started I clearly set my expectations and to my surprise the student rose to the challenge and did extremely well.
  3. Don’t Stifle Student Creativity– Elementary general music classes can often get very loud and chaotic and we as teachers are quick to stop this. I believe we need to have control of the classroom at all times, but we also need to make sure that in no way are we stifling student creativity. For example this week in kindergarten my cooperating teacher had the students listening to a piece of music. The students automatically started reacting and moving to the music. Instead of stopping this as some teachers would, she allowed them to continue, but set some guidelines such as they had to stay within their area and not talk.
  4. Play Songs More Times than you Think– I am also learning that we need to play a song more times than you think in order for the students to learn it. Once or twice is not enough times for students, especially younger ones, to comprehend and learn the song. My cooperating teacher said that we get sick of the songs so we are quick to think that the students heard it enough.
  5. Get Out of Comfort Zone- The last lesson that I have learned through the past few weeks and this week especially is that you have to be willing to be silly and crazy with the students, which may require you to come out of your comfort zone. The students want to see someone who is able to have fun in front of them and is not afraid to act silly. I have seen many of my music education undergraduate friends who have not been willing to come out of their comfort zone and be silly and I believe that the students are benefiting from this. We as teachers often have to have fun and silly to get our students involved in the learning and keep them engaged throughout the lesson. My advice for undergraduates is to begin getting out of your comfort zone now so that the transition later is not as hard.

This week as always I faced many challenges, but I also feel like I had some major successes in classroom management. The first few weeks of my elementary placement I struggled with classroom management because the students are so active, but now I believe I am getting better at it. This week I was much more proactive especially when teaching lessons that required the use of classroom instruments. I also tried being more firm with the students and making sure they know what I expect and then making sure that I follow through with any consequences. I can almost guarantee that as an undergraduate music education major you will struggle with classroom management at some point. My biggest piece of advice is to be firm, set clear expectations and most importantly be PROACTIVE instead of reactive!! I can’t believe I only have a few short weeks left of student teaching, but I am looking forward to sharing the rest of my experiences!!

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