Updated: Apr 10, 2020
Music Teacher Tip #16: - #FeelingExhausted
Do you already feel exhausted?
Music teachers tend to be "on" all day. That means we tend to be actively talking, conducting, or performing every minute that students are in front of us.
If you're already counting how many days until Thanksgiving break, here are some ways to preserve your energy so that you have more to give your students, your family, your friends, and yourself:
Build times into your lesson plan for students to interact with each other so that you have time to breathe, sip your water, and give needed attention to individuals when necessary. Collaborative learning is a 21st century skill that students need to acquire. One way to integrate collaborative learning is to give students a time limit and ask them to work with a partner to answer a question related to the score or a concept. For example, "I've just explained to you what a fermata is. See if you and a partner can find one or more in your music. When you see it, put your finger on it and raise your hand. You have 30 seconds. Ready, set, go." (You sip water, take a deep, cleansing breath, and simultaneously monitor the room.) After 30 seconds, give students a signal to be silent and then ask for students to answer in unison or call on students to name the first measure where they found the fermata. (For more advanced tasks, allow longer than 30 seconds, but always give students a time limit to complete the task.)
Another way to have students collaborate is to ask them to discuss with their neighbor 1 thing that needs work and one thing that got better in the music. This is a great way to summarize your lesson and plan for the next lesson. Allow students time to discuss, then call on students to share their evaluation. Write their assessments on the board and use that list to help plan the next class. (Self-evaluation is the next-to-the-highest level of Bloom's Taxonomy. Integrating higher-order thinking into lessons is also a 21st century skill.)
One of my favorite ways to give myself a break is to train students to my conducting gesture and then allow students to take over and lead part of the warmup. They love it AND it is a 21st century skill to foster student leadership. Plus, they always pay closer attention knowing they might be selected next to conduct. Believe it or not, the choir/band/orchestra will pay closer attention when a student conducts.
I try to avoid having students write too much in a performance-based class because students come to sing or play, not to write. I find that it's important to build time into each lesson to dive more deeply into the content - especially in regard to music literacy. Theory, sightreading, and ear training all become much more interesting to students when the concepts directly connect to the repertoire. Students are struggling with solfege? Allow them to write the solfege into their scores for the part where they're having trouble. Students keep forgetting the accidentals while playing? Have them analyze the key signature and then figure out together which of their notes should be sharped or flatted. If you anticipate students will struggle with a particular rhythm in their piece, extract it, put it on the board and have them perform it while counting BEFORE asking them to perform it in the context of their repertoire. Once they can speak and clap/pat the rhythm, have them find where it occurs in their scores and mark it there as well. This connects the "Teacher Input" part of the lesson to the "Guided Practice" part AND it gives you time to breathe and sip your water.
Outside of the classroom here are some other tips to help:
Plan your night so that you are in bed in time to wind down before you have to fall asleep. If you need 8 hours of sleep and you have to be up at 6, aim to be in bed by 9:30 so you have 30 minutes to actually fall asleep. Remember that caffeine after 3 p.m. should be avoided. If you have caffeine after that, you've just planned to not be able to sleep.
Avoid screens when it's time to wind down. If you can't get your bedroom completely dark, invest in a mask. You will be shocked how much better your quality of sleep is when it’s pitch dark!
If your sleeping space isn't naturally quiet, consider using white noise such as a bathroom fan or even an app or noise machine to help you snooze.
Avoid drinking any liquid 90 minutes prior to bedtime. Nothing disturbs a good night's sleep like getting up to pee.
Don't do work where you sleep. Don't store work in your bedroom. It's best if that space is a sanctuary.
You know how you can masterfully breathe from your diaphragm? Use that skill to relax your body and prepare for sleep. Slow, methodical breaths will help you relax whether it's prior to sleep or you're having a stressful day and need to take a moment for yourself.
Exercise - even just a brisk walk will help so much with your stress levels and general health. If you can't exercise rigorously, at least take a 30-minute walk after dinner. Be sure not to exercise 1-2 hours before bed or you could be too hyped up to sleep.
Eat whole foods and avoid junk food. Your body and brain will thank you.
If possible, surround yourself at work and at home with people who have a positive vibe. Definitely avoid those who cause additional stress or bring you down. Some of the best advice I got as a new teacher was to avoid the teacher's lounge and the complainers in the building. Of course, there are times you need a friend to talk to about something difficult, but wallowing in negativity breeds more negativity and it's bad for your health!
Be kind to yourself with positive self talk. You don't have to say Stuart Smally's Daily Affirmations (shout-out to SNL), but it doesn't hurt to avoid negative self talk. Find something every day to be grateful for and remind yourself of why you became a teacher in the first place. My first year of teaching was at an inner-city middle school. I knew I wouldn't make it through my first year if I couldn't find something to be positive about, so I created a smile file. This was literally a hanging file in my file cabinet labeled "smile file." Whenever something good happened, I put it in there. Then later, if I was having a hard day, I would browse through my smile file and remind myself why I was there. It saved me many times.
Remember that your students matter, but so do YOU. Take care of you and have a great week!