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Memory Lane: First Year Flashback

Let's take a stroll down memory lane today.  Do you remember your first year of teaching with smiles?  Tears? I'm linking up with Shelley Tomich from Pitch Publications to talk about my first year.

  1. What subject/age and where were you teaching?
My first year of teaching was at a tiny K-8 school district in the woods of Southeast Missouri.  I started the first band the school had for 5th-8th graders.  I also taught general music to Kindergarten through 8th grade.

  1. What was your first classroom like?
My first classroom was just awful!  I was on the stage.  One of my “walls” was the curtain.  I know, it doesn’t seem too bad but gym classes were scheduled at the SAME time as music class.  Since we shared the cafegymatorium/music room it was rough.  My days were spent screaming trying to be heard over bouncing basketballs and screaming kids.

I had a small office to the side of the stage that unfortunately had to be used as storage too.  Not just my storage.  No windows, dingy lighting and incredibly dusty conditions because the dirt parking lot was just outside.

It did inspire me to work on bulletin boards and other decor to really spruce it up the best that I could.  Eventually I started Bulletin Boards for the Music Classroom to share some of the ideas that I used and today I have a store at TeachersPayTeachers with many of the bulletin boards that I have used throughout the years.

  1. Were you given supplies and materials?
When I arrived there was a desk, a piano and a dusty box of illegally copied sheet music in a box.  The copies were in purple ink, not black copier ink.  Are you old enough to remember those machines?  Seriously.  Later I found a “stereo” but it didn’t work.

Administration was very supportive of creating a music program that the community would be proud of so several used instruments, music stands and some supplies were purchased right away to make sure that we could get started.   

  1. What do you remember about your first day?
I don’t remember much about my first day except that I kept thinking to myself “Why don’t they teach you what to do on the first day of school in college?  How did I go to school for FIVE years and not have a plan for the first day?” 

I had a plan.  It was a meticulous and practically perfect lesson plan I had carefully written out and then copied into the lesson plan book with the carbon copy sheet in it.  I realized that in addition to my well-laid out and perfectly copied plans I needed an “Oh Crap! List”.

What’s that? It’s a list (on paper or in your head) of extension activities, time fillers, movement games, etc… that you can do when you have some time to fill or your well laid out plan crashes and burns.

  1. What was the hardest part of your first year?
Exhaustion and despair.
I stayed late most days working on plans, practicing, creating bulletin boards and tons of other things I thought needed to be done.  Unfortunately, my room had no air conditioning and it was for 7 of the 9 months of school.  Really hot.  I wore shorts and my hair in a ponytail and sweat poured off of me and ran down my legs.  Working late meant even longer in the torture.

I was also married in September of my first year of teaching, so the beginning of school came at the climax of wedding preparations.  For the first two months I worked all day in the heat, stayed late to work some more and rushed home to work on wedding things.  Whew!

A month or two into the year I realized that although my administration was extremely supportive, they were not supportive of any discipline problems I brought to them.  At all.  It wasn’t me.  It happened to everyone and this lack of discipline made some classes almost un-teachable.  I had students spitting in the floor, fighting, kicking over chairs and getting a pat on the back and a “Let’s do better, mmm ‘K?”   Despair set in.

I was a bit disillusioned and wondered if I could really do this for the rest of my life.  Was this really was teaching was supposed to be like?  I wrestled with my dreams of teaching crashing and burning in the sweltering heat of my reality.

  1. What was the best part of your first year?
I made some great friends that year with some of the staff and a few teachers.  They were supportive, funny and gave me great advice.  Most of us are still friends today even though it has been twenty some odd years and I’ve moved away.

  1. What did you discover your first year that you didn’t learn in college or student teaching?
-Oh Crap List is a must.  (See answer to #4.)
-Hydration, hydration, hydration.
-Assessment is important.  Grades in music aren’t “given” so have a plan.  I don’t know why this wasn’t stressed more in our music education classes.
-8th grade boys in band will giggle like school girls when you say “fingerings”.  How I didn’t see that one coming, I don’t know!
-Assessment is important, but relationships are more important.

8.  Where did you draw most of your lesson plan inspiration from?
I really felt unprepared as far as lesson planning went.  Being certified K-12, I did half of my student teaching at a JH/HS building in rural Missouri and half at an suburban elementary in St. Louis.  Talk about variety!  I used plans that I had used in student teaching.  I also used the structure of lesson plans that my cooperating teacher did.  She started with warm-ups, familiar songs, rhythm work, etc... and I followed a similar pattern for a while until I got a feel for the flow of the classes.

The best thing I did was to join the Music K-8 e-mail discussion group early in my teaching career.  This very active list of music educators around the world helped solve problems, provide inspiration and laid down practical ways to accomplish my teaching goals.  It is like sitting in the very best teacher's lounge in the world!!!  It is still going strong, so if you want to join in on the fun you can find info on it HERE.


9.  Is there anything you taught your first year that you still teach now?

Absolutely!  I have polished up many of the activities that I use for Peter and the Wolf and have compiled them into files that you can download!  All of the activities are kid tested and have been tweaked through twenty years of teaching.

 Peter and the Wolf Resources from The Bulletin Board Lady

What is one thing you know now that you wish you knew then?
There are so many things that would have helped me out, but I think that I would have been so far ahead of the game if I had gone in with better organizational skills.  Organizing plans, ideas, instruments, permission slips, grades….this list could go on forever.  I think I’ve got a pretty good grip on it now and it only occasionally slips back into chaos, but had I started at where I am now I would probably be a teaching god by now.  *giggle*  Okay, maybe not, but I think you can relate.

Thanks Shelley for hosting this linky party!  If you want to read about more first year experiences click on over to Pitch Publications to find more.

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  1. Oh I loved reading about your first year! :) And I second, third, whatever the Oh Crap list! I can remember my first year running out of things to do and thinking OMG - I have 30 little children and I don't know a single thing to do with them!!!!!! HAHAHA, now I think OMG I have 30 little children and I don't have time for all the things I want to do with them! I'm glad you survived that first classroom to share all your great materials! Thanks for linking up! :)

  2. Ha, I was wedding planning my first year of teaching as well, so I can totally relate to the exhaustion...