Advice for First-Year Teachers
Experienced Teachers Share Wisdom with New Teachers
By NAfME Member Kevin Lynch
A colony of fruit flies and an oven left on overnight might not be the only culprits behind why some teachers may receive stress-induced bloody noses in the middle of spring. A teacher may be asked to play a lead role in more places than just the classroom. As for myself, I was asked to take on a multitude of demanding positions during my first year of teaching experience.
I am the host of the “Tenuto Podcast,” and I ask every single music educator I interview from veteran teacher to novice teacher, “What advice would you give yourself as a first-year teacher?”
I would give myself the advice that “it’s okay to say no.” It was very easy for me to agree to take on demanding tasks because I wanted to be known as someone who was a hard-worker. After saying yes to too many things, saying yes to some people quickly turned into saying no to other things like taking care of my own apartment.
If you could go back in time, what advice would you give yourself?
Below are some of my favorite answers from my podcast interviews.
Veteran Teachers (20+ Years of Experience)
Dr. Charles Menghini – Director of Bands, and President of Vandercook College
“Slow down, and trust yourself. Be a little bit more patient with people and with the process, and be persistent. Sometimes you’re in such a hurry to get there that you miss all the excitement of the journey. When you’re young, you go to a contest or a festival and you want to prove yourself with a 1 rating or a trophy. When you get older you realize that this is just a process. You have to realize that this is just a rite of passage; it’s going to take some time for you to move from that idealistic ‘I can do it all’ kind of person . . . your knowledge base is going to increase, and you’ve just got to be patient.”
“Sometimes you’re in such a hurry to get there that you miss all the excitement of the journey.”
Dr. Wendy Sims – Director of Music Education at the University of Missouri
“I would say to myself first of all, that teaching elementary school is hard. There’s lots of planning, and every lesson is not going to be wonderful; don’t beat yourself up on it. Learn from your mistakes and move on. Don’t dwell on the things that don’t go well. Be very organized, more organized than you were as a college student, and more proactive. You can’t do the ‘all-nighter’ and get to school the next day and think you have lesson plans and survive with the kids. You know, getting ahead on the lesson plans and not sweating the things that go wrong—just learn from them and move on.”
“Learn from your mistakes and move on. Don’t dwell on the things that don’t go well.”
Dr. Peter Perry – Instrumental Music Director at Richard Montgomery High School in Maryland
“Get that medical degree! No, I’m just kidding . . . your greatest assets are your idealism, your energy, and your openness to new things. There are a lot of aspects in this profession that can get people jaded or can get people down, but I always try to be positive about the things I’m doing. The beginning of your teaching career is such an exciting time in your teaching. Making mistakes is good—obviously not horrible mistakes, but the mistakes we all make that we beat ourselves up about. That’s probably the number one thing I’d tell myself . . . don’t beat yourself up too hard about those mistakes, just don’t make ‘em again . . . ”
“Your greatest assets are your idealism, your energy, and your openness to new things.”
David Thornton – Director of the Michigan State Spartan Marching Band
“There are two things I would tell myself, and I think one of these things I did really well and the other one I didn’t do, and I paid for it . . . The thing that I did do was not be afraid to ask questions and seek advice . . . I feel like a lot of younger teachers are hesitant to ask for help. Even if you feel like you know what you’re doing, have somebody from across town come in to your classroom. Be a sponge, soak it up and ask questions.
“The second thing I would say is that in your first year there are a lot of things you are going to experience that you may not have been ready for. I would say, only change in your first year what you absolutely cannot live with. It takes time to change culture and community, and there’s a reason for that.”
“Only change in your first year what you absolutely cannot live with. It takes time to change culture and community, and there’s a reason for that.”
Novice Teachers (1-2 Years of Experience)
Jonathan Viella – Assistant Director at Four Points Middle School in Texas
“I would tell myself to be a little less serious and to show a little bit more of my human side, and you know there is danger in that as young teachers, so take this with a grain of salt. I was very professional, everything from the way I dressed to the way I kept my face. The way I spoke to these little eleven-year-olds was very much not the typical middle school style, but I didn’t know any better. I really hadn’t learned that yet. Now in my second year, I’ve connected with all of my students as humans.”
“Be a little less serious and to show a little bit more of [your] human side.”
Brandon Salden – Grade 5-12 international band director teaching in Bolivia
“I would opt not to go back in time to tell myself anything. There’s a difference between me telling you how to make something better, and you failing and you figuring that out for yourself. It is so much deeper and more meaningful when you fail and figure out how to do it better yourself than someone.”
“It is so much deeper and more meaningful when you fail and figure out how to do it better yourself.”
About the author:
NAfME member Kevin Lynch is a second-year middle school band director in Stafford County, VA. Other than teach music, Kevin also coaches high school basketball and middle school lacrosse. He graduated from Penn State in 2016 with a degree in Music Education. In January of 2016, he started a podcast called “Tenuto Podcast” which airs every Tuesday. The Tenuto Podcast is based on the idea that you can learn a lot of information just from one simple conversation with a person. The podcast has the name “Tenuto” because, as Kevin notes, “I want to become my full value as a music teacher, and I feel that interviewing different music educators every week is helping me get to that destination.” For more information, go to www.tenutopodcast.com.
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