Don’t You Want To Be A REAL Teacher?

Don’t You Want To Be A REAL Teacher?

6 Ways to Educate & Advocate for Yourself 

By NAfME member Malinda Essex

Article originally published on Room 102: Life and times of a 21st century middle school music classroom.


I get it.

A student asks if you ever want to be a real teacher. Another teacher sees you as their planning time. An administrator brushes you aside for academics.

It’s demoralizing. Insulting. Hurtful. 

But here’s the thing … we can get angry, resentful, and complain about how we’re mistreated, or we can take steps to change the situation. (Or maybe we get angry, resentful, and complain, THEN we take steps to change the situation.)

So here are 6 steps I’ve found helpful to EDUCATE and ADVOCATE my way to change.

1. Consider Yourself an Educator

It’s easy to cocoon ourselves in our musician world and forget that we are music EDUCATORS. Stay informed on what is going on in education and how it might pertain to you. When you can see the big picture it’s easier to figure out how you fit in. 

This is also a good time to remember that ALL teachers find themselves being demoralized these days. We’re not in this alone


2. Make Known What Goes on in Your Classroom, Not Just on Stage

Everyone sees the amazing things your kids do on stage, but do they know what it takes to get to that point? Do they know the musical knowledge that supports what they see on stage? Social media is a great way to get the word out. Create a Facebook page for your class, a Twitter or Instagram account, and post pictures and short videos of the daily action in your classroom. It’s great PR to give parents, other teachers, and administrators a look behind the scenes.


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3. Be Engaged in Your School

As I mentioned earlier, it’s easy to stay in our musical cocoon. It’s a nice place to be. But if you listen to conversations and even ask what people are doing, it can be easier make connections. If you’re proactive with this you can integrate where it occurs naturally and not when a teacher asks for songs about farm animals when she drops off her class. Maybe you can obtain copies of curriculum guides so you know what is being taught and when. I’ve even given teachers a short form to fill out when they meet to plan so I can get a quick snapshot of topics they are covering. Make a goal of making one connection a grading period. Over time, you might accumulate even more.

Hopefully, no one expects you to integrate your music classes with everything being taught, so if you can point to places where you’ve done it (by your choice) you won’t have to do it when it makes no sense – or when you’re deep in concert preparation.


4. Make Your Voice Heard

This goes along with being engaged in your school. Get on committees that plan the direction of building initiatives so that you may have a voice at the table. Most of the time, we’re not left out due to any malevolence- it’s just that everyone comes with their point of view and experiences. Make sure your point of view and experience is included in the decisions that are being made. In addition, you’ll have a better understanding of the why behind decisions. This can make them easier to swallow (sometimes.)


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5. Find Ways to Make Tasks/Meetings Relevant

Most administrators don’t create meetings or tasks to be irrelevant, they just don’t have the time and/or experiences to make them relevant for ALL teachers. So help them out! Create your own differentiation and run it by your administrator! As long as the integrity of the original isn’t compromised, I believe most are more than willing to accommodate. (I know, there are those who will not go for this. If you’re in this unfortunate boat, you may have to save this step for another principal.)



6. It’s Not All About You

This is a hard one to face. Our subject matter and the experiences we provide are important. So important that we’ve made it our life’s work to share it with our students and the world. But you know what? There are other things that are important, too. We can’t always be #1 on the priority list. It has to be give and take. And if you’re willing to give sometimes, then maybe when you need to take others will be more willing. Does it always work this way? Of course not. But it’s something to keep in mind. And when a student gets pulled from your class for reading intervention, ask yourself what’s going to benefit him/her most at this time? And make a note to yourself to make sure you follow up on getting that student into extra music-making opportunities. 

Examine your WHY. For me, I teach music to make students’ lives more complete. So they can have a LIFE, not just make a living. But being complete doesn’t mean music is the only part. Sometimes I need to help by making room for the other parts to develop. It doesn’t mean I abandon a student. I just accept that at this time he/she may need the help of someone else. 

In my 26 years of teaching elementary, middle, and higher education, I’ve used all these steps at one point or another. And sometimes I chose not to and just stayed resentful. But I can tell you that educating and advocating makes me a much better teacher and colleague than being resentful. Maybe it will be the same for you.

Yes, everyone is busy and finding time can be difficult. Don’t try to do it all at once. Pick one thing that you think you can handle and might make a difference in your situation. What will be your first step?


About the Author:

Malinda Essex

NAfME member Malinda W. Essex, Ph.D., received her degrees in music education from The Ohio State University. She has 26 years teaching experience in K-12 public schools and higher education and recently returned to teaching middle school after discovering her true passion of curriculum development and teaching. Malinda currently teaches an interdisciplinary course called Music+ at Mount Vernon Middle School in Ohio where she helps students find alternative paths to musicianship. She has presented at the local, state, and national levels on topics including Secondary General Music Curriculum, Reading in the Content Areas, and Assessing Beyond Performance.

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The National Association for Music Education (NAfME) provides a number of forums for the sharing of information and opinion, including blogs and postings on our website, articles and columns in our magazines and journals, and postings to our Amplify member portal. Unless specifically noted, the views expressed in these media do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Association, its officers, or its employees.

Brendan McAloon, Program Coordinator, July 28, 2017. © National Association for Music Education (