In this post, we offer inspiring words from a passionate educator and wonderful conductor to help bring our month of educational content to a close. Veronica Jackson is (among other things) an accomplished violinist, an experienced string pedagogue, and a master educator who’s years of experience we can all learn so much from…
-The E.C. Team
How To Succeed As An Educator Without Really Trying
In my first year of teaching, I. WAS. AMAZING. I completed my 6-point lesson plans for each class each week. I only had one “problem” parent and three “problem” students. I had three schools and seven orchestras. Of the seven orchestras, two were elementary school aged (with 26 in one class and 42 in the other), three were middle school, and two were at high schools. Eighty percent of my students took private lessons and were always prepared for class. Most of the remaining students practiced at least two hours each week. I know this because my students’ PARENTS had practice records verifying they listened to their child practice. I took all of my orchestras to the state assessment where I got to show my brilliant conducting skills. Naturally, we received superior ratings.
What you have just read was an excerpt from the script of the Music Teacher Twilight Zone! NONE of that is true – except for the part about the three schools. I was still “fabulous” through my third year of teaching because I was testing the definition of insanity (by the way, the definition is true). I received a yeoman’s share of new-teacher bumps and scrapes. With great stamina, patient mentors, and a new mindset, I am currently in my 29th year of a profession that adds purpose and authentic joy to my life. In the musical, How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying, the main character, J. Pierpont Finch, armed with the same-titled self-help book, goes from being a window-washer to a corporate executive. Finch is able to reach his goal of being an executive only to find that he lost himself in the process of the climb. How do teachers manage to meet the many demands of being an educator? It was only 15 years ago when I stumbled across a mantra that has since guided my daily walk as a “try anything once - the fun things, twice” teacher. Show up. Pay attention. Listen. Tell the truth. Don’t get attached to the outcome.
With the many challenges we face as educators, the first step to success is being there. Our administrators depend on us to manage student activity. Our students count us to consistently share the lessons that the music provides. The pandemic has highlighted the importance of teachers to the local districts to the world economy.
Once we are with our students, we survey the environment. How are the students responding? What are the saying and NOT saying? Several students in the class may take a little longer mastering the first part of the lesson plan you spent hours creating. You may have to revisit the basic concepts or even take the lesson in an entirely different direction. Here is where I reiterate “try anything once - the fun things, twice.” The moment you think they are not watching, listening, or caring, that could be a moment of unwanted reckoning.
It is said that we have two ears and one mouth so we can listen twice as much as we speak. Students, parents, and colleagues will constantly send verbal and non-verbal messages to each other, and often to you. Slow down and MAKE TIME to listen. Listening can often guide your next steps.
TELL THE TRUTH
Be honest with yourself when there are challenges. Ask for help with lesson planning. Seek advice on how to teach a concept. Attend a conference. Equally, you MUST acknowledge your triumphs. Set MEASURABLE goals with your students. Chart your progress. Celebrate when your students complete a task or learn a technique.
DON’T GET ATTACHED TO THE OUTCOME
After you celebrate, set a NEW goal! After the students reach a milestone, be GREEDY! Want MORE! It is important to verbalize the new goal. Say it often. Creating a class mantra can streamline the goal setting. For example, “Reach Higher” and “Expect Excellence” are statements that are visionary and transcend each level of success - from sight reading to the stage.
These truths are simple and transferable to your classroom. I use them as my class rules.
Show up to class. Attendance is important.
Pay attention. Read the assignments. Write them in your agenda. ALSO, read the key signature…
Listen. We are an ORCHESTRA. We work TOGETHER or not at all. ALSO, listen across the orchestra. Intonation….
Tell the truth. Honor your talent. Be prepared for rehearsal. Practice with a purpose.
Don’t get attached to the outcome. I love Pablo Casals’ response when he was asked, why does he still practice for hours? He simply replied, “Because I think I am getting better.”
We are in a profession that we love. Yes, I could have used this advice in the early years of my career because I was WAAAAAY too fabulous for my own good! Fortunately, the lessons learned have streamlined HOW I create, develop and deliver plans for students. Since internalizing these truths, my journey on this road of education has become more manageable, and, frankly, a lot more fun.