Monday, October 2, 2017

by Chris Sprague
If we are not careful we can pour so much support into our students that we have nothing left for our own families or even for ourselves.

Click to view the issueA recent conversation with Amanda Meyer, my Palen road representative, has had me reflecting on this subject for a few days. How do music teachers achieve longevity in this career? The cards are stacked against us. Not only must we keep long hours to do our jobs properly, but the emotional demands of our students are becoming more and more challenging. If we are not careful we can pour so much support into our students that we have nothing left for our own families or even for ourselves. To achieve longevity in our careers we absolutely must put our mental and physical health at the top of our priority list.

I had the good fortune to hear Scott Lang speak a couple of years ago, and one thing he said completely changed how I viewed some of the aspects of my job. He said that we needed to do whatever it takes to remain the classroom, no matter what it is. If that means that you only do three marching contests instead of eight then that's what you do. If it means you go home at 4:00 p.m. no matter what is left on your to-do list then that is what you do. We must choose to make time for ourselves away from the job, and time for activities that have nothing to do with music. Our students won't suffer if they don't do all those extra activities, but they WILL suffer if their teacher is tired, cranky, and emotionally spent.

Do you actively look for ways to laugh with your students? I have consciously chosen to do this for the past few years and it has changed my teaching considerably. I still have those days where I go home thinking I could have more fun flipping burgers at McDonald's, but those days are fewer and farther between. One of the things I began doing this year is starting each rehearsal with a funny music meme. It is on the board with the rehearsal order as soon as they come in the door. We laugh and then get down to business. It seems that with this small change to the start of rehearsal we are more relaxed and we get much more done.

Many of you already know about the 'Best Moment of the Day' posts I started on Facebook three years ago. Every single school day I look for something positive to share in that post. I started doing them as a challenge to myself to look for the encouraging things that happened during the day rather than dwelling on the negative. I can honestly say it has truly changed me not only as a teacher, but as a person, for the better. I am more mindful of the positive moments that happen throughout the day knowing I will be thinking about what to post later that evening. It has also been gratifying to see other teachers sharing their best moments as well. So many times we only see negative things about schools and teachers in the media. I am hopeful that parents and community members who see these positive posts about students and schools will come to understand that we truly do love their children, and will be much more supportive of our endeavors.

As much as none of us want to hear this, we have to take the time to take care of our physical bodies. No matter how hard it is to squeeze it in we must make physical exercise and healthy eating a regular part of our lives. Being diagnosed with two chronic diseases several years ago forced me to get off the couch and get moving, and to make healthier choices about what I put on my plate. Don't let being a certain size make you think you can't exercise. The trick is finding something you enjoy, and to start slowly. Once again, our students will suffer if we aren't taking care of ourselves physically. That also means using our sick days! We all want to power through when we don't feel well but how much are we actually accomplishing with our students if we aren't at our best?

There is nothing earth-shattering in this article. We all know these things. I chose to write about this because so many of you are in the middle of marching season and the rest of us are settling into the school year routine. We can't be effective teachers if we are burned out, stressed out, and just plain tired. We must take the time to take care of OUR needs for a change. Our students and families will thank us for it.