Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Creating Balance as Teachers

I wrote this in response to a teacher who is facing a classroom set up next year that could cause burnout:

Your classroom is your oasis.  You get to decide how difficult you make your job each and every day.  You get to decide how many outside festivals/solo ensembles/Allstate chorus/Honor's chorus groups and how many extra overnight field trips that you and your children participate in.  You get to decide the volume of the music you teach.  You can lighten your load without diminishing the impact of the education your children are receiving, and it is important to do so.  You can choose quality over quantity.  You can choose "working hard" over "over-working" regardless of your set up.  It's really up to you.

I know this because I've had to do it.

I run a middle school program of over 300 children.  When I began, there were 80 children in the program.  Easy-schmeasy.  

Over a very short time, my program grew exponentially.  I tried to make the class fun and the word spread.  I did musical revues they loved being a part of. and that I loved creating. I participated in Six Flags competitions.  I did our GMEA adjudicated festivals with all of my choirs.  I participated in Allstate Chorus. Quickly, as the program grew, my life was completely overwhelmed and out of balance, and I knew it wasn't healthy.  I also knew that the circumstances weren't going to change.  Occasionally, our district supplied money for an assistant for my classes that included more than 84 children in one class period, but that money came and went each year unexpectedly along with the assistant.  Since I realized I couldn't depend on the same funding each year for an assistant, I made a few difficult decisions to which I've stuck:  I stopped the Six Flags trips, and I rarely, if ever, sponsor children for some of the extra Honor's/Allstate events.  I didn't make a huge announcement about it.  I just did it.  When we make a big announcement ("This is the last time I am ever doing this"), the kids and parents get disappointed and they bad energy begins to creep in.  I continued to prepare the children for those events in class daily.  All of my students have the tools they need to make Allstate when they leave my classroom for high school, for example, if they decided to start doing that in high school and many of them do so.  All of my children still get an adjudicated festival experience through our GMEA Large Group Performance Evaluation.

I've kept doing the musical revue and participating in the GMEA large group performance evaluations and much more in my classroom.  The excitement and the learning continue for my students and my life is more in balance.

I am in my 22nd year teaching.  Making these important decisions has kept me sane, has kept me from becoming bitter, has kept my life in balance and has allowed me the opportunity to stay in this school at this job where I continue to teach over 300 children in chorus.  The chorus could be even larger.  It isn't necessary.  It isn't healthy.  My check doesn't rise if I teach 80 children in chorus or 380 children in chorus.  

As teachers, we forget that we are the CEO's of our classroom in so many ways.  So often, we get stuck on the approach of "My administrators say I have to do this".  Well, we all know there are many people telling us we have to do certain things.  As the leaders of our classrooms, there are many decisions that WE get to make ourselves.  Find them and make the decisions that will work  best for you.  If you are happy while you teach, your children will respond to that happiness.  If you are miserable, they respond to that too.  

If we run a strong program and serve the children, we will soon see that we don't have to do every single thing under the sun.  We can do a few of those things and do them really well.  The quality of the work is what will pay off for us.  

If we work hard to build relationships with our adminstrators and talk reasonably without defensive language, we can create the program that we want and the one that we need to educate out children to a high level, be proud of our work, yet take care of ourselves too.  We aren't good to anyone if we are sick all the time from overwork or, God forbid, if we are dead!

So, continue to work to find a solution.  There is one.

There is an Arts school in my district in which the entire school (grades 8-12) has the fewer students in the entire school than I teach in my chorus classroom each day by myself and most of the students at that Arts School are not even in chorus!  If I had that particular set up, I might decide to do more of the other activities I mentioned above, but in this setting that I currently have, I've decided to create balance that works for me and still educates my students at a level I'm very proud of! 

More teachers should do it.  Find solutions that educate and create balance at the same time.  

Teachers!  Remember!  On May 1st, I will offer Bundles for my Sight Singing program!  If you still need to buy individual lessons, please do so now!  On May 1st, the prices will rise on the individual lessons for future customers.  You will still be able to buy bundles at the $3 per lesson rate, but the individual lessons will be $5 per lesson!  I will definitely sell the bundles in "fives" with the final bundle being a seven lesson bundles, and each bundle will be at the $3 per lesson rate.  Thanks for your support!



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