What On Earth Was I Thinking?

Yesterday was the first day of Grade 3 for my kidlets.  There was a lot of excitement & a bit of nervousness on their part.  There was a lot of excitement & a bit of stress on my part.  (How many school supplies do they REALLY need for the year?  The answer.  A lot.)

Combined with all the back to school preparations, it was natural to look back on the previous years of school … both my kids in school & my growth as a teacher.  At this point, we are now on the 11th & 12th teachers for our kids.  They have all done well with our kids, but not all have interacted well with us as parents.  And, I realized at the end of last year that the ones that seemed to work against us as parents reminded me of someone I know very well.  Myself as a beginning teacher.  What on earth was I thinking?

What On Earth Was I Thinking-
What On Earth Was I Thinking?

In the beginning …

I had many misconceptions when I first began teaching.

  • No smiling until November (at the earliest).
  • Rules should be given, not discussed.
  • Games are good for review for tests, but not the ‘real’ learning that takes place each lesson.
  • I have to know everything.  Or, at least appear that I know everything.
  • Parents only need to hear how their child(ren) are doing at report card or parent-teacher meeting times.  But, be sure to sandwich areas of improvement between strengths.
  • Give parents advice on anything school related, even if they haven’t asked.
  • If parents are not involved with each aspect of their child(ren)’s homework, they don’t care or are lazy.

I realize in reading the list that it seems I didn’t care about my students or their families.  I did, but had no idea how to show it without coming across as ‘weak’.  My main priority was my career & I had no understanding of the struggles parents have trying to juggle all their responsibilities.  Basically, I had a lot to learn.  Thankfully over the years, I have!

What changed?

I know it sounds sappy, but I had kids.  Once they were born, I looked at them & realized that my priority needed to be them.  They were counting on me.  But, I really, really loved my career.  When I went back to work full time, it became clear VERY quickly that staying 2 hours outside of contract hours every day & working on the weekends needed to be a thing of the past.

But, first I need to quit my job.  I couldn’t be the mother I wanted to be.  I couldn’t be the wife I wanted to be.  And, I KNEW that I wasn’t the teacher I wanted to be.  Something HAD to give in order for me to find any sense of balance.

In the end, it turns out that becoming a parent provided the catalyst for me to become a much better teacher.

When I returned to teaching, it was to teach piano.  I could control the number of hours I worked, the number of students I taught (both in terms of per lesson as well as overall studio size).  By teaching individual lessons, I bypassed classroom management & focused on teaching to the individual student.  By working around school hours, we were able to ensure that family was always there to drop off/pick up the boys from school & be with them outside of school hours.  We focused on our priorities as a family & balanced work around that.

When the boys entered school, this led to another evolution in how I interacted with my clients.  All the sudden, I was on the receiving end of the well-meaning advice.  And, the extra involvement with each aspect of their homework.  And, the lack of communication.  And … frankly, it was eye opening.  (And, made me want to call my earliest parents I worked with to apologize.  I had had no idea!)

Oh, how things have changed …

My thinking has changed a lot over the years.  And, my enjoyment of my chosen profession has greatly increased as well!  Here are how the misconceptions have changed.

  • Smile big & laugh often.  It can turn a difficult moment into a bonding moment with your student.
  • Rules are necessary, but should be aimed at student growth.
  • There is no ONE way to learn something.  And, it’s way more fun to teach a concept different ways than yawn through the 50th time explaining a concept.
  • I DON’T have to know everything.  Admitting I don’t know creates an opportunity to learn with my student.  They also learn that we never stop learning.
  • Brag about students to their parent(s).  Both in front of the student & when they are out of earshot.  We LOVE hearing how awesome our kids are.  But more importantly, we trust the teachers that show they know our child well.
  • There is no ONE way of doing things.  Don’t give advice unless asked.  Even then, give options & let parents know that you support whichever way works best for THEIR family.
  • Parents WANT to support their child, but there are many reasons why they don’t (i.e. don’t know how or don’t have time).  They need support that works for them.

Supporting piano parents …

Over the years, I have developed a greater appreciation for families juggling their work schedules with extra curricular activities & homework time.  For myself, getting emails from the teacher about more (busywork) tasks we were supposed to do each week eventually resulted in those emails just getting deleted.  We were at our max & weren’t given any support in how to fit everything in.  In the end, the lack of completing many of those tasks had NO impact on the grades our child received.  Was it the best solution?  No.  But, if there had been an option to drop the teacher … that could very well have been the option we chose.

What I’ve learnt is parents need specific, easy, & quick ways of supporting their child(ren).

Some examples of wording for parent support are:

  • Amanda rocked the dynamics on her songs this lesson.  I have a feeling you will really enjoy the mood of her songs this week as she practices!  If you happen to hear big changes in volume, could you make a point of praising her?
  • We created a practice log for Sam this week.  Could he put this on the fridge?  Would you be able to remind him at practice time that this is WHEN he committed to practicing?  This will help him create a routine that is as normal as brushing teeth.
  • Sally mentioned that this is going to be a really busy week for your family.  Can you ensure she listens to this song on her iPad?  It can be playing on repeat in the background while she does homework.  This will set us up perfectly for learning the song next week!
  • I know Adam typically practices piano while you are making dinner.  Isn’t it great getting a mini concert while making dinner?  Feel free to call over to Adam when you hear something you really like.  It could be the rhythm of the song, the mood or picture he created, how dedicated he is to improving a section, or even how much progress you hear from week to week!
  • If you are unsure about something during the week or are getting push back from Antonio with these new changes, feel free to call.  If your kids are like mine, sometimes they need to hear it from someone else.  Or, maybe yours are much better listeners than mine?  (Almost always get a smile & assurance that no their kids are the same.  Creates a ‘we are in the same boat’ feel.)

For a great ideas on how to involve parents with practice time in meaningful, but specific ways, I would recommend checking out TeachPianoToday.  Andrea has many blogs on supporting piano parents, including one which involves stickers for the parents to put on music!

Because we never stop learning …

I would love to hear how your journey as a teacher has progressed.  What were the catalysts for change?  What lessons can you share with us?

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