This year will be my 20th “First Day of School!”  Honestly, I can’t believe where twenty years have gone?  You don’t get to be this old (or young at heart) without learning a few things about the first days of school.

1.  Your room doesn’t have to be Pinterest-perfect.
Seriously.  I love Pinterest as much as the next teacher, but can we all agree to STOP?  Your classroom does not need to color-coordinated with posters adorning every inch of available wall space.  Make your room comfortable.  Let it reflect your personality, but let everything else go.  It’s ok if your room is in process.  You are becoming: becoming a teacher, becoming a colleague, becoming a professional.  Focus on that and prioritize what is most important.  Make sure your room is clean and organized.  Make sure you have well-written lesson plans.  Make sure you have befriended the right people (aka: the secretary and the custodian).  Everything else will come in time!

2.  What you allow in those first days sets the tone for the rest of the year.
I think the most challenging thing for new teachers is the idea that your students should like you.  They will but they will like you more if you set clear boundaries and expectations in those opening weeks.  And here’s the toughest part – you have to FOLLOW THROUGH with the consequences of those boundaries.  If my rule is that “rhythm sticks don’t touch any thing or anyone else” then I must follow through when they do.  It takes one student to cross that line for the rest of the students to know that I mean what I say, but they will all think hard before any of them do it again.  After all, music class is inherently fun and no one wants to miss out on having fun!  If you wait a month or two to follow through, you will have a tougher time getting a handle on classroom management.  

3.  Communicate with parents.
When I started teaching, I only ever communicated with parents when there was an issue with a student.  About five years into my career, I had a profound realization: I needed to communicate with parents about the good even more than the bad.  I had a little boy named “Tom” (name changed).  Tom was precocious and had endless energy – you know the type!  A new student recently joined Tom’s class and clearly had some special needs.  No one wanted to be his partner or sit by him – except Tom.  I remember how tender and kind Tom was towards this little boy and I bit back tears of joy to see Tom’s empathy in action.  I decided at lunch that I would call his mom and simply share this with her.  I dialed her number and when she picked up, I introduced myself as Tom’s music teacher from school…  Silence.  Huge sigh.  “What has he done now?” his mom asked.  I was taken aback!  I explained to her that he hadn’t done anything bad, rather something amazing.  She explained that she was so used to getting negative calls, she simply assumed the worst when I called.  By the end of the call, we were both in tears.  My heart broke for this mom who only expected negative feedback from her son’s teachers/school.  From that moment on, I’ve tried to make it a point to call, write notes home or stop parents in school to say a kind word about their child.  Building a positive relationships with parents is so important!  And when you do have to call home for that “other reason,” they know you and are much more likely to receive what you have to say in a positive light.

4.  Take the time to know names.
Many of you are teaching incredible amounts of students day in an day out!  I don’t know how anyone keeps up with 700+ students, but I know we all do what we have to do.  On the first day of school, I establish a seating chart.  I know I may need to tweak it as the year progresses, but the reality is I need it!  I want to know my students’ names!  One of the best ways to make a connection with a student is to simply know them by name.  I try to write little notes about them on my seating chart  – “likes Minecraft” or “ice skater.”  Those little facts help me to connect names and faces.  If you have an iPad, I highly recommend the app iDoceo.  Not only can I create multiple seating charts in the app, but I can also take photos of each child that appear alongside their name.  (And you can print them – in color!)

5.  Breath.
Teaching isn’t a sprint.  It’s a marathon!  It takes patience, pacing, perseverance and practice. You are going to have moments of greatness only to be followed with moments of utter embarrassment!  You are going to work endlessly on lesson plans that fail in front students.  Don’t despair!  Those are teachable moments for yourself, because you will reflect why it went wrong and fix it!  Your best days will be when you teach children instead of teach your plan.  Your happiest moments will be when you focus on those beautiful souls in front of you, instead of the endless meetings you have to attend.  You were gifted a talent not many are given – the gift to reach and teach young children through music.  So when life feels frazzled (and it will), take a moment to breath, be still in that moment that you are doing what you were meant to be doing!
Happy New Year Teachers!  Make it a great one!