Here are some habits and routines at home that help me keep my job as a music teacher in a happy place.
Useful Routines and Habits
Take Care of Your Physical Needs – This includes, getting adequate sleep, getting good nutrition and exercise and going to the doctor. Habit trackers, work out buddies, meal plans, apps, gym memberships, are all great for this, as long as you use them. It’s taken me 46 years to understand that there is “tired”, as in, “I worked hard today and now it’s time to sleep” and then there is “TIRED”, as in, “I don’t think I can physically do this anymore, I feel like I’m 80 years old.” The first “tired” is healthy, the second “TIRED” is not. Go to the doctor, speak up, ask questions.
Take Care Of Your Voice– Do all of the things mentioned above, and also take the initiative to establish care with an ENT who specializes in the voice. If you don’t have one nearby, a regular ENT is still better than a GP. Get a baseline scope and then include an annual visit with all of your other annual physical check-ups.
When Possible, Choose Silence – For music teachers, sensory overload and often vocal fatigue are every day struggles. Furthermore, vocal rest is much more achievable in silence, than in the midst of noise. If you are looking for ways to cultivate this routine, try:
- Texting instead of calling
- Driving in silence
- Taking a walk
- Turning off all devices
It’s a challenge to find silence in the very loud environments we endure every day. This is especially true if you are a parent. Consider, if you are experiencing sensory overload, it is extremely probable that your children, the ones who are often the noise makers in your home, are doing so from a posture of sensory overload themselves. Think about ways you can practice this habit as a family, perhaps only a few minutes at a time at first. The more you practice, the easier it will become.
Be a Musician For Fun– Since becoming a music teacher I have continued my own musical pursuits and growth entirely outside of teaching. I still practice piano and take an occasional lesson for accountability because I want to continue my growth in this area. I compose music simply for the joy I find in the process, and I sing in my local church choir because aside from being a vital part of my involvement with my church, it is amazing to sing with grownups. Each of these endeavors, the piano practice, the composing and the singing bring energy and satisfaction to my days. While I have other hobbies, I feel that by being a musician in my “real life” outside of school, I reignite the spark that caused me to choose to be a music teacher in the first place.
Write Stuff Down – I have ALL of my best ideas in the beautiful half awake, fully rested state that happens right before my alarm clock goes off. When I wake up, I write them down. Sometimes, on my phone, sometimes in my paper calendar… the where I write is not nearly as important as that the idea got written. IDEAS, no matter what the idea is about, deserve to be captured.
Choose a Wardrobe and Meal Planning Day – I make all of my decisions regarding what I will wear for the upcoming week and what I will eat for the upcoming week over the weekend. You might get fancy and include actually setting out your clothes or doing full on meal prep. There are times when because of the week I have ahead, I set out my clothes and fully prep all my meals. Other weeks that feel a bit more spacious, it might be as simple as making sure all the laundry is done and that groceries are purchased strategically. The point is to avoid decision fatigue during the week.
Leave Work at Work- I try my best to leave work at school. I do not have my school email on my phone so I can’t easily get sucked into after hours email. I am also more efficient and focused when I am working at school, so for me, if something MUST take place after my regular contract hours, I prefer to just stay at school and get it done. If I stay late, I try to limit myself to one day a week. Of ALL the items on the list, this is arguably the most impactful and the one that is hardest for me to fully embrace. However, when I am successful at this one, I feel the impact and it is worth the effort to keep trying.
Make Chores Fun – Being a music teacher, sometimes bringing home what I call “special projects” is inevitable. (Before bringing something like this home, see if you can arrange for a parent volunteer to do it). My rule of thumb is that anything I bring home to work on, must be something that I can do while listening to an audio book or watching a movie. If I need an actual brain to do it, then it has to stay at school. Making props for a performance or washing and labeling recorders are the two tasks that I most commonly end up bringing home.
You can reverse this idea and add something useful, but passive for work to your mindless chores at home. Listening to music for an upcoming performance while you wash the dishes or fold laundry works really well. Technically, you ARE working on school stuff, but you are also completing an essential task, so, it is a good use of time at home AND for school.
Intentional Web Surfing – When I am home and relaxing, it is very tempting to spend more time than is good for me scrolling through social media or shopping websites. Instead of mindlessly scrolling, I try have cultivated the habit of giving some of my web surfing time to to look for things online that might help me in my classroom. I could spend a relaxing half hour previewing choral music on the JW Pepper website or familiarizing myself with repertoire available to me through one of the subscriptions my school purchases for me. If I know a concept is just around the corner for a specific grade level, a YouTube search turns what would have been truly wasted time into something that can be passively useful. There are several apps available for managing links, but truly, in the moment, if it seems like that would be too much effort, that’s ok.
Use Social Media to Connect with Other Music Teachers – I am a true unicorn among music teachers in that I have never, not in 24 years of teaching had to teach music all by myself. I’ve ALWAYS had a fellow music teacher with whom I could collaborate. This year, our school is so large we actually have 3 music teachers, and it’s awesome! The thing is, even though we are a trio of teachers, when we go into our respective classrooms, we teach in isolation. Indeed, instructional isolation is one of the biggest challenges music teachers face. For that reason, it is critically important that you take advantage of the Social Media opportunities to connect with other music teachers. Being old school, I find the Facebook music teacher groups to be very helpful. Some of the most amazing music teachers I know are actively present on Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and TikTok. Furthermore, there are some amazing podcasts available. Connect! Make friends! Meet as many as you can in person and seek informal mentoring.