Music Teacher Self-Care Idea from Other Teachers

Music Teachers provide advice on teacher self-care

I’ve taken several weeks from my blog and email list for my own self-care. You say, “But you’re retired!”. I can never stay retired, or I’ll overeat! Seriously, my little CASA friends have had some rough spots that have been emotional for me, but things are settling for them. I also get affected by negative things going on in the country and our world, so sometimes I have to step back, or I’ll suffer from the “Look, a squirrel!” syndrome.

I’ve also begun a new venture: working on the staff for Different Dynamics, an organization bringing music opportunities to people with differing abilities. I absolutely LOVE it! I’m on vacation from my church job, so my new normal is getting settled. I get my teacher on, and it’s actually another form of teacher self-care I do because it’s different from what my normal teacher routine would have been.

Now, on to the topic…….

Self-Care: Don’t Get Caught by Surprise

It’s summer, and I hope you have found respite and relaxation from last year’s craziness, stress, and heartbreak. Many of you have lost colleagues, battled with parents, and struggled through COVID. Summer is such a great break from the mess. However, you will eventually go back. Now, the U.S. has new battles to face: a House investigative committee, debates on Supreme Court choices, getting students back on track, and other incidents that might possibly wear us out emotionally again. You’ve heard “Prevention is the best cure”? How can you be proactive when it seems we can never predict what will happen?

The “Experts” Speak

I’ve made suggestions in other blog posts about self-care ad naseum, but I believe it’s such an important point for the 2020s. Actually, it’s always been an important point. As music teachers, we give so much that we forget to replenish our love by loving ourselves. I can say all this, but I haven’t experienced teaching under COVID and anti-CRT and other stuff. So, I found people who do! It was super easy. The last edition of “Missouri School Music” (the official journal of the Missouri Music Educators Association, or MMEA) focuses on rest and rejuvenation for the mental health benefits of Missouri music teachers. All the articles are written by the board members. Several of them were gracious enough to allow me to paraphrase their suggestions for this post. Here is their advice on music teacher self-care:

The choral vice-president for MMEA is Karey Fitzpatrick. She wrote about attending the first choral performance for MMEA’s first in-person conference since COVID. She was intrigued because she was given jelly beans as she walked in. The conductor for the performance had incorporated a video to the work “The Time You Have (In Jellybeans)”. In its symbolism, a jellybean represents one day in the life of a person. As Karey notes, the average life span of a person is 28,835 days, but by the time activities like sleeping, eating, etc. are removed, there are a limited number of days. She mentioned how we lose sight of the big picture and how it’s important to incorporate small, meaningful activities, which she does with her students. Examples include 5 minutes of yoga, giving high 5s, team-building activities, or just dancing. Karey’s main message is: take time to reconnect with people.

Harvey Lockhart is the jazz vice-president. His article began with a “wake up” message: we get passionate about our job and feel no one else can take our place while we still feel the love to teach. However, he emphasizes that if teachers do not take care of themselves, someone else will. They may or may not have the same dynamic with students, and your relationship with students comes to an “abrupt end.” Harvey admitted he would get so busy, that he forgot all about himself, especially when it came to exercising.

As a teacher in an urban area, Harvey has faced the stresses of limited support and student apathy or lack of interest. He has built his program to be strong, but it came at a price. Harvey, like many others, is forced to teach within unsupportive systems. Because Harvey is devoted to his profession, he gave his students his all, and he and his family got the leftovers. He had to make a choice: stay with his program and sap himself empty or move on? Harvey made the decision to move on. Because of this, Harvey is more intentional about taking breaks and advocating that teachers understand it is not their jobs to “save” their students but to equip themselves with the aptitude and drive to succeed, and if that doesn’t happen, to just let go.

Traci Bolton, general music vice-president, advocated for playing music for the sake of playing music as the best form of music teacher self-care. After all, why did we choose music as a focus of our careers in the first place? Once Traci started teaching, inertia kept her going through (as she says) “eating fast food at my desk or sleeping through my one and only day off.” She didn’t use instruments. Her voice was shot. Her joy for music and teaching was dimming. She decided she was determined to incorporate time each day to just…… She started a rock band with some students and they performed for family and friends. The joy returned. Basically, she says: strip away expectations and start small. Start playing or listening to music again that has nothing to do with the curriculum.

I’ve had the pleasure of working with Daniel Hellman through my time as a supervisor for student teaching for Missouri State University. Daniel is the chair of the Missouri Society for Music Teacher Education (SMTE). As Daniel has witnessed over the years, mental health challenges strongly affect preservice and inservice music teachers (quoting Kuebel, 2019). From his view as a university professor working with preservice teachers, Daniel has witnessed the stress music education majors experience because of high course loads, rehearsal and performance expectations, and a lack of time. K-12 teachers suffer due to workloads, scheduling, and a lack of support. Add recent controversies and changes in society, and the stress is multiplied. Daniel strongly advocates preserving our mental health to avoid burnout AND to prevent discouragement among those who are not yet in the field. How does the average music curriculum support this?
In summary, Daniel strongly encourages teachers to gather resilience, rest, and rejuvenate during the summer through these means:

  • Time for self
  • Other interests
  • Being with others
  • Professional reflection

Ben Silvermintz is the Multicultural Chair for MMEA. In his article, Ben mentions the “R” words but brings up two that we don’t often consider when we talk about teacher self-care ideas: Reading and Rumination. The summertime brings the opportunity to dig into books with purpose and intention and allows us the time to “ruminate” over the information without the distractions of concerts, grading, and students. Ben acknowledges that in order to be our best and be able to grow and research, we have to be away from our students. As he says, in our human states, we need time for “rebirth” to develop new teaching strategies. Although it is good to have decompressed time with family, exercise, and even TV, after a while, Facebook and Netflix binging gets old. His suggestion: take two-day clinics or get your certifications in an area of interest. (Karen note: Some of my best summers were those I spent completing my Orff and Kodaly certifications). We just can’t make good decisions under pressure.

 Websites for More Ideas:

Music Teacher Summer Planning: Don’t Sacrifice “Me” Time

Remembering Your Inner Musician for Self-Care

You are Not Only: Dealing with the Rough Times and Emotions of Teaching Music

The Teacher Self-Care Toolkit

Self-Care for Educators

 Now, thinking about positives……My store is going through an update as well! I can’t wait to make an “official” reveal…coming soon.

Next blog post: I’m so excited to present a short interview with Aileen Miracle, a great Kodaly teacher, blogger, and TPT seller! This post will be up on July 5.

Thoughts? Please leave a comment.

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I am an elementary music teacher and adjunct professor from Missouri and have completed my Ph.D. in music education through the University of Kansas.

I am an elementary music teacher and adjunct professor from Missouri and have just completed my Ph.D. in music education through the University of Kansas.


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