Old Teacher, New Tricks: Music Teacher Reflection

Music Teacher Reflection on temporarily returning to the classroom

About this time a year ago, I received a phone call I would have never expected: a call to do a long-term, 9-week substitute job in my old district. At the time, I had been retired for three years and hadn’t been a sub since before COVID. I knew I would like the two little buildings where the position was, but I couldn’t understand how the post was still vacant. That usually wasn’t an issue whenever we had elementary music openings. But I said, “Sure!’.

Because everything was still in “summer” mode in the room, I started immediately. Many things got put on the back burner, including my TPT store, this blog, and my CASA case (although that was winding down, thankfully.) Once I began talking to the principal in charge of filling the position, we both realized that it was a LONG shot that the position would be filled by the end of the first quarter, so I agreed to stay on through the first semester. Hopefully, some winter college graduates would be ready for a job by then. As I visited with the Human Resources director, she said, “It’s going to be tough to fill this job at semester because of the teacher shortage. I want to give you a contract for the whole year.”

Stunned, I agreed and immediately thought of all the remodeling I could get done for the house. I would keep my retirement and would be brought in the next step where I left off when I retired. I never got onto the Doctorate step on the salary schedule, so this was pretty sweet. And my husband was on board!

Throughout the school year, I noted that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Teaching just felt a little different. What new tricks did I learn, teaching-wise and mentally?

  • I didn’t have to live in a Pinterest world. I had about three weeks to get two rooms ready. For one of those weeks (the week before school!!!), I had COVID. However, I had what I needed onI had what I needed I had what I needed the first day of school during the year; I had planned time at the end of the day for one day for each school. The sixth graders who did not need intervention at the end of the day loved coming in and organizing for me. We all survived!
  • COVID did make a difference. Although I didn’t know the kids, I knew that the former music teacher was on top of everything curriculum-wise. The teachers also commented that many kids seemed more needy than before COVID. They were unsure of themselves and didn’t want to do anything, worried they couldn’t do it. Some kids just forgot how to be in a classroom. Sadly, several classes of my older kids had not had a program since kindergarten and were nervous they couldn’t handle it. Once they got onstage, they were thrilled to remember how much fun it was.
  • Principals are often no more thrilled about the educational hoops and expectations they have to present than teachers are. The principals I worked with were very professional but frustrated at our state’s new expectations of our public schools. They were incredibly supportive and encouraged teachers instead of tearing them down. However, it was apparent they were sometimes overwhelmed as well. Lesson: check how your representatives vote on education. Many of the expectations on our kids are not developmentally appropriate.
  • SEL is real. Social-emotional learning is a real thing. In music, it’s often the self-image of performing, especially with singing. See Positive Mindset in Music Class for ideas.
  • There is a sneaky physical difference between being 58 and being 62. I love movement. Orff Schulwerk’s training made me love it even more. However, I discovered that some of my moves weren’t as painless this past year as they were during my last year (and those weren’t exactly painless!). I had to file my first Workman’s Compensation report while sashaying down the alley with a third grader during “Grumpy March.” Let’s just say that he went a lot faster than me, so excited that he got to dance with the teacher! I just got dragged along and landed on my left hip. Luckily, the kids didn’t laugh, but they did gasp and worried I had broken my hip. I just asked one of them to ask the nurse for an ice pack. The nurse (a former student) came in personally and insisted I file a workman’s comp report. There was no damage. I canceled my follow-up. Nothing was hurt but my pride. Did I quit sashaying? Nope. I just kicked off my shoes. (I was wearing boat shoes with the laces tied in knots at the ends so they would be like slip-ons). The kids gasped. I said, “If you can get your shoes on in less than 10 seconds, you can take your shoes off, too. An outer door to my room. Which leads to……
  • Choose your rule battles. Yes, we have to take care of instruments. But, in my previous teaching life, I was aghast if kids used their fingers on the barred instruments. Shoes could NOT come off. What if the fire alarm went off? Then I realized I had autistic students who would not keep their shoes and socks on. I had little girls who wore inappropriate shoes and couldn’t safely play Cut the Cake. And Crocs are comfy but not suitable for chasing games. Now? I let kids use their fingers to practice their patterns (or give them coffee warmer sticks or recorder cleaning rods). I also taught them how to wipe the bars down afterward. I reminded myself to discuss with the students what should be expected in certain situations so they had ownership of their behaviors. I didn’t post rules: I just posted the PBIS standards, which we had in ROCK form (Respect, Ownership, Commitment, Kindness.)
  • Don’t be scared of new music. I would use a pop music day as a reward in my beginning years. In those days, I had to listen to the recordings to determine if they were appropriate. That was time-consuming, so I stuck with a few standards (Rubber Band Man! Ghostbusters! I’m a Believer!) for movement. Gradually, I did add anything I learned from Orff conferences for movement. When online lyrics and Spotify appeared, I was too much in my groove to vary. When I returned this past year, I turned to the World Music Drumming Facebook group to come up with music for Ensemble One. I discovered a world of new music that was not only appropriate for my students but ended up being music I enjoyed. (How did I miss Crab Rave????) Lesson learned: Meet them where they are instead of dragging them, kicking and screaming, to where you are. If you do that, they will be more than willing to walk into your musical world.
  • Spotify is your friend. Need I say more?
  • All kids are vulnerable. Although I knew this, logically, I had to remind myself that even the kids who tried to put in the most challenging fronts had emotional baggage somewhere. I realized this even more, this past year because of my volunteer work as a CASA. I often didn’t know what was going on in the home. I reminded myself that these kids might have trauma either not disclosed to the school or me personally. Did I win everyone over? No, but I learned how to communicate better. It helped that the principals I worked with this past year were wonderful in taking kids out of the room if I asked, talking with them, and then personally bringing them back so all three of us could check in. Luckily, it didn’t happen often.


I have no regrets about taking that year out of my retirement. Could I have done it another year? Probably not. I get to feed that little bit of teaching that got resurrected by adding my name to the sub list for those buildings. Their new music teacher is marvelous (and a former student!) They are indeed lucky, and I know will go far.

I am glad I have time to focus on my blogging and store again.

See you in future blogs!

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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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