Updated: May 18, 2019
Happy Teachers Day Malaysia!
Teaching is one of the most rewarding professions, and it's a wonderful experience as well as a privilege to be able to contribute to shaping someone else's life, whether you work with young children or adult students. I'm so passionate about teaching and it makes me excited every time I talk about my experiences.
On the other hand, it can also be a stressful job because time can be so scarce, and you're constantly trying to keep up with the demands of planning lessons or tailoring programmes for each of your classes or students while responding to different levels of expectations.
Today I wanted to share some ideas on self-care for teachers to celebrate Teacher's Day! This will be Part 1 where I cover some points on how to look after yourself as a teacher and Part 2 will cover ideas on little things you can incorporate into your lessons that might enhance you and your students' musical experiences in the long term.
Disclaimer: I'll be writing from the point of view of a one-on-one studio teacher, so some of these may not apply or be possible for teachers who work in other settings.
1. Slow down
If you are struggling to bring a positive attitude into the teaching room, maybe it's time to slow down. You might have pushed yourself to reach certain deadlines or benchmarks and feel personally responsible for every student's result. A student's progress, while influenced by how a teacher shapes their learning, is dependent on so many factors that you can't control every aspect of it. If you are already doing your best, you may need to detach yourself from the situation. It might be a good idea to make space in your yearly schedule to allow for unexpected absences, or the student (or yourself) not having the best day. Try to avoid programming a year's calendar expecting the student to come to every lesson in tip-top shape. They have lives of their own and different paces of learning. Focus on allowing your students to learn organically at their pace, rather than by constant proactive (or possibly over-enthusiastic?) input from the teacher.
2. Don't take it personally
As a studio teacher, we can be quite isolated. Individual teachers are often left to their own devices, so we may rarely receive positive reinforcement from anyone. Unless your students and their parents actively tell you that they enjoy learning with you, sometimes you can't tell if you're doing a good job. We might also have a full schedule that prevents us from seeing other teachers and sharing stories or concerns. If you can make time to see your fellow teacher friends, though, that's great - sometimes only another teacher would relate to what we go through!
Sometimes, unexpectedly, we may be hit with negative feedback that just really takes the wind out of our sails. Teachers usually strive to do their best so this can feel quite devastating, especially when you don’t see it coming. The scenario can replay in your mind over and over. It's even worse if you found out from someone else about a negative rumour going around!
We can’t change what others say to us or about us, but we can change how we react to it. If there was any constructive criticism in it, you can take that as a learning experience and move on. Try to avoid being triggered and reacting defensively. If someone says hurtful things, don’t let that question your professional ability or self-worth. The problem is with them and not you. If you indeed did make a mistake, don't beat yourself up about it! We all make mistakes and that's okay.
3. Avoid gossip
While you may be an individual teacher and work alone most of the time, the world is a very small place. Protect your mental health by avoiding gossip and making a point to walk away from situations where there might be others doing it. It feeds negativity and is not a healthy thing to do. If you make a stand of not participating in this negative behaviour, you would stop being a magnet for it in the long run. Besides, in this case, ignorance is bliss!
4. Switch off
Teaching can be an all-consuming job, we can be so passionate about it or believe that this is our calling in life. While it’s great to have a job that we love so much, it also can mean that you think about your students ALL THE TIME. If you run a private studio from home, especially, it can be difficult to switch off from work. Try to come up with a routine that helps you switch off. At the end of the day, you might need to make a habit of sitting down with a cup of tea, or taking a walk, or putting on a relaxing essential oil, or take a few minutes to journal the events of the day and write down everything in your head that you might need to remember before your students come back for their next lesson. You might need to mute notifications of work-related texts on your phone. Once that’s done, make a point to switch to ‘home’ mode and remember there is a life outside teaching! If you need a holiday, take it!
5. Don’t compare
It’s so easy to compare our work (or our students!) to those of other teachers. Embrace that each student is different and the journey will vary for everyone. We as teachers also work with a different set of values and goals so there is no point in comparing.
When we look at our students on the whole, we might sometimes feel that we are more successful with certain students while we struggle to motivate others. We are all human; while we would like to build rapport with all our students, sometimes our personalities may just clash. Protect yourself by knowing this may happen sometime in the span of our (hopefully) long careers; address it diplomatically, before it becomes toxic to the parties involved. Keep your communication open in the student-parent-teacher triangle to maintain a healthy relationship.
6. Plan ahead
Scheduling can be one of the most stressful things to deal with when running a studio. While students have their own lives and varying schedules, teachers also may be under stress to secure a living, collecting fees on time, deciding whether to replace missed classes, to planning a break in your yearly schedule. If you have control over how you schedule your lessons, decide how many weeks you would like to be teaching per year, remembering that we all need a break.
Freelancing can mean that we can potentially work for all 52 weeks of the year if we wanted to, but we do NOT need to be teaching until we drop. If you intend to enter students into competitions or exams, find out the dates at your earliest opportunity and schedule your terms surrounding those. Planning at least 6 months to a year in advance will give you a sense of security in your time and finances.
7. Set boundaries
If you freelance as a private teacher, it can often be difficult to set policies for your studio, because a private teacher has to deal with all manner of business-to-personal matters. Try to be upfront about your boundaries, and have policies on fees, last minute cancellations, what to do if the student is sick (are they still allowed to come to class with a flu and infect everyone in your family?). Prepare what you’d say if the student requests to come for an extra lesson on your day off. (You are perfectly entitled to say that you don’t work on that day and don’t feel guilty!)
It’s also a good idea to let the student/parent know at your first meeting what your expectations are if they want to learn with you, and if you do this at the start, it is also easier to initiate a conversation if things aren’t working out and you’d like to stop teaching them. The clearer you set your boundaries from the beginning, you will save yourself the stress of having to deal with these type of issues.
Finally, be kind to yourself
Remember, happy teachers make happy students!
Protect yourself so that your teaching life is sustainable over a long period of time and you can enjoy working with these healthy habits.
In Part 2, I will write about quick ideas to incorporate into your individual lessons to enhance the learning/teaching experience.