The #1 Choir Teacher New Year Resolution for a GREAT Year
2020 is a memory that we will laugh (or cringe) at for years to come. So, what’s next?
2021! (Air horn sound!)
Embrace the new year by starting new habits that focus on being a balanced, happier choir teacher with the absolute NUMBER ONE resolution you need right now.
Create and honor boundaries between work life and home life.
Can your kids message you on instagram anytime they want through your choir program’s account (which you run obviously)?
Do you spend more than 30 minutes outside of school on paper work or lesson planning?
As you read this, are you listing off a million more things that you do OUTSIDE of your contract hours??
Stop, seriously. You are on the path to burn out. You’re a choir teacher because you love what you do, so don’t start resenting it by working way more than required.
“But how will things get done?” Cries virtually every choir teacher.
Boundaries, friends. Boundaries.
Boundaries need to be specific and consistently followed for maximum effectiveness on your sanity. The common advice teachers generally get is, “Only work during your contract hours.” Ha. Hahahahaha. I think that was my favorite joke during my first year as a choir teacher. (That and “It gets easier by year three” but that’s another post.)
First, make specific boundaries that meet the needs of your choir program. Evaluate how your day looks right now. I’m going to give NON-examples from my first year of teaching choir.
What time do you get to school?
I got to school at 6:30 am. I taught middle school choir and my contract time basically didn’t start until 8 am.
What does your morning look like?
Drink a super sugary bottled Starbucks coffee. Squander my hour and a half before contract time panicking about what to do that day, throw together a powerpoint, change my plans for the 100th time because of overthinking, check emails constantly, feel overwhelmed by the seemingly endless list of things to do (fundraiser? IEP input form?? What form was that again???)
How do your classes look?
Actually, as much as I panic in the morning, when class starts it typically flows well. I’m in the zone, directing my students, executing rehearsal fine, and praising positive behaviors. Class time with my choir kids was the best part of the day and constantly go-go-go from bell to bell.
What do you do during your planning period?
So scattered. Usually my planning period each day was collecting myself mentally, talking with my band teacher, and trying to keep my anxiety at bay.
The day is over. Do you go home?
Absolutely not. There’s after school rehearsal or money to count from a fundraiser or emails to send to parents or lesson plans to actually write or anything that was creating the most anxiety that day.
No lie, there was a new McDonalds near my middle school and some evenings I would stay after school to work on things, go grab McDonalds for dinner and bring it back to my classroom, and continue working on things that felt so important (but were not). I would leave school around 8pm or later.
This teacher lifestyle was NOT sustainable. I developed so much anxiety, gained weight, struggled with personal relationships, but I thought that the sacrifices were worth it for my choir kids.
Spoiler alert: It was NOT worth it. And my choir kids ended up suffering.
Choir teacher life does not have to look like burn out. And the key is BOUNDARIES.
Now that you have evaluated your typical day (and hopefully it isn’t as bad as my first year of teaching), let’s assess how to implement boundaries that are effective for YOU.
First, time beyond contract hours. It’s inevitable as a choir teacher. You will have after school rehearsals and concerts which will create such great memories for your choir kids. (Happy gif) Let’s treat these as exceptions to the first boundary. I’m talking about all of those other hours spent on “productive” things like counting money, filling out forms, emailing vendors, arranging buses.
#1 Boundary for Teachers: Limit extra time outside of contract time. It can be one hour per week, either before or after school one day a week or two thirty-minute chunks before or after school, but try not to exceed one hour each week. (Remember, rehearsals and concerts are not apart of this so not guilt over those things.)
You’re probably thinking, “But how am I going to keep up with my teacher responsibilities AND choral director expectations??”
Prioritize and plan. My biggest mistake was falling into a false sense of productivity (it feels like accomplishment but it’s just time wasting in disguise actually). You will have your own schedule for concerts, All-State, All-County, Solo & Ensemble, etc. so get your favorite planner or calendar app and start planning.
Assess what is coming up and the deadlines for each. Once you know what is upcoming, assign one planning period during the month to ONLY focus on that one task.
Designating a focus task to that day’s planning period helps streamline managing your choral program. It also helps you stress less as a choir teacher by avoiding daily decision fatigue. Tailor the tasks to your needs and give yourself a routine.
You know how you consistently utilize procedures in class? Do the same for you, stressed choir teacher. The first Wednesday of each month is solely for IEP/504 documentation (input forms that have been requested, tracking accommodations to turn in as proof that you gave accommodations, working on differentiating lessons for your students, etc.). Every Friday’s planning period is for typing up the upcoming week’s lesson plans.
Now you know exactly what to focus on during your planning period without trying to flip through your mental filing cabinet in the moment. (So exhausting.)
Next worrying thought that is creeping in your mind - What if I don’t finish the task during the planning period?
Don’t beat yourself up over it. It happens. Remember that extra hour outside of contract time? Use that only for tasks that needed more time. Before you know it, when you have a routine and a plan, things get accomplished faster because you eliminated the time waste of daily decision making on the spot.
Some things naturally come up too. Still don’t beat yourself up. Be flexible and remember to prioritize. You finished the lesson plans, but didn’t pull music from the library yet. Assess your possibilities. Can you spare 15 minutes from tomorrow’s planning period? Can it wait until next week because you’re not actually starting that music until October? Even better, do you have class officers that can handle tedious tasks like that AND build relationships with your choir kids?
This resolution requires you to shift your mindset to STOP working all the time and START getting a better balance in your life.
It feels against the grain. Uncomfortable. Unusual deep down since we all (probably) had mentors and colleagues weirdly brag about how late they stayed with their choir kids after a field trip, how long they spent arranging their own version of the National Anthem specifically tailored to their top group, or something equally as time consuming. It feels like you’re not working hard enough.
Nope. Not going to fall for that toxic lifestyle again.
Create and consistently honor your time every single day. Keep work at work and refill your glass outside of work. So this year, let’s all keep a clear boundary between work life and personal life to ultimately have a happy and great 2021.
Follow me on Instagram @cathyschoirclass and share your other New Year Resolutions!