I Learned More About Teaching Music When I Wasn’t Teaching Music

Like a lot of educators fresh out of college, especially those that graduate in the middle of the school year, my first job post-graduation was as a substitute. By the end of my first student teaching placement in March 2017, I was ready to have my own classroom. But life had other plans.

I learned more about being an elementary music teacher while I was working as a full time substitute teacher and substitute educational assistant. I learned a lot about the role of a music teacher in an educational setting while I worked in other parts of the "educational machine."

Due to health reasons, I had to split my student teaching placements over two school years. Because of this, I finished my final student teaching placement (thus completing my degree) in October. This is when I was informed that I would have to wait until my registrar deferred degrees in December to be able to serve as a substitute teacher. Needless to say, I was pretty upset. I was itching to get into the classroom (and to make some money doing it), and it seemed like I kept hitting one obstacle after the other.

After some discussions with the teachers at the elementary school I student taught at, I decided to apply to be a substitute educational assistant for the district. I’ll be perfectly honest: on paper it looked like a huge waste of my time. The pay was low, there was a much lower demand for these type of substitutes, so there were many days that I went without a job. But once I started working these jobs, I began to change my tune.

To my surprise, I instantly fell in love with the work I was doing. The majority of my jobs were in Multiple-Handicapped or Autism units. When I first accepted jobs in these units I was anxious about what I was getting myself into. However, once I got into the units I instantly fell in love with the kids and the role I was playing in their education. I began to see levels of patience and compassion from me that I had never seen before. To say that I surprised myself is an understatement. I began taking longer term assignments in these units, and added skills and techniques to work with these students into my ‘toolbox.’

Once I (finally) had my degree officially issued, I began working as a substitute teacher and branching out into a few neighboring districts. Being a music teacher I really didn’t have any experience teaching in a general classroom and to be perfectly honest: I didn’t really know how they worked. After working as a substitute teacher in the general classroom for a couple of weeks, I really began to get the hang of it. Once again, I fell in love with it. I loved working with the same group of kids all day, and I adored working with small groups during rotations.

At first, I was worried with how much I loved working outside of the music classroom. I began to doubt if choosing music education was the right choice when I went into college. I looked into adding endorsements to my license, and how much it would take to become a general classroom teacher. As time went on, I realized I loved teaching. It didn’t matter what I was teaching, I fell in love with teaching students something new. I enjoyed being a part of the educational experience. It took me a while, but I believe I now see how these experiences I have gained can be translated into the music classroom.

My experiences as both a substitute teacher and educational assistant have changed the way I view myself as an educator. Furthermore, once I left the music classroom, I learned more about what my role as an elementary music teacher was. I had gained perspective. I no longer felt as if I was isolated in “Music Land,” but saw that I was a point of consistency as students change teachers, classes, and grades during their time in elementary school. Taking a step away from the music classroom had allowed me to see how it can be used as a support of the general classroom, while still being able to stand on its own in content, standards, and importance.


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