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Things I Learned During my First Year at MacPhail

By Julia Reeves Reeves.Julia@MacPhail.org

1.   In order to be an effective teacher and survive my first year, I need to be flexible and resilient. I think this has become my mantra for working in partnerships. The concept of control is one I struggled with a great deal when I first walked into a classroom, because I had zero (count it: zero) classroom management skills. Learning to lighten up and go with the flow was really important in helping me see  students as people, not things to be taught.

2.   The best way to learn how to teach is to teach alongside other teachers.

3.   Attitude is everything. I mean, really. It’s also infectious. Nothing is more demotivating than walking into a class or a lesson and simply expecting the worst. If we want our students to succeed, we must believe they can flourish.

4.   Love your students; the rest will follow.

5.   If you’re not having fun, how can you possibly expect everyone else in the room to be having fun?

6.   Teaching is something that can be learned. Like all skills, it takes practice. Loving children is something that you’re born with; good teaching is something you develop.

7.    Respect goes both ways.

8.   What to do; what not to do--I think my Masters degree was actually very helpful for this part of my education. Whatever happens, rather than dwelling on it, I need to take the best parts and all the learning opportunities and run with it.

9.    Apply what works to other situations.

10.  There is a surprising amount of redemption in the classroom. Every day is a new day.

11.   We all crave a sense of mastery over what we do. As such, kids love routine because it means they know what to expect. Ultimately, success means getting to sit back and watch my students be brilliant because they know exactly what to do. I think this prepares them to be good citizens of the world.

12.   Never miss a good opportunity to shut up. Don’t use twenty-five words when ten will do.

13.   Make your expectations clear, concise, and consistent from the get-go.

14.   Ask open-ended questions to get kids talking and thinking about what it is they do. I used to fall into the yes-or-no question trap: “Did you have a good weekend?” “Yes.” End of conversation. Now I know to ask things like, “What was your favrorite part of this weekend?” “Show me what a good audience member looks like. What are you doing with your hands,  your feet, your mouths, your eyes?”

15.   At best, I am a facilitator to create a positive musical experience. That’s my real job; it’s not imparting my grandiose musical wisdom after twenty years of violin study on someone who hasn’t played that long. I want my students playing as much as possible because ultimately, that’s the only way they’re going to get better. Refer to #12.

16.   It takes a village to raise a child, and it takes a village to become a good teacher. We all draw on the vast number of experiences that have made up our collective education. If you think you’re doing this alone, you’re mistaken, because you work at MacPhail.

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