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.
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.
Bryson Tarbet is the music educator and blogger behind That Music Teacher.