For better or for worse, being a traveling teacher is a reality for a large percentage of music teachers, especially those at the elementary level. While I can vouch that there are definitely advantages and disadvantages of sharing your time between multiple schools, I can also vouch that you need to set some specific procedures for yourself so that you don’t go crazy.
I got my first taste of being a traveling teacher when I was doing my student teaching placement. In this situation, I spent 4 days of the week at one elementary school and the remaining day at another. This situation really made me aware of the differences between the schools, and I had to make sure I was being aware of these differences when I did my planning. I quickly found out that one lesson would not fit both schools.
When I took my current job, I really wanted to make sure that I made an effort to balance both schools. I knew that since I didn’t have any planning periods or lunch at the middle school, it would be easy for me to allow this school to be the other. While I still have work to go to make sure I am balancing both schools, I think I am better off because I recognized how easy it would be to focus on one more than the other.
When it comes to keeping your sanity as a traveling music teacher, my first piece of advice would be to make sure you are always one step ahead of everything. It can be easy to mess up the rotations between multiple buildings, or to leave an instrument or manipulative at a different building on a day you need it. To keep these things from happening too often, I have a few things to share that keep me organized:
1. Stay Ahead on Plans: Especially if you are juggling additional preps between multiple buildings, it can be easy to fall behind on planning. I’ve found myself a couple of times without a finished plan due to a change in schedule or a mistake in the rotation. To make sure that I am prepared in case something like this happens, I try to stay one or two lessons ahead of where the kids are. This also lets me understand my macro-sequence a little better as well!
2. Digitize EVERYTHING: I’m going to start this one with a disclaimer: ALWAYS HAVE A BACKUP IN CASE TECHNOLOGY BREAKS.
But I carry very little paper copies of anything between buildings. My class rosters and grade books are on my iPad, my lesson plans are on Google Drive, and any interactive resources or presentations I use are stored in the cloud. This works for me because I do all of my planning, assessing, and resource organization digitally. I keep my Google Drive organized and indexed so I can find anything I need in a moment.
But again: ALWAYS HAVE A BACKUP.
3. If It Can’t Be Digitized, Make TWO: Obviously there are some things that can’t be digitized. Certain manipulatives, flash cards, sub folders, and song props need to be a non-digital resource. For these, I make two of everything. If I truly believe I will use this resource for multiple years, I think it is well worth the time to make multiple so I don’t have to worry about transporting things between buildings.
Obviously there are certain things, like instruments and more expensive things, that you can’t practically have more than one. But by making multiples of things you can, it cuts down on the crazy amount of stuff that needs to be moved from one building to the next.
4. Spread Some Roots: Being a traveler can be hard. As music teachers it is very easy to feel isolated, and that is made even more possible when you don’t have a home base all of the time. My advice to anyone that feels this way would be to spread roots.
When possible, get out of the music room. Eat lunch in the teacher’s lounge, go to staff outings, get to know the people around you. Don’t let being the other be an option! You are just as important of a part of each school you teach in as those who are there all of the time. You make just as much as an impact on the students you teach. Don’t forget that.
As a traveling teacher, we often find ourselves in the middle of a juggling act: multiple schedules, multiple administrators, and multiple classroom spaces. Sometimes it can feel lonely, and others it’s nice to be able to have that change every once in a while. There are definitely ups and downs to being a traveling teacher, but I know that I still make a difference. I just happen to make a difference at two schools rather than one.
Bryson Tarbet is the music educator and blogger behind That Music Teacher.