I’ve spent the first 16 years of my career as a traveling instrumental music teacher. I teach elementary instrumental music, and I’m currently split between nine schools in a Title 1 area. My students are excused from their regular classroom to come to band and orchestra for 30 minutes twice a week. As a teacher, I’m constantly working to evolve my instruction practices, but I’ve also worked hard to simplify and improve the logistical side of my job. Any teacher that is faced with a split position knows that the organizational aspect of their job is just as important as curriculum and instruction.
Here are a few things I’ve learned so far.
Moving between multiple buildings every day creates many challenges, but the biggest one for me has been being out of the loop. I’m never in one place very long, so I can’t get to many meetings or serve on school committees. Staying connected to administrators, office staff, classroom teachers, parents, and students is a daunting task sometimes, but when done well, the benefits to student learning far outweigh the extra effort involved.
When planning curriculum and concerts, be sure to spend time defining your communication goals too. I would love it if I could send out my newsletter and know that all interested parties were informed about the great things happening in my program, but that rarely happens. People absorb communication differently; some are better with email, some like a phone call, and some think they need multiple reminders. Each school seems to have their own communication and scheduling protocols, and while it is a pain to try to navigate these, your program will be better off when you do it well.
Social connections are also important. I find that I have stronger relations in the schools where I am able to eat lunch in the staff lounge. It is simple, but it works. Social media can also be a big help with building connections. You may be hesitant to connect to school acquaintances on social media, but it can be the difference between them seeing you as the one who shows up late and leaves early versus an actual human with a crazy schedule. Utilize social media as you are comfortable, but consider broadening your circle to include those colleagues you pass in the hall.
As a “pull-out” teacher, I often found my classes getting canceled, or my teaching spaces being double booked for other activities. In Title 1 schools, the impact seems more profound because of all of the additional services we offer our neediest students. The more effective my communication, the more likely I am to have protected teaching times and resources. Communication works two ways, so be sure to be check calendars and emails regularly so that you can predict when conflicts will arise. Your students will thank you for it!
When I started teaching, I was the only instrumental music teacher in my schools. My mentor was a music teacher, but he was 30 minutes away and was also a traveling teacher. I found that my support network was much more spread out than a teacher who only teaches one school. This makes support harder to track down when questions arise, but it also makes for a more diverse network and better resources.
We all find ourselves buried in work, but it is important to come up for air and work within a learning community. Seek out people who look for solutions instead of problems and approach issues with a positive outlook instead of negativity. Your network does not have to be music professionals, especially if you are the only music teacher for miles. Ask for help, try new methods, and remember to contribute to the good of your network.
A high-quality program speaks for itself. It is your best communication tool and your best networking resource. Word of mouth travels fast after a performance–good or bad. There are many different solutions to scheduling performances when split between multiple schools, but the bottom line is that the finished product needs to shine! Consider your instrumentation and your strong players when programming pieces. You may find that combining some schools will create a more complete sound and is worth the logistical challenges.
Most administrators are not proficient musicians, but they know a good performance when they hear it. Parents are quicker to advocate for a program they believe is beneficial to their child. Students are much easier to recruit to a program that is thriving and exciting! You may only see your students one or two times a week, but they deserve the best program you can give them.
As a traveling teacher, you will find scores of challenges in your job. When your first school scheduled testing during band, your second school had an unannounced fire drill, and your third school is on a field trip, it may be hard to walk into your fourth school with a positive attitude. Just remember, each school is its own little bubble, and they don’t know what else you’ve seen that day. Take a breath, and find a productive way to advocate for your students and their class time.
If you can look past traveling in inclement weather and the other unique obstacles we face, teaching in multiple schools has quite a few benefits. Just think of how many different students you impact! Very few people in your district have the global view that you do. Your position allows you to bring music to your entire community and keep music education a strong part of your school and your district’s curriculum.