by Karen Stafford

One of my favorite little “clippings” found in the teachers’ lounge is a cartoon of a very frazzled woman with hair going all over the place. The caption: “I have one nerve left, and you’re getting on it!” Raise your hand if you identify…………

The parent who’s raising heck because her precious child didn’t get the lead……..the classroom teacher who threw a dental song at you at the last minute to teach the kids to sing for the visiting dentist………..the parent who scheduled two 30-minute music performances for Grandparent’s Day, then let you know a week ahead of time…..the district administrators that decided to eliminate your job or or building…the car that broke down and costs a month’s salary to fix….your child, who tells you an hour beforehand that she needs a diorama for school….shall I go on?

Stress……..we all have it, we all experience it, some more than others. Teaching is stressful enough, what with government regulations, paperwork, and just generally dealing with different and strange personalities at times. Music teaching can be abundantly stressful. We feel we’re constantly having to justify ourselves and our area. We feel that people expect us to be automatic performers at a minute’s notice. We might be expected to put on a grand show within a week, then get the flack if it’s not flawless. Then, being teachers on teachers’ salaries, we might have to deal with the extra side job just to have a decent standard of living. And, since many of us are married, have kids, or both, we have to deal with THOSE personalities when we get home, at at time when all we want to do is vegetate and pretend no one exists.

The article this month deals with handling stress, both at the time you experience it, as well as how to avoid having quite so much in the future. But, at the start, since chances are you have some of this tension going on right now, how can you relax and ease it? Doesn’t do any good to tell you how to avoid it once the stressful situation happens. Here are some suggestions on dealing with what you have right now:

  • Take a bath. Lock the door, put up a Do Not Disturb sign, light a candle, put on New Age music, add the bubbles, turn out the lights, and just sink.
  • Take a walk. Ask a neighbor to watch your kids for 15 minutes if you can (if they’re young).
  • Make your own kids take the bus home if you would beat them home that way and just enjoy the quiet. Keep the TV off.
  • During your plan time, shut the door and turn out the light and pretend you’re not there.
  • Allow yourself 5 pieces of dark, delectable chocolate. Don’t wolf them down, but savor them. SLOWWWLLY.
  • Find a good Internet teacher’s chat room, bulletin board, or e-mail list to belong. (My personal favorite? Music K-8 list.)
  • Don’t ignore your spiritual side. Pray, read your Bible, meditate…
  • Be honest. Tell the people who are demanding your time “I will listen to you, but now’s not a good time. I feel like I’m on overload. Can you talk to me in 15-20 minutes so I can give you my undivided attention?”
  • Delegate. If the day has just been too much, tell your kids that if they want clean clothes, they’ll just have to do a load. Ask your spouse to help with the dishes or to cook.
  • Lose yourself in idiotic, uneducational TV.
  • If you have activity after activity after activity at school, take a personal day on the first “down” day. And, DON’T use it to do housework!
  • If there just isn’t time to take a personal day, have a puzzle pages day for the classes who aren’t performing. Combine classes to have extra free time. (This actually works great for me during performance rehearsals because I combine classes anyway.)
  • Choose one Saturday a month just to sleep in.

What NOT to do……….

  • Yell at your kids for something that stressed you out at school. (Easier said than done, I know!)
  • Give in to road rage
  • Overeat
  • Smoke or drink
  • Yell at the person who got on your last nerve
  • Let yourself go in the grooming department
  • Let your house go to pot (although life will not come to an end if you don’t get your bed made a couple days a week)
  • Go on a shopping spree with no money in your bank account

Now, that we know how to handle the stress we already have, what can we do to eliminate any future stress? Unfortunately, we can’t eliminate all of it. If we didn’t have a little bit of stress, seriously, we wouldn’t be motivated to keep going-to keep on our toes. But, we can make it manageable.

  • In performance preparation, try to plan your programs in the summer as much as possible. Make rehearsal tapes so the kids can have something to work on at home, eliminating a possible two or more weeks from your in-school rehearsal schedule.
  • At the beginning of the year, make it clear at the first faculty meeting when your performances are, what you will have the time to do, what your curriculum expectations are for music, and how much time you would need to work up anything additional. You might want to give the teachers a questionnaire of subject areas they would like for you to reinforce. If they don’t give you that questionnaire back within a month, then tell them you need at least two weeks to work in last minute songs on teeth, fire trucks, or whatever. You might also want to let your parent’s group know the same thing to avoid my problem: having two 1/2 hour grandparent’s day programs scheduled 4 days after a major evening program!
  • Delegate, delegate, delegate! Ask the art teacher or a really talented parent to take care of your backdrops. (You should see the music backdrops one artist parent made for me at Christmastime!). Have the students themselves make little things to tack on the walls that go with your theme. Send out notes telling students and teachers what props and costumes you need and utilize what other people already have.
  • Videotape yourself doing the choreography, then run that during your rehearsals so you’re free to walk around the class and help individuals.
  • Do little chores as they come up whenever possible.
  • Keep a binder of all school handouts from the administration. Keep an extra binder of outdated handouts just in case.
  • Enter your grades every day instead of at the end of the quarter.
  • Make a checklist chart for class participation. Don’t make notes unless a student needs to be documented for some reason, then do document. Keep a clipboard hanging on a magnetic hook off of your board for this purpose.
  • If certain students need regular behavior reports, duplicate a smiley face-frowny face note to circle.
  • If you’re a traveling teacher and get access to computers, invest in a music cataloging program (such as those offered by RCI software) to have loaded at each school. You might need to take a week of your summer cataloging everything, but once it’s cataloged, you’ll know what resources you have, what objectives they cover, and where you’re keeping them.
  • If the stress is related to you needing to find a new job, start your networking right now. Consider all your options, and take advantage teacher-job networking via the Internet.
  • On discipline issues, setting your expectations right away and following through on consequences will take care of MOST problems (check next month on creative ways to eliminate unique problems). Some schools work out time-out areas between classes. So, if Johnny Neckpain is just giving you fits, you can send him to time-out in the library, if you’ve prearranged it with the teacher, and she can do the same. Sometimes, it’s best to remove the problem so you can give attention to your other students, then deal with the child one-on-one.
  • If you feel you’ll be dealing with an irate parent, don’t go in alone. If a parent confronts you without making an appointment, tell them plainly that discussing their child while they’re angry is not best, and that you want to schedule a time when you can both talk calmly.
  • On the homefront, delegate the housework!
  • Pay your bills on time. Expect the best, but plan for less than that so when your transmission blows, you’ll be ready. If you run into trouble, be honest and upfront with your creditors and see what you can work out.
  • Don’t be afraid to bring in an intermediary for problems that seem overwhelming. Get credit counseling, see a counselor, find an administrator who’ll back you up. Don’t stop at the first roadblock.
  • If problems seem insurmountable, don’t give up. You might need to give yourself about 8 hours to think calmly and coolly before deciding on a solution. Never try to make important decisions about unexpected problems alone.
  • Join a teacher’s organization for support.
  • Keep things organized so you can have them, and keep papers at least 3 years.
  • If there’s something you can give up without jeopardizing your career or family life, do it. Sacrifice a committee or civic organization. Ask the parents of your children’s friends to carpool so you don’t have to drive your kids around all the time yourself.
  • Learn to say “No” when someone else can do the job, again without sacrificing your career or family.
  • When in doubt when asked to do something, tell them you need to think about it for one day. Then, seriously analyze your situation. Just because something sounds really neat doesn’t mean you can say “Yes” when you’ve already committed yourself to something else.
  • Keep things in perspective. In one week, the transmission on our van went out and another part of our car needed repair. We misplaced the title to our motorcycle when we wanted to trade it in, and our car insurance dropped our representative and we had to scramble to get new coverage. Then, our neighbor’s son hurt himself to the point that he’s now in a coma. This stopped us in our tracks, and made us realize, that no matter how aggravating our situation seemed, nothing could match the agony that our neighbors felt.

To continue on this series on relieving stress, next month’s topic will cover: unconventional ways to discipline unconventional students. If you have any great, successful ideas on ways that you handled discipline when nothing else seemed to work, please send us your contribution by April 25, and thank you!

Good luck with the rest of the year! And, as the kids say “Take a chill pill”.

Thanks to the contributions of Suzanne DeVene and Bruce Richardson