The job of a music teacher can be overwhelming with so many activities to juggle. As we begin a new school year, it’s the ideal time to reevaluate your responsibilities and make a plan for workload management.
Then, you can be at the top of your game professionally while maintaining your personal life.
I teach winds and percussion full-time at Metea Valley (Illinois) High School, including directing the bands and symphony orchestra. I also teach graduate-level professional development classes at VanderCook College of Music in Chicago. I perform professionally as a percussionist, and I play music at my church. I’ve been married for 15 years and have five children, ages 2 to 11. I also finished my first marathon this year!
I volunteer as much as I can, having served on the board of two not-for-profit music organizations. I am an educational consultant for the Music Achievement Council and a representative-elect for the Illinois Music Education Association.
People constantly ask me, “Glen, how do you do it all? With five kids, high school band, part-time college, how do you find time for all of that?”
I usually reply, “I’m sure you are just as busy as me!”
In the 18 years that I’ve been teaching, I have figured out that the secret to work-life balance is planning. Plan your tasks, workload and personal time, and stick to it. Here are some processes I use, so I don’t feel overwhelmed.
Paperwork drove me crazy because I tried to get through it all the same day. I would get frustrated because I couldn’t get it all done. Now I use a desk pile system called the “7-7-7.”
Gather all of your assignments, bills and receipts, printed out emails and lesson-planning documents. Then separate them into three piles.
The first pile is work that must be done in the next 7 minutes. Realistically, I get through this pile during my 45-minute planning period. The items in the second pile must be addressed in 7 hours. The third pile are the things that must be done in 7 days. Rebalance these piles daily, so that you always know what must be done and when.
I never take home paperwork — ever. If you leave things at school, you will become more efficient while you are at work.
Another way to simplify your life is to use an email management system called “zero inbox.” Once you open a message from your inbox, you reply immediately, or you put it in the trash or an action folder. Realistically, my inbox will look great for a few weeks, and then I need to spend 20 minutes cleaning it up again.
I used to think that once I mastered all of my work-related stuff, then I could solely focus on the other things in my life. Wrong!
By planning time for personal activities, I found that sharing those experiences helps me explain ideas from different perspectives, enriching class discussions and student relationships. For example, I told my students about my marathon training, and they were a huge motivation throughout the process.
I realistically can’t do everything, so I have had to give things up from time to time. When I was serving as a board member for two not-for-profits, I realized that I only had time for one. I decided to give up the position of website designer for ARTSpeaks because it was not as purposeful as the position I had with the Alyssa Alvin Foundation for Hope, where I serve as an educational consultant.
The music department staff at Metea Valley doesn’t have planning time built into our daily schedule. So we decided to meet every week for 30 minutes at 6:45 a.m., which has saved us many hours of chaos. We actually solve a lot of problems during these weekly meetings because we know who is doing what and who is leading particular events or projects.
The more classes, seminars and conventions I attend or books that I read, the more motivated I am. Consider starting a master’s degree or taking a professional development class at a nearby college or online. Online classes are convenient because there is no travel time, and you can connect with teachers and classmates across your state and the entire country.
In my continuing education, I have met others with whom I share ideas, successes and failures in the classroom and in my life. This networking is so important!
This article originally appeared in the 2018 V2 issue of Yamaha SupportED. To see more back issues, find out about Yamaha resources for music educators, or sign up to be notified when the next issue is available, click here.