December is hectic for Jason Robb, director of bands at Rouse High School in Leander, Texas. He runs two high school holiday concerts, six middle school concerts and a pancake dinner fundraiser for his booster organization.
He also holds student auditions for local band placements, participates in All-Region Band auditions and is involved with Rouse’s lock-in day of fun activities before winter break. Robb has learned, through trial and error, how to schedule events throughout the month without overwhelming his students or himself.
“One year, we had a concert on Thursday, lock-in on Friday and hosted a region band clinic and concert on Saturday,” Robb says. “It was so brutal. We now try and not have any events back-to-back.”
When the end of the year comes into focus, your schedule may be packed as you prepare students for concerts and events. Factor in other school commitments, such as submitting end-of-semester grades, and personal commitments like holiday shopping and entertaining, and you may become overwhelmed and overstressed.
“You come back from Thanksgiving break, and you basically have three to five weeks, and there isn’t that much time to get that stuff done,” Robb says. “As teachers, our job is to inspire these young leaders. If your cup isn’t full, you have nothing to pour into their cups.”
Here’s how to get through the busy month of December with grace.
Figuring out your schedule weeks, months and even an academic year in advance will help things run smoothly.
“I really look at the calendar: How can we be more efficient, get more done without being at work all the time?” Robb says. “Be creative about ways to smush it down. … For example, how can you combine meetings?”
To stay on top of grading, Robb collaborates with his assistant directors, and everyone uses Google Sheets to stay organized.
Jenna Yee, band director at Stiles Middle School in Leander, Texas, inputs grades weekly, including in December, so she doesn’t fall behind.
In December, Yee balances two evening concerts, daytime winter assemblies, performances at the elementary schools, and a Region Band Clinic and Concert on a Friday/Saturday that she chaperones.
Seek assistance at home from relatives or at school from colleagues, students and boosters — even if you’re not accustomed to seeking help.
“As musicians, we’ve been competing since we were little, so we don’t like delegating,” Yee says. “Ask for help, regardless of who you’re asking it from.”
See if your partner can pick up the slack at home when you’ll be busiest, and return the favor when he or she is swamped.
“I feel like it’s a sliding scale,” Robb says. “I’m all in for the family sometimes, and sometimes it slides down, and I’m deep into work. When do I need to work? When do I need to pause and spend a lot of time at home? … It’s all about communicating.”
At O’Fallon (Illinois) Township High School, Dr. Melissa Gustafson-Hinds, director of bands and music department chair, relies on her assistant band director and an administrative assistant who was recently hired for her booster organization.
“If I didn’t get help, we wouldn’t be as successful as we are,” she says. “It is too much for one person to handle alone — almost impossible.”
If your staff is tapped out, look to volunteers. “It could be a parent or a super-smart student,” Gustafson-Hinds says.
Leading into winter break, Gustafson-Hinds manages several madrigal performances, a joint feeder concert with more than 700 musicians, a choir concert, a band concert, various community events, pep band events, concert band auditions, two district festivals, a parade on Thanksgiving weekend and four boosters meetings.
You may feel like there is always more to do to meet your year-end obligations, whether that means staying late after rehearsals or answering every email in your inbox. Instead, end your workday at a set time, then focus on your personal life.
“Once I started realizing the workflow never stops, you do what you can get to, and then you go home,” Robb says.
Finding work-life balance is essential. “If you are at school, be all in at school. … Do [your tasks] well, so that you don’t have to redo them,” Yee says. “Then, when you’re at home, be home. There will definitely be occasions where a little bleeds through in both directions, but if there is a balance between school and home most of the time, it definitely makes things easier.”
During this busy time, you may not have as much time to prepare for the holidays as you’d like. But you can check everything off your list without compromising.
“I do almost all my shopping online. At this point, our Christmases are sponsored by Amazon Prime,” Yee says with a laugh. “When it comes to cooking and hosting, … my husband is more of a cook than I am. He deals with the food; I deal with the presents. It’s the delegation thing.”
Yee’s husband, Christopher, copes with his own busy work schedule as associate director of bands at Cedar Park (Texas) High School.
With so many obligations, you might be tempted to skip me-time to ensure that you meet all of your responsibilities. However, finding ways to pamper yourself can help make everything else easier to endure.
“If you’re a teacher, you’re giving year-round, but at the holidays, you’re giving more,” Gustafson-Hinds says. “You have to sometimes be the one [to say], ‘I’ve got to give to myself a little bit.’ [So] maybe I’m going to the gym, or I’m having dinner with friends. It’s scheduling a couple of things for yourself … just to cleanse yourself because we get so immersed in what we do.”
For best results, schedule self-care before you think you’ll need it. Whether you define self-care as daily workouts, reading in bed or getting a luxurious massage, add self-care appointments to your calendar and honor them as you would any other work commitment.
This article originally appeared in the 2019 V4 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.