If you are about to face a group of middle school or high school chorus students in the upcoming school year who have been taught by a teacher they absolutely adored, you may be feeling like you’ve just been hired to replace
It is so scary.
Can you imagine replacing Robert Shaw?!?
In my very first job, I was hired to replace a beloved teacher, and I remember a student saying out loud in class one day while I was teaching (bombing)… “You need to call Ms. Yokley up and ask her how to do this.”
Ok…In that single moment, after having just completed 6 straight years of higher education, including obtaining a Master’s degree in Music, I knew lots about theory, music history and art song, but I had no idea how to actually teach middle school children, and I’ve just replaced a legend.
Whether it is your first year or your twenty-first year teaching, it is hard to replace a legend.
In this post, I want to share what I learned during the two times I replaced legends in the choral classroom.
Here they are:
1) If possible, form a relationship with the teacher you are replacing.
Schedule a meeting with the teacher before you take over the program. Ask questions about the program, the children, the administration, the counselors, the parents and anything else that you can think of to ask.
Ask the teacher if it is ok to be in touch during the school year to ask more questions via text, email or phone call. You are likely to have many questions once the year gets going that you could not have anticipated, so having continued contact with the teacher you replaced is very helpful.
The children often find out that you and the former teacher have been in touch, and that can really help. It means that you value what went on before you came, and that is very important in terms of helping them accept you in this new position.
2) Either formally or informally, as early in the year as possible, sit down with key upperclassmen to ask questions about what they’ve enjoyed about their time in chorus under the previous leadership.
Taking the time to learn about their experiences goes a long way toward building relationships that will help you as you move through the year.
I’ve learned so much from the two legends that I replaced. By following suggestions #1 and #2. I learned new ways to do things, new songs to teach, new classroom management ideas and so much more.
3) Repeat #2 with key parents.
Parents are the backbone of my program. I couldn’t teach my 342 children without their support. Show that you value them by taking the time to create channels of communication. I reach out to them early in the year via email and using Remind.com to share what is going on in our classroom.
I take the time to learn what their areas of expertise are, and I put the willing volunteers to use. From helping with my spring musical to organizing and maintaining my chorus folders and choral library, parents save me enormous amounts of time that allows me to give more time to what I was hired to do: teach.
Building relationships with the parents will help you in your classroom, and it will help build trust as you make the transition as the new teacher in this legendary program.
4) Respect tradition.
Some of the traditions the community has may seem completely silly to you, but in your first year there, respect as many of those traditions as you can while being true to yourself and your own future vision for the program. It can be quite a delicate balancing act. Eventually, you will create your own traditions, but if you walk in and refuse to honor the most important ones, you will lose support.
5) Be humble and don’t take anything personally.
You are going to meet resistance because you are not
Mr. or Ms. _________. You can’t change it, so just accept it during that first year.
Your rehearsal techniques will not be the same. They may rebel against your new ideas. Don’t take it personally.
6) The students in the lowest grade level you teach are yours.
They have no experience with the previous teacher. While some of them may have had siblings who were taught by the previous teacher, essentially, they are yours. Word of mouth is not the same as true experience. So, if you who that you care about the students, and your teaching skills are solid, their daily positive experience in your room will soon wipe away what they are hearing from their older siblings. The youngest students who never had the previous teacher are more pliable. You can treat them as yours from day 1. Enjoy your time with them because, at times, you will be very frustrated with the older children who question you, your techniques and your vision.
7) Believe in yourself and in your long-term goals for the program.
With each year that passes, the program becomes yours.
When you are replacing a legend within a school community, it is going to be difficult, and there is no way around it. Parents, and even faculty and administration may also challenge your ideas. You may lose some students. You may get phone calls.
It is going to take time. Be patient. You will build your own legacy in time.
The second time I replaced a legend, I had been teaching for a long time, so it was quite difficult for me when I met resistance. Each time, I took a deep breath, and I listened with respect. I asked questions. I made sure that I did not reveal what I was thinking…(i.e…..”I know what I’m doing!!! I’ve taught for XX years…Just let me do it!”).
…And in doing so, I was able to slowly gain the support of the people with the biggest concerns.
Your new school community members don’t care what you’ve done before. It means very little to them in their daily experience with you as their current teacher. Mostly, they care about what you are doing now.
Remember: They just want the program to be great! We should be thrilled they care enough to speak up!
Hope that helps some of you who are facing what feels daunting at the moment!
Hang in there!