By Anna Wentlent
Toward the end of April, my friends and family members started commenting on how the school year was “winding down.” “The school year is practically over!” they said. “It must feel so good.” If you are anything like me, your school year did not “wind down.” Rather, it picked up steam after spring vacation and frenetically raced toward the end of June. Field trips, before-school check-ins, after-school rehearsals, school assemblies, end-of-the-year concerts, weekend gigs, graduation ceremonies… For a music teacher, the school year doesn’t wind down until the kids are literally walking out the door on the last day of school.
I love the end of the school year. Yes, it’s unbelievably busy, but busy with the things that made us want to be music teachers in the first place: making music, getting dressed up and putting on a show, entertaining! We teach, practice, and drill all year long, and for me, May and June are the pay-off months. I think that’s one of the reasons that it’s so hard to let go and turn my teacher brain off when the school year does come to an end. Even though I’ve been on summer break for some time now, I still lie awake in bed at night, thinking about random school items: tweaking my seating arrangement for boys in chorus, organizing my choral music library, re-working a particular unit plan for sixth grade general music… Even as I sit here writing this article, I’m considering opening up that unit plan, just to take a look. After going hard for ten months, it’s hard to stop.
But as I mature as a teacher, I am slowly learning the importance of taking a break—both a physical break and a mental break. I want to start this fall with the same level of enthusiasm and energy as my incoming sixth grade students. They are coming to middle school for the first time! Never before have they had a locker, switched classes, chosen electives, or sung in a large chorus. It’s all brand new to them. In order for me to come to school with that same sense of anticipation and newness, I have to purposely step away for a few weeks. Simply saying, “I’m going to relax this summer!” does nothing, when my body and mind are in the habit of going, going, going. Instead, I’ve created five specific action steps for myself, as follows:
I will take time to breathe by:
- Creating a new morning habit. I’m going to get up early, just like during the school year, but I’m going to take my coffee out to my back deck and give myself 30 minutes to relax and read the news before getting ready for the day.
- Leaving my phone, laptop, and other work tools behind. I want to unplug and be present with my family this summer. So when I go to a family reunion next week, I’m planning to leave my phone in my room when I head downstairs in the morning
- Signing-up for a musical activity based on my own personal interests, rather than my school-based needs. I’m finally starting upright bass lessons this summer, after years of talking about it!
- Signing-up for a non-musical activity. I’m going to Montreal and Québec City at the end of the summer, so I’ve started practicing my rusty French language skills using Assimil’s French with Ease I’m trying to make a habit of doing a new lesson every day, just before going to bed.
- Setting aside specific days to do school work. On my calendar, I’ve blocked out time for two short workshops and written “get ready for school” in capital letters across the third week of August. On those days—and only those days—I’ll dive into my plans for the upcoming school year.
If you have other ideas, please list them in the comments section below. Here’s to a relaxing summer and a dynamic 2017-2018 school year!
Anna Wentlent is an educator, music editor, music education author, and piano accompanist. She attended the Crane School of Music at SUNY Potsdam, York St. John College, and Boston University. Over the course of her career, Ms. Wentlent has worked as a choral and classroom music editor for Alfred Music and taught choral and general music in both New York and Massachusetts.