New Roles: Part 2 “Teacher Identity”

In one of my music education classes (more than 15 years ago) our professor told us that we must be musicians first and educators second. I’ve reflected on his statement often through the years. I suppose he meant that we needed to keep up our practice as we continue to teach it to others, but something about his assertion has always bothered me. 

I wanted to be a teacher since I was as young as 6 years old. Like most kids I wanted to be many things as I grew up, astronaut, paleontologist, police officer; but it was always followed by “or a teacher”. By high school I knew I would teach, but debated between math or music. I deeply identified myself as an educator. 

When I think back to the idea of a music teacher being a “musician first” I am reminded of the saying:

I find this very offensive (as do most teachers, I’m sure). I think my professor’s statement bothered me because I identified first as a teacher. Would that make me a weaker music teacher? Was I “those who can’t”?

I was lucky enough to get a contract teaching beginner band and upper elementary music in my first year. Though it was my dream job, I struggled with many things as a new teacher. After hitting rock bottom I was mentored and given a second chance. I learned A LOT and finished the year a much stronger teacher. 

The following year I got a contact teaching elementary music. My view of myself was “Band Teacher”, but I worked hard and learned how to adapt my pedagogy to younger students with different resources and instruments. I was lucky to be hired back full time, as long as I took on the role of classroom teacher as well. For the next couple years I identified as “Band Teacher (who teaches elementary music and Grade 2)”. I was stubbornly set in my identity as a band teacher, not realizing that as I learned more in my new role I was taking on a new identity. 

A few years later my family took a leap and moved across the Rockies to the West Coast where I took on a full time elementary music position. By then I simply identified as “Music Teacher”.  I was surprised that first year that I missed having some time in the “regular” classroom. The next two years I added Math Enrichment and Learning Support to my timetable. I loved the balance of time in the music classes and supporting individuals and small groups in my support roles. Though my job was more diverse, I still felt I was “Music Teacher”. 

Then I got hired by our public school board. Starting over meant putting in my time as a substitute teacher and filling temporary contracts. Having the lowest seniority meant taking any job I was offered. I spent the year in 2 different contracts, both as “Music Teacher teaching grades k-2 because those are the only jobs available right now.” The whole year I was missing my music classes and waiting to see what jobs might be posted. 

At the end of the year I was placed at an incredible school where I taught in a K/1/2 class one day per week and spent the remaining 4 days as a Resource Teacher. I found the new role of supporting many teachers and students to be challenging and fulfilling. There are many parallels to the role of music teacher, which I will write about in another post. Surprisingly I realized that I did not miss my music classes. By the end of the year I had changed my identity. 

I now see myself as an “Educator”.  I think I always have been an educator first. I want to see my students first, not the subject I teach. I want to adapt for their needs first. I want to find out where they are and help them move forward. I want to teach kids first, content (music or otherwise) second. 

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