Real Fine Advice for New Teacher Graduates


Hello, everyone, welcome back for another episode, I wanted to do something for our graduates for our new teachers, a little bit of, you know, advice from the old warhorse to the new young guns and hopefully encourage some more people to train up to be Music Educators, because I know we’re a bit short of them where I am. So a little bit of advice for new graduates.

And look I know it’s a little bit daggy, okay. Be warned it’s a lot daggy. I wanted to come up with an acronym. Okay, so I was brainstorming all of the things that I would like to say to new graduates, and then try to lump them into categories, and then try and work, anyway. Look, I’ve done it, I’ve done it. I’ve got a really daggy acronym. I really, so we’re going to get some advice for graduates through Debbie’s daggy acronym.

And the acronym is REAL FINE. Okay, could have been better, but that’s the best I could do with words that I had to rearrange. Okay. Now, some of it is in order of importance. Some of it, however, is just in the order it works for the word I wanted.

About ‘Read the Episode’: Sometimes, we would rather skim visually than listen to a podcast! That’s a great way to learn too! The transcript of episode 057 of The Crescendo Music Education Podcast is below.

Introducing the REAL FINE Advice for Graduates

So let’s start. Here we go. Advice for graduates REAL FINE.

R – Relationships are the most important thing!

So the R, and the R had to be first, it’s about Relationships. And I think anybody listening would agree with me the most important thing about this incredible job we do, the most important thing is relationships. It’s relationships with you and your students. But of course, don’t forget your fellow teachers, at your school, or your colleagues, admin, families.

Remember that other staff members, they have a different role to us, they’re not going to necessarily understand exactly the stresses and expectations. So make sure you also have good relationships with some other music teachers. But really, at the beginning, it’s to do with relationships with you and your students. It’s the most important thing, our relationships.

E – Experiment

So the E for REAL, I’ve sort of lumped under experiment, but under that I’ve got learn constantly, try new things. By all means try new things, but keep what works. Don’t just go, Oh, this is a good activity. I’ll do this, oh, next week, let’s do this activity. Let’s do this. And just jump from activity to activity think that was fun, that was engaging. No you do have to keep what works and build upon what works but experiment and learn constantly.

I think you need, during your experimenting, to keep sound pedagogy in mind. And I think that if you haven’t received some good pedagogical training in your pre-service, that’s what I would do now. Go and get some good pedagogical training because that will underpin everything you do. The how to teach is so important. So you keep in mind, how you’re teaching, why you’re teaching, how you’re teaching, and then try a whole lot of other things. Have a little bit of fun with it.

Remember, it’s good to be out of your comfort zone. That’s actually when you learn and if you stay in this field of education, and music education, you will get very used to being out of your comfort zone, you will get used to constantly learning because that will be your normal state, mental state for the rest of your career. So get used to it, get out of your comfort zone and like it out there. Alright, so E that’s for experiment, I’ve covered a few things under that one.

A – Ask (for help)

A in REAL is Ask for help. Please ask for help, get a mentor or two. Someone may be on your staff that can help you with your school and those things. Definitely find another music teacher that you can email and talk to, might be someone with more experience. Or also you could have a colleague that’s just a couple of steps ahead of you or even in about the same place that you can email and go – I just had the worst lesson with my grade sixes, I don’t know how I’m going to engage them. How do I get them to be quiet?

How do I blah blah, you need someone to ask ask questions of and to have a safe place to just talk about how you think you went that day and someone that will be non judgmental and help you. Because you’re going to have to ask quite a lot of questions. And you’re going to need to ask for help. That’s just the fact. Okay, your whole career, you will be asking for help. So set it up in a nice positive way. So that’s A for Ask.

L – Look (After Yourself)

The L, super important is Look after yourself, I’m talking about self care, mental health, you know, voice care, all of those things, keeping fit, well, active, get enough sleep, get enough water. Oh, heavens, I mean, you need it, you really do need a lot of water, excuse me having a sip. You need to be hydrated, just really look after yourself, you’re not going to cope if you’re not looking after yourself.

I have a night, where I don’t sleep terribly well. I’m braced for the next day, because I just know I won’t have the tolerance, I won’t have the patience, it just won’t go as well. I need to be rested, I need to feel well. So you look after yourself. You know all of those analogies about fitting your oxygen mask before you help someone else. You really do need to look after yourself, or you can’t look after the other kids, the hundreds of kids that you look after, and be prepared.

It’s actually a tough ride. I don’t want to put you off. But this job is a tough ride. But I think you can hang on a lot easier if you’re fit and well. So look after yourself. So that’s the REAL – Relationships, Experiment, Ask and Look. And now we’re up to the FINE because although I did say it was a tough ride, and it’s a hard job, it’s also an amazing job. In fact, it’s REAL FINE.

F – Fun, Flexible

Okay, F is a bit of a double banger. I wanted to do Fun and Flexible. Remind yourself to have some fun, more and more. I’m not going to be too critical of the education system because I want to keep my podcasts nice and positive. But more and more, our children are having less and less fun in the classrooms. It’s more about data collection and assessment and sitting in desks and colouring in bubbles. You know, we need fun and children learn best through fun. So keep your classroom fun. We are in such a privileged position where we can do that, we can have fun while they learn.

And I wanted to sneak in another F in there. No, it’s not what you’re thinking. It’s Flexible. Okay, you’ve got to be flexible. If you’re not, you soon will be, you new graduates because you go in with a perfectly crafted lesson plan. And I’m going to do this and then what do you know there’s a fire drill or little, I want to say little Johnny, I have to get out of the habit of saying little Johnny, a little person in your class has a meltdown because they’ve had a really bad morning at home, you just don’t know what is going to happen.

So you’ve got to be flexible, you’ve got to be ready to turn on a dime, and go, Okay, this one isn’t really working. Let’s do this. So you have got to remind yourself to be flexible. You need those plans, you need to know where you’re going and what you’re doing. But you need to be able to comfortably divert from that path if you need to. So F is for having and being fun and flexible. And remember the fun is for you too, as well as the children. You’ll like this job better if you have more fun.

I – Ignorant

Okay, I in FINE is for Ignorant, do you like this one? I know it doesn’t sound very positive. But it actually is it is okay to be ignorant. In fact, it’s preferable to know that you’re ignorant and to know that there are things you don’t know yet. And you don’t know what you don’t know. Okay, that all sounded very convoluted. I don’t know if you followed that at all.

What I mean is that you don’t know everything when you start. You won’t know everything when you finish your career. I think it’s important to come to terms with the fact that you don’t know things and that you’re learning and that you’re doing your best with what you know now. When I look back at some of the things that I did, some of the activities, some of the processes, some of the classroom management strategies, some of the things I did, I would never do now that I know different. I know other things I know more, I’ve changed, the children are different, I’m different.

So I think it’s okay to not know everything. And I think it’s in fact necessary to recognise that you don’t know everything. You may have graduated top of your class and your pracs were amazing. But there’s still a lot you don’t know. There’s still a lot I don’t know, I am learning every single day and I am loving the process. And I am absolutely delighted to be able to say wholeheartedly, I do not know so much. There is so much that I need to learn and I am learning every day. I think I am joyous about, this really sounds wrong. I mean I’m joyous about my ignorance. But it’s sort of true, I am really happy that I acknowledged my ignorance.

I tell you why I think I say that, I have known a few people, not too many, but a few people in my journey that don’t acknowledge that they have a level of ignorance, that there’s not things they don’t know, they certainly come across as people who know everything. And I have a firm belief that if you decide, you know everything there is to know about teaching, about your situation and about your children. I think that’s time for you to leave the profession, oh that’s a bit harsh, isn’t it? But it is true. If you think you know, everything. Well, for a start, nobody cares.

So you don’t know everything. But if you think you do, then you’ve stopped learning yourself, you’ve stopped growing, you’ve stopped taking into account the children that are in front of you, you have stopped this essential element of being a good teacher. So acknowledge and revel in your ignorance and revel in your growth. So every day, little things will change and improve and that is alright. That it’s the way it’s supposed to be. So I is for Ignorant. Boy, I had a ramble didn’t I.

N – Network

Okay, N, N is so important. I wanted N right up the top. But, you know, REAL FINE works so well that N had to go down near the bottom, but mark my words, it’s probably, or maybe under relationships, it’s the most important thing. So it’s either top or second. N is for Network, you must, must, must develop a network, you are such an island in this music teaching job, you’re by yourself in so many ways. And your job is quite unique in a whole school staff.

You might be lucky, there might be a couple of teachers at your school if you’re at a really big school, but most of us are on our little lonesome. So you need a network, you need to share with a network, you need to learn from others within your network. So who? What is your network, it just depends completely on where you live, the way you teach.

It could be anything from a really valuable Facebook group, which by the way, come and join the Crescendo community, that little group is really wonderful. The way that we support each other, the advice, it’s amazing. So find the Crescendo community on Facebook, anyway. But if it’s not that one, find another Facebook group or a few Facebook groups. If you’re not a Facebook person, hop onto Insta.

There’s lots of ideas to share and stop commenting and sharing with other people on that network. LinkedIn is another one. It’s a little more less teacher ideas, activities. It’s a little more support in a more professional context. But why not? Why not hook up there on LinkedIn as well. So use your social platforms for networks. But it doesn’t have to be that, you could form a little group and have some regular zooms. They don’t even have to live in your city or your town. Wow.

If there are music teachers near you, you might be able to form a little network, a little cluster of schools in your area and you meet once a term, four times a year. And even if all you do is share one activity each and just talk about your jobs, it is so valuable. So do some in person networking, absolutely like that form a little cluster. Go to PD or PL, whatever you’d like to call it, professional development, professional learning, whatever, do it, go to live workshops, now live workshops are back, you go to live workshops, you sing, you play, you talk, the lunch chat is just as valuable as those amazing presenters that share so willingly.

So please go to live workshops, you may still be working out the core of your philosophy of teaching, I would thoroughly recommend your local Kodaly workshops. But there are some amazing Orff workshops and Dalcroze workshops, some other music bodies, whatever, go to everything until you find your people. Just, it goes back to the E doesn’t it, experiment, learn constantly. So go to workshops.

What about webinars? Oh my heavens, there is a plethora of webinars now . You can do a webinar on almost anything and start to find people that you can consider part of your network, you will need to do that to sustain you through this career. For me, it has been the Kodaly Association, I’m on the Kodaly committee for my state. And it’s also been Crescendo, which of course, I’ve basically created myself, but I have a network of colleagues and friends that I rely on still, when I need advice, or I need to unload to someone who can understand.

Believe me, you’ll need your network. So make your network, create your network, begin to create your network. Alright, so that’s the N for FINE.

E – Extra

All right. Are you ready for the E? Okay. This is where I might have just taken a little bit of artistic license. Are you ready for the E it’s called Extra. Oh, I know. But there were just too many things. So I just put them all in and I called them extra. So naughty. All right, are you ready, this was just the things that I thought of that I wanted to put in there. And I couldn’t, I couldn’t fit it into REAL FINE. So here we go extra. Are you ready?

Anything else like being really organised, be really proactive, rather than reactive. Get as many of your ducks in a row as you can, before you step in front of those kids. It will mean working in your holidays, making sure you’re you know, unit plans and your outlines and all that stuff are done. But just do as much as you can before you get in front of those children. Okay, the more organised you are, before you step in, just the more relaxed you will be the more you can do all of these other things that I’ve mentioned, you can relax more and form the relationships. You can experiment. You can look after yourself more, you can have more fun, you can be more flexible. So get organised.

So that’s you and your classroom. Think about it. If you’re using pencils, where are they going to be stored? Are they easy to access? Are the children bringing their own? My advice, no, everything you want have in your room. But anyway, that’s another episode. We’ll talk about that later. So be organised in the room, as well as your planning and your professional stuff.

Be creative. I guess that’s comes under the experiment. But if you’re not feeling creative, and especially, I’m speaking to you music teachers, we are creative beings. If you feel you’re not being creative in your craft as a music educator, then you’re not going to get the satisfaction that we crave, I think as music educators, so be creative, be creative in what you do and how you work. Make sure your classroom management and procedures are set up as well as you can, you will certainly learn that as you go along. You know, don’t be too hard on yourself. I’ll go back to I, It’s okay to be ignorant. You’ll learn as you go along. So yes, classroom management and procedures.

And there’s only really two more, don’t forget to smile and laugh. It’s really important. You’ve got to smile and laugh. And the very last thing I want to say before I leave my REAL FINE advice for graduates and new teachers. The last thing I want to say is to remember to be you, like you might come and observe me in my classroom and tell jokes. I tell jokes and do silly things and do funny dances and the kids think I’m really funny. It’s a bit sad because I know grownups don’t think I’m really funny, but the kids find it really funny.

And if you watch that, you might think Oh, does that mean I have to be really funny in my classroom. Well the answer is, no of course you don’t. It depends on you and your personality, you’ve got to be you, you might watch someone who has this.

I know I’ll give you a great example. I will give you a perfect example, the gorgeous Katherine Ruhle. And if you have not heard of the composer, conductor, amazing person, Katherine Ruhle, you will have to go back a few episodes, because I have a couple of episodes where I talked to her. So you need to catch up. If you haven’t, Katherine Ruhle. So I get to watch Katherine Ruhle work three mornings a week in the term. It’s amazing. She is calm, and quiet and serene, and has this beautiful control over the children. And it’s just, it’s amazing. She is amazing.

And I look at her and go, ah, part of me goes I wish I could be like that. But I’m not like that. I’m more bull at a gate. I just have to accept that I’m the bull at that gate loud one. And she’s the serene, amazing, beautiful musician, and neither is better. And the students respond just as well to her as they do to me. Like that’s what makes up the world, isn’t it? So, you just be you. Work out what works for you and your children.

So that is Debbie O’Shea’s advice for graduates or new music teachers. It’s my REAL FINE advice. And I do hope it’s given you a little food for thought, maybe a little giggle and I hope that your music education professional journey is REAL FINE.

Final Thoughts

I appreciate you and all of my colleagues, and hope this episode has been enjoyable and useful. Don’t forget, you’ll find the show notes on I’d love a share, rate or review to help other music educators find this podcast. All I can be is the best version of me. All you can do is be the best you. Until next time, bye.


This podcast is brought to you by Crescendo Music Education connecting supporting and inspiring music educators. In the show notes you’ll find links to Crescendo’s social media platforms. Please connect with me and be part of the Crescendo community. You might consider becoming a Crescendo member, for a low annual fee you can access hundreds of files worksheets, printables workbooks, repeat workshops and webinars and receive great discounts on events. So come and connect with me Debbie O’Shea. See you in the socials.

Just for Laughs

As we know laughter relieves stress. Don’t lose sight of the funny side of life.

I asked my French friend if she likes to play video games.

She said Wii.

Links Mentioned in the Episode:

Crescendo Music Education Podcast

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