When We Teachers Walk Through the Door: New Teachers, Take Note

Nicole Lamartine • ChoralCornerJanuary 2024 • January 8, 2024

As I was teaching a conducting lesson, we deconstructed the rehearsal segment the student had led in front of one of my choirs. Tamara said, “I just didn’t feel good, and I had too much going on in my head from all of my classes, and we had a performance that afternoon…and…and…and…” She stopped, looked down, and then so earnestly looked me in the eyes. She asked, “When you are having a bad day, how do you always have energy, and how are you always positive for rehearsals?” I stammered and didn’t know what to say. I had never thought about how I mentally or physically prepare for teaching every day, especially if I don’t feel good, have frustrations, or feel overwhelmed. It is very much in my nature to “suck it up, buttercup.” I had never thought through the preparations and choices I make to put me in a productive and positive mental state. The preparation is most likely different for introverts and extroverts, and I write specifically from an introvert perspective. I am writing this article for Tamara, and I’ve tried to put on paper some of the things that have helped me on those days like I believe she experienced. I hope these ideas might also help you.

Preparation to walk through the door takes practice. I’m not quite sure when I learned that what I bring into the rehearsal is what I get out of it. It takes a lot of dedication to commit to only bringing in what we want. All decisions begin with a choice to accomplish our goal for the day. In making a choice, we begin to practice what we want to be every day, as a person, as a teacher, and as a musician. Choose to practice those qualities.

Preparation can begin in your office, in your car on the way to work, or wherever you can find focus and excitement about what you will accomplish in the class. It can also be as you walk to the classroom, unlock the door, and greet the students. Most importantly, it can also be part of the collective warm-up process for the ensemble. 

It’s Not About You, But Be You
Remember this rehearsal is not about you. As soon as we release self-consciousness, self-judgment, and perceived student judgment, we can be true and honest humans. I believe people respond to that. Our students can see through our trying to be a certain way. Love yourself for what you bring to the rehearsal. You will learn from the students what you can be. There is no need to take yourself so seriously. Yes, hold yourself and your students to high standards, but be you! 

Acknowledge Each Person 
Enter the room with love, not with an agenda or rehearsal plan or emotional baggage from a prior meeting. Love. People feel it when you look into their eyes. It is a gift. Give it freely. A high-five, a handshake, fist bump, or elbow tap acknowledges a true greeting to everyone. 

Breathe Before You Open the Door
Take three deep breaths before opening the door, even when students are asking questions as you take those breaths. 

Live an Example for Students Even if You Feel Goofy
Know you influence someone’s day. Why not choose to make it a great one by living the example? Who cares if you feel goofy? You might make someone smile. 

Allow Your Cup to be Filled Give. Give. Give. 
It is by giving that we receive. When we feel like we are completely drained, physically or emotionally, that’s when it is hardest to give of ourselves in rehearsals. I’ve found that when all I need is to be filled, the door to that fulfillment opens when I give something to my students first—a smile, a moment of laughter, a beautiful moment of music, a realization of text meaning. Be open and allow your own cup to be filled. 

Do Something Amazing Every Day with the People Who ARE There
Make the best music you can with the people in front of you at any given moment. This adage I got from Jonathan Talberg, and it has served me well. There will always be students missing from rehearsal because of illness or an activity or sports conflicts or ditching. We are there to do something amazing every day—for the people who ARE there. 

Create an expectation of energy. Each teacher operates best with the energy that is most fulfilling to them. For me, I feel uncomfortable when there is silence as my students enter the room. I would rather see, experience, and be a part of their interactive energy. If I feel the energy is too low, I bring it up with physical activity or interactive activities like “tell three people why you appreciate them in this choir.” 

Let It Go 
Have a mantra. When you don’t feel like you can make it through the hour, the afternoon, or the day, tell yourself you can because we teachers must be the best possible self for our students. I often find myself with the soundtrack of “Let It Go” from Frozen running through my head. 

Smile, even when you think you can’t. Let it begin on the outside to become true on the inside.


Nicole Lamartine is the teaching professor and Sorensen Director of Choral Music at the University of California Santa Barbara Department of Music.

Reprinted from ChorTeach with permission of ACDA.

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