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Trial by Fire: Year One of Teaching with Erin Whited

Oct 25, 2022

It’s both an exciting and challenging time to be a new teacher. But Erin Whited is up to the challenge.

Last year was Whited’s first, acting as director of bands at Ardmore High School. In that first year, she was able to experience student travel right off the bat with a trip to Universal Orlando and NASCAR’s Daytona 500 Mass Band Performance.

The trip—which took place in February 2022—had already been planned with Super Holiday Tours before she joined at Ardmore, but Whited says Super Holiday made the experience easy and as stress-free as can be.

This year, Whited has moved with her husband to teach at Trinity Preparatory School in Winter Park, Florida. While quite sad to be leaving the very welcoming Ardmore community, she’s excited for the new opportunities as well. To get the perspective of a new teacher in today’s world, we talked with Whited about her time both in the classroom (well, band room) and on the road.

What big lessons did you take away from your first year of teaching?

The biggest lesson I took away from my first year of teaching would be to trust your gut. “Gut” refers to not only my education and experiences but my intuition and self-confidence as well. There were so many times this first year where I had something on my plate and I thought, “I know exactly how I need to do this,” but when it came to executing the task, I was so worried that I wasn’t doing something correctly since it was my first time.

I was very worried what others would think or if I was going to be able to uphold the high standard that I was given. I came into my first band director teaching job after a line of successful older directors. I was the first female and by far the youngest band director my school had in years. There was a high standard of excellence expected and I knew I was capable of leading a phenomenal program, but it caused me to put a lot of pressure on myself. But as long as the kids are having a great time and learning, I am doing my job! I was able to thoroughly enjoy teaching and making music with them once I adopted that mindset.

Beginning teaching during COVID must’ve been extra challenging. Could you talk about how you’ve handled the stress?

Taking care of my mental health was difficult. Many of my struggles I felt I couldn’t even voice because so many teachers have been dealing with post-COVID behaviors longer than I have. I labeled many of my stressors as just part of the “first year experience” and that I would get over them, but it was very difficult. I didn’t feel like I had earned the right to complain about anything because it was my first year.

Thankfully, I was surrounded by a great support system and reaching out was the best thing I could do for my mental health. Learning how to “turn it off” when you go home, and learning what a healthy work-life balance looks like made all the difference for me. I was a first-year teacher, often working 14-hour days (with marching band), planning a wedding and doing long-distance with my fiancé. Many times, I was alone at home with my worries and anxieties. Reaching out and realizing that I wasn’t alone at
all, was the key to surviving my
first year.

Do you have an encouraging story from your first year that you could recount?

In preparation for our parade performance at Universal Studios, I was given a map of the route we would be marching. This route just happened to have a few sharp left turns. As any band director would, I researched and spent hours deciding the best way to set up my students in a block formation so that we could practice the best way to execute those turns. I soon realized that in order to make sharp left turns, the students on the far right side of the block would be required to take HUGE steps in order to keep our lines straight and look good while marching. So I had all of my tall, long-legged students stand on the far right, and the short students on the left. We felt very confident in our plan and rehearsed it many times.

Then comes the day of the performance, we are backstage, ready to go, and when they open the gates, the park manager takes us a different direction. This means, suddenly, there are no sharp left turns… only RIGHT TURNS. By the time I realize what is happening, the students are already marching and playing Bruno Mars’ “Finesse” and they sound great. But we come up to those turns and all of my short-legged students are having to HAUL IT to keep up with the band! At the end of the parade, we were all in tears laughing about how things had gotten changed. It just happens with band, and when you have a group of students who will go with the flow, it makes all the difference.

How did having Super Holiday Tours on the ground there with you help?

That was so helpful, having someone there. I had an administrator with me if I needed, but I didn’t even need to use him because Casey Cole was there to help me every step of the way. He was really great at almost giving me a script, and being like, “Hey, this is what we’re doing.” And then I’d step in front of the band and be like, “Hey, this is what we’re doing.” Having him there with me for the whole trip just put my mind at ease.

And what are you looking forward to in the 2022-23 school year?

I am looking forward to many things this upcoming year! I am in a new state, with a new school system, and I am excited for the opportunities to learn about the area and to get to know my band students! My goal this year is to pour into them and to ignite a passion for music. I would love to see the program grow and begin a new recruiting process for next year. I also want to travel with them! Having students travel to perform is some of the best recruiting and retention you can do for a band program, and I want my new students to be exposed to all of the experiences that are available to them in this musically cultured area of Florida!

This story originally appeared in Teach & Travel’s Sept. 22 issue.