On Wholeness, Wellness, and Teaching


Alexandra Thrasher

I am sitting in Caribou on a Saturday, contemplating about how to begin this article about fostering wholeness and wellness in my classroom. While I think I’m pretty far from “mastering” the art of being a music teacher and staying well, I have made some pretty big strides in the past few years. It’s important to keep in perspective that I am a young professional who loves her job with a small family (just me, my music teacher husband and a few plants, hopefully a golden retriever down the road). I am able to dedicate a lot of time to my job right now, but it’s not something that I will always do, or even want to do.

I received my M.M. in Music Education at Michigan State University this past summer. After dedicating three summers to learning more about how to be an awesome music teacher, I am ready to slow down on learning about music education and I’m ready to learn a little more about who I am outside of my career. I created a presentation a couple of years ago about work-life balance in relation to music educators and music education. While my findings were not surprising to me, they were somewhat challenging to swallow.

Many music educators look at “work-life balance” as bimodal. That’s not necessarily true, as there are many facets to our lives. Sometimes things come up where we need to invest our  time and energy into fostering relationships with loved ones outside of school; other times we need to put time and energy into our classrooms and students. Many students can see right through their teachers. They can see when we are tired, when we are frustrated, when we are sad. They can also see when we are joyful, full of love, and optimism. The power of positivity and optimism is quite profound.

Many people say, “You have to take care of yourself before you can take care of others.” One year ago I was struggling a lot at school, and it resulted in stress outside of school that I did not anticipate. I was gaining weight, unhappy, unmotivated, easily frustrated by students, and I was at the point where I would openly cry at school. I still remember a conversation that I had with my sister about a student. I was so upset. I was reacting to this student’s attitude instead of slowing down and assessing the situation. I was physically carrying that student’s weight on my shoulders. My sister asked, “How old is this kid?” I said, “15 or so.” She said, “Zan, he’s a kid. You have to leave that at school.” That really put it into perspective for me. They are the kids. We are the adults. After that conversation, I made some goal for myself that have changed my life for the better:

  1. Be less reactive. Kids will often react to situations without thinking. It’s my job to be emotionally stable enough to support them (and myself) calmly and with wisdom.
  2. Create clear boundaries. For me, this usually means saying “no”. Sometimes I have to say “no” to students, parents, teachers, administrators, etc., which is difficult for me.  My therapist reminds me that I do not have to explain myself to anyone when I say “no.” I have every right to leave at the end of my contract day, and I do leave at that time most days. I’m often going to work out, or teach a yoga class, or maybe go to Target. It doesn’t really matter why I’m leaving. Sometimes you just need to go home.
  3. Be a part of your school community. When you feel love and support at your school, it’s a welcoming, happy place to be. I have three colleagues (non-music teacher colleagues, by the way) who I work out with on Tuesdays and Thursdays after school. Ask a colleague to go on a walk with you, or try attending a basketball game every once in a while. This goal might seem to conflict with number two, but it really is all about balance.
  4. Don’t define yourself strictly by your work. It’s okay to love your job – most of us in this profession do! But you are so much more than your job. One of my professors at Michigan State University used to tell us to make sure we had someone in our lives who cared more for us than we cared for our job. It could be a significant other, a parent, a brother, a sister, or even a pet –  it doesn’t have to be a person!
  5. Take care of yourself. I read an article recently about self-care and how it isn’t always bubble baths and massages. Sometimes it’s having a kale shake for breakfast instead of a doughnut, sometimes it’s an amazing work out with a friend. Or maybe it’s going to therapy and not being afraid to take that first step towards emotional stability. Let’s be real, sometimes it is actually having that doughnut instead of the kale shake.

Here I am, one year later, loads happier (and even 10 pounds lighter!). I teach a yoga class once a week, eat awesome food, hang out with my family and friends, go to bed at 8:00 or 9:00 most nights, read books, and teach incredible young musicians about music.

Best wishes in your journey to staying well this winter! Namaste.