“In 20 Years, You’ll Laugh about This”
Experienced Teachers Share Their First Job Stories
By Karen Stafford
|OK, the job search is over, and OH MY! Instead of the glorious marching band position you were craving, you have an elementary job in a small school. Or, instead of that wonderful choir, you have grades K-12, EVERYTHING! You don’t have a room. You have to travel. Your principal is a dictator. You’ve been assigned the Student Council or forced to teach girls’ basketball! This, too, shall pass. We, the experienced music teachers of this globe, promise! Check out some of the experiences shared by teachers. It’ll be OK, we promise:-)
I had always known that there was more to life than standing on stage and singing (my husband and I had been employed in Germany singing in opera houses for ten years before returning to the USA). I was searching to fill an emptiness within me, a feeling that I wasn’t reaching my fullest potential. Well, let me tell you, these kids have pushed me daily to reach my fullest potential. I see on a daily basis that what I do makes a difference. I never saw that on stage. After the clapping, blah, blah, blah. Here, the little claps (those that I do on the inside when I see something that matters, some kid “gets it”, that light in the kids’ eyes when they are really moved by the music, pulling off a difficult performance…)these little “bravos” fille my life more than any amount of ovation ever did or could.
And now mine……………..
Not everything was honkey-dorey that year. I had a rough crew of middle school general music students. I’m a highly emotional person, and arguments with my guy set off torrents of tears. One day, I was upset because had had an argument after school. School had been called off early because of sleet and snow. As I rush crying to my car, a snowball flew from nowhere and popped me in the side of the head. I saw one of the “untouchable” kids running off, laughing his silly head off. (Untouchable as meaning his dad wouldn’t have done a thing, and neither would the principal, because of his dad!). Today, of course, I would have probably grabbed the little “angel” (8th grade!) by his ears and worried about the consequences later. But, in my first years of teaching, I was really insecure, not that far removed from a high school student myself.
This small school had the usual very young girls expecting, drinking, a principal who cared more about working out and scheduling ball games than disciplining, and not too much to use to teach elementary (in which I had very little background at the time). The saving grace was my band. However, I decided to seek that brass ring on the merry-go-round and try for a band job, so I didn’t renew my contract. I got married that summer, but no job, no job, no job. Finally, in August, I got a call to interview for a high school/middle school band job, which would also have high school choir. I was second, but a man was chosen instead, a guy I knew. I was frantic. Newly married, with no job. (My husband had obtained a house through the Farmer’s Home Administration. The mortgage doubled when we got married because he lost his subsidy), and frantic. Then, I got a call from the same school again. The guy backed out, so I got the job. When I called my friend later, he told me he had prayed about it, and something didn’t feel right. I figured that’s cause it was really meant for me:-)
I should have stayed with the first job. I had a batch of high school senior football players that were in my choir in desperation for their fine arts credit. One’s mother was the head cook, and you did not TOUCH her sons. Once, I had sent him to the office, and she came looking for me, barreling down the hall. They couldn’t understand why I couldn’t just give them a grade and pass them. This school had worse drinking problems than the first. Students coming in late, with the principal doing nothing. Students coming to school drunk, with a slap on the wrist (especially if they were athletes). Rough crew all around. And, this small town was very suspicious of “outsiders”, even though they weren’t far from Kansas City.
I was living 40 miles from work and had been driving it to get to 7:30 marching practice. Rough going no matter what, but I was determined to make it. My saving grace in this school was my middle school band, some really sweet kids, and my girls’ chorus. We had a blast. These drinking athletes, however, were another matter. One day, the principal called me into his office and asked if my husband and I had considered moving closer. As a matter of fact, we had, and I told him so. He told me that would help the situation tremendously. The next week, he called me into his office again. Out of the blue, he said there were too many discipline problems, and he suggested I resign. I felt like I had been punched in the stomach. I had very, very little support from him, then one week he made suggestions to make my job better, then the next he all but fired me. Plus, the references they left in my placement file made it impossible to get a high school job anymore. I finally used my “it’s who you know” resource, a very good friend of ours who was high up in the education department at the college to look at my placement papers. (All my references were confidential). At his suggestion, I had the references from the second school pulled. (I should have listened to my friend’s prayer answer and made it mine, too!)
This principal did me a favor, however. I got mad.I worked at a habilitation center for a while and learned the very severe side of life with extremely mentally handicapped residents. (I had to leave when I got smacked in the jaw by a resident’s head when she head-butted me).I subbed for a while and learned how to discipline on my feet in a short amount of time. I got a real estate license and learned to either be assertive and conversational, or starve (I learned to make a lot of friends, but I was never good at closing the deal because I felt guilty about asking people to spend more money than I ever could!) I learned how much I loved teaching and how it was still my calling. I learned how to be patient. And, I learned how much fun elementary music was. After three years, we moved near St. Louis, and I got a part-time job teaching elementary music. I loved it, but once again, like a dope, I didn’t renew my contract after my second year, hoping to catch the brass ring, this time, in a suburban St. Louis district that was the Holy Grail of school districts at the time for my area. Whoops! Another three years subbing, then I got a part-time job teaching elementary at the district for which I teach currently. And, I’m happy. After a year, I got full-time. Sure, I got shuffled to other schools in the district. Sure, there are problems. But, from my past, I’ve learned about the old proverb to not look a gift horse in the mouth. I’m in my eighth year here and love it. I can still work with high school kids (the ones who really WANT to learn), through lessons and through a community youth theatre group I helped found.
So, if your first job is less than ideal, don’t despair. Build that reference base. Unless you’re truly miserable, try to last 2-3 years to show stability. It does get better. If you are truly meant for education, your brass ring will appear.