A little history…
I grew up in a small town, Montrose, MI to be exact. My graduating class I believe was around 125 kids. I was not part of any vocal program at school until my senior year when my little high school tried to start a choir. I say ‘tried’ to be generous to those of us who hung in there and made a go of it.
I then went to Greenville College in Greenville, IL. I wanted to be an elementary teacher. Honestly…school was all I knew and I was pretty good at it. Getting good grades was a piece of cake for me and so I figured with the schedule and my general ability to do well in school it would be a good fit. Honestly…I don’t remember having many conversations about other choices. I don’t think I really considered all of the options that I could’ve pursued…that being said, it worked.
In my sophomore year I switched to Music Education, simply because of the encouragement I received as a piano student. Miss Noble was one of the few people in the world who seemed to notice me and she thought that I had what it took to be a music teacher. I changed because simply put…she believed in me. That reality is astounding to me as I look back over 20 years ago now.
My senior year I did my student teaching. I did pretty well at the elementary level, so-so at the middle school level and felt totally out of my element at the high school level, mainly because I had never even been in a music program myself as a highschooler. I only did marching band through ninth grade and again…no vocal experience.
I was a piano person. I had years…of piano lessons. Something I’ve thanked my parents for countless times. Again, a small detail…but utterly life changing! I had all of my vocal experience through church and a teenage choir group that toured on weekends. It’s a good thing I at least had that experience! The church changes people, not just through salvation and meeting God…but also through other skills and experiences had. Music and the church…changed the course of my life.
I never had a single voice lesson til I was a sophomore in college. That’s when I realized how little I knew! I tried out for choir my first year and didn’t make it! I was a music ed. major and couldn’t make it into the college choir…very humbling. After a year of taking voice I tried again and made it. I also made it into a madrigal group of singers for a year or two. Those experiences were so needed in my life. I had never been under the direction of a director of that quality in my life.
It was like showing up to college and finding that everyone else had read the same classic books and I had no clue, when I realized how behind I was in the area of music. And yes…the book thing that happened to me too. And I was an avid reader…I just had no awareness of the classics and wasn’t made to read them in high school. I’ve heard things have changed in Montrose and that’s a good thing!
After my student teaching experience, I wasn’t sure if I even wanted to teach. Ok…I had a student loan and was newly married…so I didn’t really have a choice…but honestly, I didn’t know if I had what it took or even wanted to have what it took. I was one of those people who got a degree and then realized…too late, maybe it wasn’t what I really wanted. But that’s what I had, so I moved forward.
I applied for teaching jobs, interviewed and didn’t get a single teaching job until several years later. In the mean time I worked at nursing homes, delivered newpapers, worked at McDonalds, and subbed over a period of years. About 5 years to be exact. My husband was finishing college and then we kind of moved with his job as a pastor and I found work as I could. I tried doing a few private lessons then…but honestly, I didn’t have enough of an idea of what I was doing to be a good teacher. Oh…I could play, I knew the music theory and the concepts to be taught, but I didn’t have enough experience yet to understand how to go about teaching those concepts to others.
Eventually we decided to have children. We were married in 1992. Lauren our first daughter was born in 1997. I didn’t work her first year. Which was good…but I have a feeling that I was a bit much for my husband when he came home from work. This was before the internet and Facebook and all of the ways we stay in touch with people now a days. I was fairly isolated.
We wanted…more like I wanted, our kids to be close together in age. So by 1998 we had our second daughter, Lydia. Ironically enough…when I had a 14 month old and was quite pregnant with Lydia and wasn’t looking for a job, that’s when my first teaching position opened up. It was through a church contact. Part time. It was at a new 5/6 school teaching 9 week sessions every day of the week and then switching groups after 9 weeks. I walked into the classroom which was lovely and new but had absolutely no supplies what. so. ever. I had no clue what I was doing and no real curriculum to follow. I made it up as I went. Not proud of this…but it was reality.
The timing was bizarre. I had to have Lauren watched while I was at school. The time it would’ve made sense for me to be a stay at home mom was the time when the job just landed in my lap and seemed to be what I should do. I was pretty much living out that “the door is open” faith where if a door opened you should walk through…so I did. My first teaching gig was me trying to figure out what I was doing, with probably the hardest age group to teach music to, 5th and 6th grade children. They had to take the class…it wasn’t something they chose, it was required. I was very pregant! In fact at Christmas time I had Lydia and took the next six weeks off.
The good news is…I was able to receive a paid maternity leave, which is quite astounding since I had only worked there one semester at the time!
After that year…I had good enough sense to realize that my part time gig was causing more issues than helping. It required us to have two cars. We were having babysitting issues and I now had two little ones. I resigned.
I took the following year off. But as it would happen the next year I had another part time teaching job land in my lap. It was a long term subbing position for the year. 3 and a half days a week which was quite perfect at an elementary school. I had a whole room full of supplies. Still not much clue about what I was doing…but I was learning. I strongly based my lessons on the textbooks. I still didn’t really have any type of performances that I had to put on.
After that year…my husband’s pastoring job was possibly going to change and we were in the middle of no where’s land. I found out that my hometown school district needed an elementary music teacher. I figured with my two years of experience and my hometown connections that I would at least have a shot at the job. This is what proceeded to happen…they didn’t even interview me! I have no idea what happened…but I don’t think I was even momentarily considered. Talk about clear!
By the time I found out the part time job could continue the next year if I desired, we had already decided to move out of state to Illinois for a pastoring position my husband took. Timing is everything! Had we known earlier we might have stayed at Durand longer.
But…in hindsight I can see things unrolled just as they should’ve. I got a job right away at a private school in Alton. I needed a job right away because we no longer had a parsonage and had to come up with a down payment pronto. We moved in…I set up my classroom and prepared to teach and then out of nowhere got called in for an interview at a school district out in the country in a little community. A school district where the pay was double of the private school and had benefits. I couldn’t really pass it up. Felt terrible at the time to back out of the private school but wasn’t sure what else to do. I didn’t look for the public school job…I just got a phone call.
Notice…all of the teaching jobs I had up til this point were never the jobs that I tried to get but always jobs where I got a phone call and was asked to come in, even without me putting in a resume!
I taught in Brighton, IL for 4 years.
It was a unique time. I traveled between four different schools. I suddenly had several programs to put on but still things were pretty low key in this country town. I also taught library classes for the first two years of that four year time period. I discovered…I loved the library part of my job. Wondered why I never considered pursuing the library thing from the start?!
I had good evaluations but at the end of my four year time when you’re up to be tenured…I was fired. And shocked. As always in these types of situations there were bits of truth thrown in with tons of what the heck just happened.
My husband was no longer a pastor at this point. We had been through a fair amount of disillusionment in his line of work. He was at a point when he was released from the church in Alton. At the time I had a good job and we were in a house and liked where we lived and we just kind of decided to let the church thing go and have him find some type of work that would make an income. Skip the ‘calling’ business and just get a pay check.
This was not a real high time for us as you can imagine. Then I got fired from said “good job”.
The whole four years I had already been struggling and Mark clearly knew it. I wanted to be a stay at home mom. I wanted to be more available for my kids and able to do what I saw lots of other moms doing. I struggled with jealousy in big ways.
Mark made me the promise that wherever I got a teaching job next…we would move and live in district so that at least if I was teaching I was at least in the same district as my own two kids. We had already moved 7 times by this point in our marriage. All for Mark’s work. He was ready to concede to me so that I could be content working and being a mom and trust that his situation would work out. He would be the one to work around me.
Ironically enough…again a teaching job fell into my lap through an email from Tracy Gines. She found out that they were looking for teachers in the inner city of St. Louis. Really God…that was my first thought. But again, we lived pretty much on the system where we prayed and if the door opened we felt that we should step through. So I went for the interview, got the job and suddenly found myself teaching at an elementary school in the inner city of St. Louis. I literally was out into the cornfields for four years and then changed to driving into the inner city every day the very next year. It was crazy. Crazy hard! I had never had such a tough classroom situation as I had there.
I taught out of a cafeteria…with no supplies once again. It was ridiculous and that’s an understatement. I also had to do playground duty every day which was crazy. There were no supplies to even play with. I cannot tell you how many fights I broke up that year. And honestly…I came to the point where sometimes I had to learn to call for help instead of trying to break up the fight…I began to realize that my life might be more on the line than I was used to and I had to realize that my life was valuable enough I had no business putting myself in that kind of risk.
But I’m getting ahead of the story. Mark…good to his word, put our house up for sale in the Godfrey/Alton area and we started spending our freetime looking to purchase a home in the inner city of St. Louis. You talk about crazy…and we were serious. I even had my mom go look at a house when she visited. I have a feeling she said a few prayers after that visit! We put in an offer on a house in St. Louis but it didn’t go through. And by that point in the spring…I knew I wasn’t staying in that job, come hell or high water I would do anything to not go back.
By the time I reached this decision, our house sold, and we were out of a house with no clue where to go next. So…we rented for awhile. A small house. Two bedrooms, one bathroom. It was cozy, simple and honestly…I was glad to scale back and have more freedom. It began a process of cutting back rather than having more. I realized that freedom was my greatest treasure and debt load was my worst ball and chain.
Again…without looking for it, I had a friend contact me about a teaching job in Alton. We happened to be renting our house in the same town and district. I interviewed…got the job and for the first time started being a choral conductor. Up til this point I had only taught elementary music.
You need to know this about Alton. From the time we moved to this area we were told how bad Alton schools were. People from our church were literally fearful about sending their kids there. But honestly…after working in the inner city of St. Louis, Alton seemed incredibly good to me.
I stepped into a dynamic music program. I started teaching at the middle school where the choir size for 6/7/8 grade can be over 300 kids, depending on the year. I had access to great supplies, great coworkers, great support.
I’m not saying teaching the past seven years in Alton has been easy. I’ve had my fair share of challenges. The first year I taught here…my class sizes for sixth grade choir were in the 90’s and I had to teach it on my own. It was crazy…but somehow we still got through the music and had good performances.
I know this…my performances this year compared to my first year here have improved dramatically. I’ve had to learn to manage a crowd of middle schoolers. I’ve had to learn to help them become independent musicians so that they can keep multiple parts going. This is challenging when you first start out. I’ve had to learn to demand excellence in every way. This seven years at Alton has refined me in ways that I can easily see.
My part time gigs…broke me in.
My country years…humbled me.
My innercity year…toughened me up.
My Alton years…refined me and raised me to a new standard.
I’ve now taught on and off for 14 years.
And now I’m stepping out to teach private lessons.
I want to take what I know and now am able to teach well and pour it into a handful of people instead of trying to reach the masses. I want to focus on students who really want to learn and want to be involved with music. I want to step away from the craziness of class sizes of 100 kids and the behavior issues that all teachers deal with in this day and age.
I could easily look back and see a hodge podge of experience and wonder what the heck it was all about…but honestly, instead I see completely how much God was taking that college education and refining it and teaching me all along the way. The best lessons I’ve learned are the ones where it was sink or swim. The ones where I went home feeling like a failure and rose again the next day and went back at it and tried again.
Good teachers know how to change the lesson and can adapt right within the lesson when something isn’t working. Good teachers now multiple ways of teaching the same concepts. Good teachers demand excellence and won’t tolerate disrespect in any way, towards themselves or to anybody else in the classroom. Good teachers create a climate where students realize they are a part of something bigger than themselves. Good teachers create ‘moments’ for students to remember the rest of their lives.
I have become a good teacher. I can honestly say that. It’s not bragging. It’s not exaggeration. I have put in the hard work to be where I am today. I have cried and sweated and been overwhelmed and frustrated. I have learned more names than you can imagine. I have dealt with situations that are crazy. If parents only knew…
And now…I’m ready to take all of that…every good and bad moment, every victory and every struggle or failure and pour it into a handful of people for the rest of my life.
I paid a lot for my college education, but the education I have acquired through my 14 years of teaching is far more worthwhile. Experience is everything!
Because of how it’s all worked out in my life, the fact that I didn’t just get one job right out of college and work in the same district all this time…who I am as a person and as a teacher has grown faster and deeper than it would’ve had I been one of those lucky ones who gets a job right out of college and had the same job til retirement. I was forced to adapt. I was forced to deal with every different type of student and culture out there. I was forced to rise or walk away a failure.
Today…I walk out of my middle school knowing with confidence…that I rose when others might not have been able to. I walk out victorious because I’ve embraced my failures along the way, and learned every bit I could from those failures.
I know what it is like to be fired. I know what it’s like to be talked poorly to by a principal. I know what it’s like to be misjudged. I know what it’s like to show up to music contest and get a low score and be totally clueless about the process. I know what it’s like to be disappointed with a performance. I know what it’s like to realize your classroom is out of control. I know what it’s like to be disliked by students and called names. My children have had to hear these comments about me in the halls.
I’ve taken everything…embraced it the best I could and become the best teacher I knew how…even when I didn’t want to be a teacher.
This has never been ‘my life’. I’ve always known there was something else out there for me. And maybe I should’ve gone for it sooner. But honestly, I didn’t think I had a choice and I didn’t know how to go about making the choice if I did have one. Until now…
And now…with experience I can see that everything up til this point has been exactly what I needed to prepare me for this time in my life. I have no regrets. I would not be the person I am today without the stuff that didn’t go well in the past.
I like who I am today.
Today as I leave my school for the very last time. As I turn in my keys and give my last post it notes to the teacher following in my footsteps I leave with a very grateful heart.
I like the piece of pottery I am on the wheel. I like the tapestry I see as I look back. Whatever visual works for you. The point is…I like the way God is shaping my life. Not because it has been easy. Not because it has been without problems. But actually because it’s been incredibly difficult. I didn’t have what it took and it’s incredibly clear to me that were it not for God I would not be where I am today.
I am completely at peace in this middle stage of life as a 42 year old. Not because I will never face any more hard times. But because…I know I’ve weathered enough of ’em that I can surely face whatever else might come my way.
I have slivers of new dreams and visions that might come to fruition someday. I have hope that God has great plans for me today and in the years to come. I have a deep peace that passes all understanding as I move forward. God has been with me all the way.