“Isn’t it great? You’re getting two choir classes this year! They will both be mixed choirs from all grades!” My vice principal smiled as she informed me three days before the new school year was starting.
This was horrible news! I had just spent two years restructuring the intermediate school’s choirs to build a growing program. The students were actually enjoying singing – and doing it pretty well. I was crushed!
After a fantastic second year, my program was cut in half and I would be teaching more math classes. Yes, I had a credential for it, but my passion is music! I had dreamed about teaching classroom music since the 7th grade!
Back up two years to 2002 … I accepted my first teaching job at a public intermediate school in Santa Ana, CA, for choir and math (being assured that math would take second fiddle to music). I started with three choirs (grade 6 girls, grades 7-8 girls, and grades 6-8 boys), one intro to music class, and three grade 7 math classes.
My first year was extremely difficult, as many of you teachers know! Discipline problems abounded, too many hours were spent creating curriculum, exhausted evenings and weekends had given way to grading, I had no time for a social life, and “volunteer” after-school commitments were expected. Ugh! Was that really what I wanted for my life?
But I stuck it out and entered the second year with renewed hope for a better year. After some negotiation, I was given three choirs with a full-time accompanist (beginning girls gr. 6-7, advanced girls gr. 7-8, and boys gr. 6-8), two intro to music classes, and only two math classes. I had a discipline plan ready (that worked extremely well!), could use last year’s curriculum (mostly), and set personal boundaries for work hours. Things were looking good!
My students were loving choir and enrollment was growing. Discipline wasn’t even an issue anymore – we actually got to sing! Performances were fun. We traveled to a festival and completed several fundraisers to get there. I also started a 5th grade after school choir later in the year.
Well, being at a low performance public school in Santa Ana meant a lot of program cuts. This translated into my third year dilemma of less music and more math. Unfortunately, our administration did not provide class schedules to any teachers until a day or two before the new year started (and student lists were given out the first morning of school!). I had to track down the VP on a Friday afternoon to get an idea of what I was planning for Monday! So, after hearing the news, I went home frustrated and disheartened.
I had heard from many other teachers that in the teaching profession you could expect the following: a first year nightmare (check!), a little more confidence after completing your third year, and a “settling in” comfort after your seventh year! Really?! SEVEN YEARS! I had no idea how demanding teaching would be.
That night, I had to make a decision. Would I continue on another year for the sake of gaining tenure and a decent income with medical and retirement benefits, or would I dare to believe that my dream job could be something other than what I had always imagined it would be?
Well, you guessed it. I got up early the next morning, drove to school, packed up my classroom and threw away loads of papers. I turned in the keys that afternoon to the Principal. She was shocked!
I went home unemployed that day. I didn’t want to let a school or a Principal tell me what I could or couldn’t teach. I didn’t want to be miserable another four years, or even for another day. I had made a choice.
I would create the life that I really wanted.
Disclaimer: I realize that my experience is unique to me. There are many teachers who love their jobs. Thank goodness, because we need those teachers!