Friday, June 4, 2010

A School Year Reflection

I have officially been out of school for a week. The desk is packed up and I've moved into my temporary summer home to save money before the big move to Ohio. I always like doing reflective posts because, like a fine wine, they get better with age. Or so I'm told, truth be told I don't know a whole lot about wine.

I started the school year taking a job after a week of trying to decide between a move to Minnesota or staying very close to my hometown. I chose being close because they had a marching band, I could live with my fiancee in my old college town, and it just seemed easier. The HS principal called to hire me and I was looking forward to being the Assistant Director of Bands. It meant no more general music and a bigger program. It also meant missing a bunch of students who will always mean a lot to me because they were my first ones, they believed in me as much as I believed in them.

It wasn't until I was days away from the move into what we thought would be a charming little house that I found out this was a strictly middle school job. The other director had no intention of letting me direct the high school band on any pieces and that HS principal that hired me would hardly speak another word to me. I was upset, I felt like I had been deceived and I interviewed for one last job before settling in at band camp. I wasn't thrilled when that other principal called, "we liked you, but we went with someone with a master's. Do you want me to keep your name up around the area?" she said. Yes, of course I wanted that, but mostly I vowed to get that Master's. I can't gain experience any faster, but I sure can change my degree level.

Band camp was a shock to my system, the band was almost double the size of my first school's, but they lacked discipline and strong student leadership. To make matters worse, they shared a fight song. My heart just wasn't in it. They fought with each other, they told the director what to do, they told me I wasn't nice. The whole community seemed happy and proud of the program, I can't blame them because it's all they knew and for that far downstate they might've been right. I wanted to change that, which is why it was good to be the middle school guy.

My fiancee(at this time girlfriend) watched me become someone she didn't like a whole lot. Where was the energy and the passion of that educator she met in the band room at EPGHS? She helped me when she could, but I just wasn't happy. I'm fortunate that she stuck it out and that she told me to look at grad schools. I said I didn't want to skip around too much, but she saw it as not going after a dream. I still had dreams, I was still passionate, I just felt that they'd been put on hold. Like I was stalling, I'm not used to standing still.

I was frustrated, but I threw myself into the 6-8 bands. I started changing how they thought. We worked on intonation and scale studies. I gave them responsibilities and for the most part they met the challenges.  We began changing things slowly. We were setting higher expectations. I began l finding some of those students who make it great to come to work everyday. I was so thankful for that and for them.

Jes and I got engaged on Nov 27th 2009. I took her on a trip to Chicago giving her instructions to bring a fancier dress. Her friends at school were all telling her that this was it, but she said she tried not to get her hopes up. I popped the question with a great diamond(that took months to find) under Cloudgate aka "the Bean" in Chicago. We stayed at a great hotel in the theater district and I can't wait to go back there again.

By Christmas break the school had hit a financial crisis and who hadn't? The state was(and is) an amazing amount of debt and school districts aren't getting paid. The superintendent gave some dire speeches. People were scared. I talked to the Regional of Education representative about keeping my certification and going to school out of state. It all sounded very simple. Keep my certificate current, get my other degree and that would be my bump from initial to standard.

By February I had researched over 50 graduate programs in some combination of Wind Conducting and Music Education. I had met or at least spoke to professors from all over the country. Jes and I set off on some adventures and I had so much fun conducting band and auditioning all over the midwest. All but one school offered me a place there, but in the end a school in OH became the top choice.

During all of this my groups were continuing to rise to my level. I enjoyed the middle school groups more than I ever thought I could. I've met some great middle school teachers who have no desire to teach HS and I really wish more of us would find our place. There is no greater program, just the program that fits an individual teacher the best.

We organized a district-wide MIOSM concert. That was one of the highlights of my year. One thing that was slightly selfish of me was my smile when the high school band tried to follow the 7/8 bands way of tuning, they never tuned in rehearsal. It fell pretty flat and gave me a little ego boost. Over 200 students playing all different arrangements of "Simple Gifts" and then at the end we combined to play a number. As I conducted them I knew I had no control, I just had to get us safely from beginning to end. The audience was ecstatic, what a great moment. Solo and ensemble came and went and it was time to talk to my colleague about my move. I wasn't looking forward to that, she'd been through two guys in the past four years in this job. It had to happen though.

I'll never forget sitting outside on the campus of Wright State University wondering if it was the right choice. There were so many questions, will I be successful? Can we afford this? Will Jes find a job? Will we like it here? There is no way to know for sure, but she seemed confident in telling me that I fit here. I liked the faculty I had met and I liked how they treated Jes. It was a little more metropolitan, which we wanted and it had the right vibe. I signed my letter of intent and became a GTA in Wind Conducting. Now it was time to finish out the year.

I explained my situation in April and then gave the final word on my leaving just at the beginning of May. Even though I'm not cut out for middle school I sure was glad to work for that principal. In the long run I'm glad the one at the HS had less to do with me. He's been the boss, I've ever had. A true leader, who's in it for all the right reasons. I  turned my letter of resignation into the superintendent and word spread quickly. When I went to get my mail I spent a lot of time telling other teachers what was up. They were happy for me, but not for the school, again I felt like I had a better connection to them then I did to teachers at my old school.

The Spring Concert went off without a hitch, even though I was tired everyday from the over an hour long commute from doing "The Producers" in Bloomington. The kids started hearing things and I explained to them where I was going. I'm glad they understood. I think they are used to it, which is kind of sad. I got some great letters, thank yous,  and emails. I shared my information with parents in case any wants to get ahold of me. I had my final class with them as "May Madness Band Bracket Challenge".

My desk was packed up last Thursday. The boxes went in my car and I found an envelope that held "best of day" certificates for my clarinet quintet. I chased the kids down and handed them out. I was so proud of them. The middle school band had became my ensemble and I loved them for it. I handed in my keys, turned off my computer, promised to help if anyone needed me, and drove off listening to U2's "Where the Streets Have No Names". I had ended my stalled school year and learned more than I thought I would. I wonder how I'll look back on this in 5 years or 20...

If I just could've combined the things I liked about both jobs, I might've stayed forever...then again maybe that's why it wasn't perfect, to push me forward. Everything happens for a reason.

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