Welcome to Arizona!
It’s about time I finally started saying something on here! I’ve been putting off writing this introduction for while, but with the day off for Labor Day, it’s about time I got a move on….
The past several months have been quite the whirlwind. Last May I completed my first year of teaching chorus and music appreciation at a middle school in central Florida, and it left me wondering how badly I was really interested in teaching. I know better than to judge my whole experience off my first year, especially with so many things about to change, and quickly. Within six weeks of school letting out, I finished up my church job, got married, packed my bags, and moved across the country to Arizona. (Oh wait- I just moved AGAIN last weekend!) And throughout that whole process, I was applying for jobs and praying someone would hire me. Music jobs weren’t necessarily scarce, but the majority of schools need band/orchestra directors, not choir teachers. As it worked out, I was hired, a week before the wedding, over the phone for a middle school chorus position that also included an exploratory music class and elementary general music.
Is it sad that when I left Florida I was hoping the education system would be “worse” in Arizona? As I watched the decisions of Florida politicians in regard to education, and as I listened to the voices of experienced teachers around me, the future of education in Florida grew increasingly depressing. I fervently hoped that somewhere with a less developed “system” would actually function better. Of course, statistically speaking, Arizona has one of the worst educational system in the entire country- so I’m in luck! However, when I look at the teachers I work with, particularly at the middle school, and see their enthusiasm and the corroboration that takes place within and between disciplines, I know those numbers are just that, numbers. The quality of instruction I have witnessed within the first month of working here is invigorating and inspiring to be a part of. Yes, there are issues, as there will be in every single school anywhere in the world, but so many things here are being done right.
My day starts out at the elementary school where I teach general music to 4th, 5th, and 6th graders. In an attempt to go easy on myself, I’m sticking pretty closely to the curriculum we have, which is “Spotlight on Music” published by McGraw-Hill. Oh, the joy of actually having a curriculum to work with! I say that without sarcasm because it really is making my life so much easier. Last year I developed a music appreciation class completely from scratch, and I feel it was only moderately successful at best; but having clear direction and all of the ready-made resources is such a stress relief this year.
After the elementary, I have about 40 minutes to drive to the middle school, eat lunch, and make sure I am prepared for my afternoon classes. I teach two periods of an exploratory music class that I’ve decided to call Music & Technology and one period of Chorus (which is actually two different choirs that meet on different days- I’ll explain more on that some other time). All that talk of the ease of a clearly defined curriculum? Yeah, that doesn’t apply here. The music tech class is my own creation, and it’s definitely still a crude one. We have a computer lab on campus that runs the software Sibelius 4 and Audacity, and it seemed a waste not to put it to good use. My lessons and assignments for this course are certainly a little rough around the edges, but I have to remind myself that it’s a work in progress, otherwise I’ll stress about it way more than it’s worth. Also, music tech only meets for one trimester, so come November I will be able to start fresh and will have a much better idea of how to more effectively run the class.
Then comes choir. [insert dramatic music here] Working with choirs is what I love to do, what I am specifically trained to do; yet some days it feels like I struggle the most with these classes. Now in this particular scenario I am not running a choir program. I am teaching a class called choir. Catch the difference? Because of the lack of an established choral program at the middle school, and also because of a new scheduling software, students have randomly been assigned to participate in choir. Most of these kids have never dreamed of participating in a performing ensemble and know absolutely nothing about music. Everyday is a battle to get the students to work together, participate, pay attention, and- probably the most important part -to trust themselves and each other enough to risk letting their voices be heard. That’s a seriously tall order for a middle schooler. On the bright side of all of this, I am excited to share with these kids a completely new experience; I am excited to expose them to skills they never would have suspected they possessed; and I am excited to watch how it all grows.
I have a heaping pile of challenges on my plate this year, but I am much more optimistic about how it will all play out. I still have some days where I question my sanity in becoming a teacher, but I think this will be the year where I really find out what I’m made of, what kind of teacher I can become. My point in all of this is to find an outlet to reflect on my experiences, vent some of my frustrations, and hopefully find some encouraging, or at least helpful, feedback. Thank you, in advance, to those who patiently follow along.