It has been quite difficult for me to think of a new topic to write about. I would like to call it writer’s block, but I am not a writer. Of course, there is my recent unemployment issue that seems to be persisting like a bad pimple. I have been a music/drama teacher for the last 16 years, and this is the first year that the school year began without me. It feels rather odd not to be in school with everyone else. Honestly, I have yet to figure out if I like the feeling or not. I have very mixed emotions at the moment, and perhaps I will not come to a conclusion until the first vacation break I would normally have as a teacher.
So here I am, at the mercy of the job market with what seems like very limited skills or education. I am 4 classes shy of having a Master’s degree, and a common response I have received from many of these job applications is either: You are not qualified enough, or you are over-qualified. Since when does being ‘over-qualified’ stop a company from hiring someone? That would be equivalent to a high school principal telling Albert Einstein he is over-qualified to teach high school students. So, I suppose my true question is, “What can a teacher actually do?”
I have never thought of that question before, aside from contemplating a response to the popular comment, “Oh, you just teach music/drama.” How does a person properly respond to that?
I think back to the many hours spent practicing choral music BEFORE having to teach the music to my classes. I think back to the many hours of script writing for our many productions throughout the year BEFORE we even began rehearsals. Prepare ye self for a plethora of memes that are about to bombard this post. Sometimes the life of a music/drama teacher is best described in the many memes we like to post all over our classrooms. So, what can a music/drama teacher actually do?
Growing up with one of the best critics in the world, my mom taught me that every performance should be better than the last. For some reason, I developed that same mentality with my choir ensembles and drama troupes. I pushed my students every day so they realized that they shouldn’t be satisfied with just “ok”. It is great for students to know that they must always do their best, but as a teacher of the performing arts, sometimes a student’s BEST can be pushed even further because they don’t always know that their BEST can become BETTER. Being that pushy teacher means that they will hate you during the rehearsal process, but in the end they realize that you knew their true potential. So, a music/drama teacher goes through all of the name-calling, the gossip, the bad attitudes, etc., but in the end, they end up becoming the student’s best friend. Well, I won’t go as far as assuming I’m their best friend, but at least they realized I pushed them so hard for a very good reason. My criticism wasn’t to be mean, but I firmly believe that compliments are earned. Today, students are awarded just for being present. My students knew that when I gave them a compliment, it was because I truly meant it and because they truly earned it. I never believed in giving them only positive feed back because that is not how the real world works. Why sugar coat everything? Why not be honest about your thoughts and expectations?
However, kids will be kids, and 9 times out of 10 they would come to rehearsal completely unprepared. The countless hours spent on preparing rehearsal tracks for their performance/competition music turned out to be time wasted on many occasions. I can’t count how many times I spent my very own free time recording their music, only to be disappointed that they came to class without knowing their voice parts. Nonetheless, a performing arts teacher works with what she/he has and rehearses harder than ever to make up for what wasn’t practiced at home. It is not as simple as giving a student a 0 for their homework grade because that will never help for the competition that is coming up in 4 weeks. Sure, individual tests and homework grades have a direct affect on their personal averages, but our performances and competitions were always for public display and a direct reflection on myself as a director. Thankfully, my students learned very quickly that their performances were more successful when they practiced at home, and we polished and perfected the ensemble during class time. Of course, with limited ensemble rehearsal time, that usually meant that we were required to have additional rehearsals after school. Let’s face it, high school students love to talk no matter how great a teacher’s classroom management may be.
Aside from my choral duties, being a drama director meant that there were always more rehearsals scheduled other than class time and after school. I know that everyone looks at teaching like many other careers–you chose that career, so you shouldn’t complain about your decision. I completely agree, but unlike many other careers, a teacher does not get paid for the extra hours invested. Sure, teachers have 3 months of vacation time, but most teachers work during that vacation time planning for the new year. This was the first summer I did not spend my entire summer planning and practicing music programs for the upcoming year. I realize that music is not an English class, but there still is a tremendous amount of preparation time spent on selecting concert music, festival music, competition music, practicing all of the music selected, play writing, setting up budget expectations for the year, etc. Then there is the fundraising aspect of the job for a performing arts director. Most clubs have fundraisers for different little things they do throughout the school year, but we had to have fundraisers because we didn’t receive a yearly club stipend and still were expected to put on performances. Fundraisers were the only way we were able to purchase music, props, set designs, pay festival fees, pay competition fees, assist with travel to festivals and competitions, etc. We did not have a booster club like the athletic department or the band, so we had to do everything ourselves. This required more advertising on my part, and a way of implementing sponsorships from local businesses.
Upon deciding to be a performing arts teacher, I never realized that I would have to be skilled at management outside the classroom along with being very financially savvy. Creativity was always a strong suit, but I thought that creativity pertained to the performing arts programs. I never dreamed I would have to be creative in the business aspect of it all. After all, I am an educator, not a business manager, right?
(Please excuse the grammatical error in this meme.)
That brings me back to that commonly heard phrase, “Oh, you just teach music/drama.” Seriously? When someone decides to become a teacher of the performing arts, he/she must realize that it is so much more than just teaching the art. Unfortunately, very few know the work put into every single performance because they are not at every scheduled rehearsal, they are not there for every phone call made, they are not there for every scheduling session, they are not there for every fundraising activity, they are not there for the constant brainstorming sessions, they are not there for the phone calls from parents wondering why their child didn’t get the lead in the play, they are not there for the student breakdowns when a student is just wanting to give up instead of working even harder, they are not there for all of the drama that takes place off stage, they are not there for the numerous counseling sessions required to get students to work together instead of tearing each other apart, and they are not there for the countless evenings and vacation days spent at school preparing for everything coming up. The only thing they see is the final performance, and they automatically assume the end result just ‘happened’. So, I can see why it seems like I only teach music/drama because the end result looks like so much fun and just so easy. Would you like to try it?
Wait, there’s more! The school district in which I was a choir/drama director did not consist of only teaching at one school. At one time, I taught 5 classes at the high school and then 1 choir class at two different middle schools. That meant that there were no daily lunch or planning times. Most of my plan time had to take place after school, and my lunches had to be consumed in my vehicle while driving to the next destination.
Most choir/drama teachers with a tremendous load of classes would have an assistant, but that was never in the budget for my location. As expected, upon returning back to the high school at the end of the school day, I would have a small window of time to make copies before our after school rehearsals began. Needless to say, Bob Marley and I became best friends because we always met after school for a little ‘jammin’ session. Not only did I have to plan for my choir classes, but I had to prepare for my Fine Arts classes. Seeing Bob every afternoon did not make any of this easy. Perhaps that’s why it seemed like he was singing my favorite song everyday.
Let me clarify, I am not writing about this because I am complaining. Honestly, I loved my job as a high school choir/drama director, and I truly miss this position. Sadly, I think that my biggest regret was leaving it for an elementary music/fine arts position. I think back to those countless Fine Arts classes while teaching at the high school, and I would give anything to go back to that. Throughout the years, I complained a lot about teaching high school Fine Arts because the majority of the class consisted of students who did not want to be there but needed an art. I would give them various writing assignments, and I would dread grading these assignments because they were so horrific to read.
I often wondered what they learned in their English classes because some of these papers were extremely difficult to understand. Of course, I am not an English teacher, and I am the last person to criticize what and how they teach. I know that they have an extremely difficult job, and I would never assume that my job is more difficult. Unfortunately, I’ve learned that there is a tremendous amount of competition amongst faculty members. Even though everyone is working towards a common goal–educating students, too many teachers compete with each other about who is the better teacher. Sometimes they compete with each other about who is teaching a more substantial subject area. I believe this is exactly why the arts suffer the most because it doesn’t receive the credit it truly deserves. If only every teacher looked at every subject as substantial as the other, we could accomplish some pretty amazing things.
Anyway, this last year, I found myself missing not only my choir and drama groups but also my high school Fine Arts classes, regardless of their lack of writing skills. Instead, I faced general music classes filled with kindergarten through third grade students, squeaky recorder classes, and Fine Arts/Drama/Music classes (with out a set curriculum or IDEA of a curriculum) filled with fifth through seventh grade students (the majority wishing they were in P.E. everyday). It never failed, whenever a holiday was approaching, these students would come to class, and I wished they were in P.E., too.
You know the saying, “The grass isn’t always greener on the other side”? Well, as much as I loved my kindergarten through third grade classes, I couldn’t help but feel that I didn’t belong. I missed my busy schedules, the drama both on and off stage, and all of the business aspects of my job. I didn’t leave this last job because I thought the grass was greener somewhere else. I left this last job because we decided to move away from our little bayou community and try life elsewhere. Do I miss this last job I held? Unfortunately, my last year of teaching almost seems like it was a wasted year for me. I feel as if the lack of the busy schedule and the endless rehearsals made me seem rather lazy. Of course, elementary/middle school is very different from high school. I miss everything about my job as a high school music/drama director. So, I can’t help but wonder–OMG, what have I done? Luckily this last year wasn’t a COMPLETE waste. I took that curriculum-lacking, nonexistent, Fine Arts/Drama program and caused them to want to continue it the next year instead of trashing it. I was able to put on 2 play productions that required students to actually ACT and do much more than read lines from a piece of paper .
Being a high school music/drama director has enabled me to learn so much more than education alone. However, in the current job market, it seems as if being a high school music/drama teacher doesn’t mean anything at all. Employment positions that require something as simple as a high school diploma and a few years of experience in a certain field leaves me with being an applicant who is not experienced enough. I know I could work circles around many people they may possibly hire, but because I do not have experience in the field they consider me not qualified. Really?!
It is frightening to know that many people that are hired in different positions have less work ethic and drive than someone who doesn’t have “experience” in the field. As a teacher, we learn new things every day, every month, every year. Please give me a solid explanation as to why a teacher–in this case, a high school music/drama teacher– does not have required experience in management, budgeting, scheduling, marketing & advertising, sales, recruiting, publishing, customer service, etc. A teacher can be taught rather quickly because we are constantly battling the ever-changing education field and all of the new paperwork that comes along with it. Why do employers think a teacher is not qualified? Besides, how did they get into the position they are in to begin with? Don’t you think they all have to thank a teacher for TEACHING them? Perhaps there is more to this ‘not qualified’ excuse. Maybe, they are afraid of teachers because teachers CAN do ANYTHING, and just maybe THEIR skills are limited to that particular field because they are NOT a teacher. All I can say is, just give a teacher a chance because teachers are some of the hardest working people you will ever meet. Try to realize that teachers are more qualified than you can possibly imagine. Of course, if you never give a teacher a chance, you will never find out the true value they can bring to a company.
Needless to say, my job search continues. For now, I am unemployed for the first time in a VERY long time. Please keep your fingers crossed because this Disney addict needs revenue coming in so she can support her need for Disney all the time. Haha!