Friday, May 30, 2008


For six years I was an elementary school music teacher. I was passionate about music education at the elementary level and I was damn good at it, too. I studied the Kodal.y method and did copious amounts of research about folk music and childhood development. I was going to change the world or at least the world's opinion about classroom music. After my first year of teaching in H.ingham, MA I moved to South Florida with my then boyfriend. I loved the Haitian kids. They would giggle when I tried to speak Creole and taught me songs that I should have recorded. I felt like I was answering a higher calling by teaching a population that was poor and probably would never have the chance for music education outside of school. That's why I got into teaching - to help children learn to explore! When my five year relationship with D ended, I found no reason to stay in South Florida. I left in the middle of the year to save my own sanity and took a job in Houston. Although I grew up in the A.ustin area, I never really spent any time in Houston. A good friend lived there and I needed a place to go where I could lick my wounds and be single again. I found a small inner city school that badly needed a music teacher.

The three years I taught at JWJ would challenge me immensely. There was a homeless shelter that supplied a quarter of our children as well as a neighborhood of crack houses. In my insulated, liberal upbringing I had only heard about people who lived in this kind of abject poverty. I never actually met them. There were kids that I would never want to see again, and there were kids that I still wonder about to this day. I learned Spanish after I realized that my Pre-K music class had only one semi-English speaking child and I learned raunchy jump rope rhymes from the sassy 5th grade girls, which I did record this time.

In the middle of these learning experiences were some very negative ones. It was clear from the beginning that I was treated as an outsider. I thought that after they got to know me, they would understand that I only wanted to teach and do good things for the kids. I did not truly understand how these communities experienced life and how those experiences shaped their views of people. When No C.hild L.eft B.ehind was launched in earnest it put a lot of pressure on already struggling schools financially and academically. (I'm not trying to start a debate here. That is just how it happened.) The whole tone changed. It was viewed, at least in this community, as an assault on inner city schools. Things became difficult and I found myself liking my job less and less. The stress and the feeling that my presence there wasn't doing anybody any good made me decide to leave the profession. I radomly chose HR as a new profession because I thought it would be a smooth transition from teaching. I enrolled as a Graduate student, got a new job in an office and never looked back.

The other day a friend told me that JWJ is closing. They have been closing schools in H.ouston with low enrollment and the neighborhood was being overrun by one bedroom, trendy condos. It was only a matter of time. Most days I don't miss teaching. No matter how crazy my life is now, it does not compare to the stress and exhaustion of teaching. Sometimes, though, I think about how it felt to teach and to shape minds. There were days when I really loved it. There were days when you saw the light bulbs go on and learning was so fun and meaningful. Hearing about the closing was bittersweet. I went to the school's website and found a poem written by one of my choir kids. It was haunting and I wanted to share it with you:


Where can you find the blessing?

When the trees stop whispering and the wind stops roaring

And everything around you is one big fight

And your mother is not here to say I love you, my child

But when mother was here she always told me

You will be mighty and sorrowful

But there will be joy in the morning

That's why I wonder:

Are blessings really free between you and me?

"When everything around you is one big fight." Haven't you felt like that before? I have. I still think of myself as a teacher and in my quest to figure out who I am now, it still defines me. Even though I left on a negative note, I still consider my time as an educator as a blessing.

Have you ever made a big career change? Why did you do it and did it change the way you see yourself?


Waiting Amy said...

I gave up practicing veterinary medicine to stay home with my first child. Then when we realized IF had hit, I opted to stay home longer and wage that battle.

I miss the challenges, the rewards. I don't miss the hours, the stress, the difficulties. Some how I still identify myself as a vet. But the longer it has been the harder it is to cling to that identity. It is/was an important part of who I am/was. I still haven't resolved just what it all means to no longer practice.

Anonymous said...

I was in finance and then moved to education, then settled in insurance. I convered the map on career choices. I am no fan of No Child Left Behind. Cross out the "No" and you have a more fitting title. 'Nuff said.

You post strikes a chord with me, as I plan on posting more on the subject of race later this weekend. I'm still formulating a response to an article about bi-racial children and transracial adoption.

christina(apronstrings) said...

that's so neat that you were a music teacher. dh taught and i did too. but he taught for longer in compton CA as a part of teach for america. he loved it-but it was very hard. the education system in this country has so many issues and NCLB bascially means EVERY CLB. blech.
dh's goal in life is to mkae a lot of money so that he can retire from the corporate world and become a principal.
i want to be an art teacher. (i am an atty now)

Kim said...

Never made a career change. But from the way you care, you must be a wonderful teacher. What a special gift that it! Here from NCLM.

momofonefornow said...

over from NCLM

I left my stipis menial job to have a baby. When he was not quite 2 I realized that I wanted to have a career, not a job, and I returned to school. I am in the middle of that still and will be going for at least 2 more years. However, when it is over I am hoping to make that change and quite honestly it makes me feel like a grown up.

starsgoblue said...

I've never made a big career change but what I wanted to say is that I think that for some children, having a great teacher can be a life saver and I wish teachers were appreciated more, and paid more. In the public school system, it seems like the teachers burn out so quickly and so it is rare that you find teachers anymore who seem to really care and I think that is sad.

Anonymous said...

I've never made a big career change but I found it interesting that I also work in HR and my boss was formerly a pre-school teacher and she made the career change to be a manager in the HR dept.

That is pretty cool that you were a music teacher, kudos to you for being a teacher!

Jendeis said...

Here from NaComLeavMo. Thank you for sharing your story and for serving such a wonderful role for those kids. I'm sure it meant as much to many of them as it did to you.

Fertilized said...

what a fantastic post. My mother is a teacher and has struggked ever since the no ,,, left behind program. She teaches the "at risk" kids to begin with and now this program is just awfl - sorry for hte long tangent.

Back to the question- I feel as i am on the brink of a new career move. I have a job that is not conducive to be the parent I want to be. It involves long hours, minimal pay and hard work with a college degree. I feel as if my days are numbered and that excites me and terrifies me. I have been with the job for over 10 yrs and I am unsure I will know what to do with myself. Plus My job skills are quite random from this job that I do know. I know people think it is somewhat like the TV show - CSI - and most days are not even close - except the midnight cellphone/pagers going off and having to think in the middle of the night. So to answer your question ... Give me a few months and I am sure I will have changed careers.

Rachel said...

I gave up my job to be at home with my son. I don't miss it at all, it wasn't a good fit.

The only thing I miss about working is when people ask what I do, it doesn't seem that they have respect for someone without a "real" job.

I hope you like HR. There are so many different aspects of it.

Anonymous said...

I've changed careers a couple of times. I gave up a fledgling (but beloved) acting career to move into production. It was very very difficult to give up a career that defined me all through my teens and 20's but I think being a producer was far more "me" than acting was. When we moved to Canada I had to give up the producing (no jobs) and I've now gone into magazines and seems to be carving out a new path for myself.

Its never easy and I think you always ache for parts of what you left behind but each new opportunity is also a chance to discover new things about yourself and reflect on how far you've come...

Lori said...

I left higher ed after my first child and before my second.

I sometimes try to slip in to conversations that I am qualified to do more than install a car seat and wipe noses.

I wish you lived closer. You sound like a fabulous teacher. Your students were blessed.

Steph said...

I made a change from customer service to process engineering. To answer your question, I really felt like both jobs suit me. I love people thus working in customer service. I love fixing problems for the better thus working in the process engineering world. I think this is just another part of me that wanted to be exposed. The Lord only knows what other careers lie ahead for all of us; hopefully we choose a path that improves who we are and the people around us!

Janna said...

I taught for 8 years in Pasadena, and though I'm not teaching anymore, I still consider myself a teacher. There are so many days that I miss teaching because I miss the kids. I don't miss all the TAKS testing, paperwork and psycho parent crap, but the kids I miss immensely!!

My mom was a music teacher in Deer Park for 30 years, and I watched her pour her heart into those children to help them discover a love a music. Music teachers ROCK!! ;o)

Beautiful pic of you and Luke! Precious!!!

Panamahat said...

I can't say I have ever made a big career change, because technically I have never had a career. But I have worked in a lot of different jobs: berry picking; tomato picking; cleaning houses; relief occupational therapist assistant in nursing homes; short term placements of in-home care for spinally injured people; project manager/researcher/report writer for community development and education research projects; facilitator; property manager.

I never formally used my honours degree in psychology but it comes in handy for most things.

Currently I am five years into a one year post grad dip in primary education. I have no intention of being a classroom teacher and working within the education system. I have just begun privately tutoring a child with literacy problems, and I think this may be my next role.

I like the changes - each new job brings a new set of skills, and there is often room for previous skills to be used in the new role also.

What I REALLY want to be is a mother. But I never seem to get past the job interview. :-)

Nit said...

I like this post :)

I was also a teacher...who decided to go to law school. I loved teaching, but the "politics" of it disenchant me...not to mention the terrible pay.

Anyway, I recently graduated law school & guess what I will be doing again in August..teaching! I miss the classroom & the kids. And if I do tire of it, I can always sell my soul to the devil :)

Dreams Come True said...

I didn't make a career change, but I haven't taught for a year. I taught in the inner city in New York City for 6 years, and as you mentioned, there are children (and their parents) that I would sincerely never ever want to see again. And, there are students that I wish I knew where they were, and what they were doing. I love seeing the lightbulbs go on, and I hate having to make sure all the boxes are checked on paperwork that doesn't make a difference in the student's lives.

Whether I go back to teaching in the fall, or in 10 years from now, or never, I will always be a teacher. It's one of the "things" that I am.

And now, though you might not be a teacher in a school or in a classroom, you are a teacher to your son. It's a great blessing.

I'm sorry that the school has closed.

Here from NCLM