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?