“Isn’t it great? You’re getting two choir classes this year! They will both be mixed choirs from all grades!” My vice principal smiled as she informed me three days before the new school year was starting.
This was horrible news!
I was crushed!
I had been hired two years previous as a choir and math teacher at a public Intermediate School (grades 5–8) in Santa Ana, CA. After a fantastic second year, my program was cut in half and I would be teaching more math classes. Yes, I had a credential for it, but my passion is music! I had dreamed about teaching classroom music since the 7th grade. I was crushed!
I accepted my first classroom teaching job at a public intermediate school in Santa Ana, CA, for choir and math (being assured that math would take second fiddle to music). I started with three choirs (grade 6 girls, grades 7–8 girls, and grades 6–8 boys), one intro to music class, and three grade 7 math classes.
My first year was extremely difficult, as all of you classroom teachers know! Discipline problems abounded, too many hours spent creating curriculum, exhausted evenings and weekends given to grading, no time for a social life, “volunteer” after-school commitments … Ugh! Was that really what I wanted for my life?
But I stuck it out and entered the second year with renewed hope for a better year. After some negotiation, I was given three choirs with a full-time accompanist (beginning girls gr. 6-7, advanced girls gr. 7-8, and boys gr. 6-8), two intro to music classes, and only two math classes. I had a discipline plan ready, could use last year’s curriculum (mostly), and set personal boundaries for work hours. Things were looking good!
My students were loving choir and enrollment was growing. The restructuring worked. Discipline wasn’t even an issue anymore — we actually got to sing! Performances were fun. We traveled to a festival and completed several fundraisers to get there. I also started a 5th grade after-school choir later in the year.
Getting the axe
Well, being at a low performance public school in Santa Ana meant a lot of program cuts. This translated into my third year dilemma of combined choir classes, less music in general, and more math classes.
Unfortunately, our administration did not provide class lists or even class schedules to any teachers until the first day of school. I had to track down the VP on a Friday afternoon to get an idea of what I should plan for Monday, the first day of school! So, after hearing the news that my now two (instead of four) choir classes would be mixed voices and I would be teaching more math, I went home frustrated and disheartened.
I had heard from many other teachers that in the teaching profession you could expect the following: a first year nightmare (check!), a little more confidence after completing your third year, and a “settling in” comfort after your seventh year! Really?! SEVEN YEARS! I had no idea how demanding teaching would be.
Making a choice
That night I had to make a decision. Would I continue on another year for the sake of gaining tenure and a decent income with medical and retirement benefits, or would I dare to believe that my dream job could be something other than what I had always imagined it would be?
Well, you guessed it. I got up early the next morning, drove to school, packed up my classroom and threw away loads of papers. I turned in the keys that afternoon to the Principal. She was shocked!
I went home unemployed that day. I didn’t want to let a school or a Principal tell me what I could or couldn’t teach. I didn’t want to be miserable another four years, or even for another day. I had made a choice.
I would create the life that I really wanted.
Disclaimer: I realize that my experience is unique to me. There are many classroom teachers who love their jobs. Thank goodness, because we need those teachers!
Did you miss the beginning of the story? Read Part 1 of My Story here — The Early Days
Missing Part 2? Read Changing Careers here
Have you had to make a difficult choice regarding your career? I'd love to hear your story below!