I’ve had a love for music all my life. Both my grandparents had pianos in their homes, and both my grandmothers would give me piano lessons every time I visited (which was often). My mother played the flute, piccolo, piano, and organ. I’ve learned to play the piano (but due to long bouts of inactivity always have to reteach myself when I get in the mood to play), viola (again, long out of practice), and the recorder (yes, I’m counting it, since I had to learn to play it, AND I saw it on an episode of How It’s Made…so there…it’s legit).
When my oldest son was enrolling in junior high, I insisted that he take band. My reason was it was the only time in his life he would get the chance to learn to play an instrument for free, so he should take advantage of it. He balked (strongly) at the idea. All I asked was he take it for one year, and if he didn’t like it, he could take something else. It was a long, drawn out discussion, culminating in my son exclaiming, “FINE! I’ll take band!”
Taking him to a local music store to pick out an instrument, I asked him what he was interested in. He pointed at a guitar. I looked at him with exasperation, and said they didn’t teach that instrument in band. He rolled his eyes and meandered around the store, ending up in front of the trumpets. “I’ll play this,” he said, with all the enthusiasm of a sloth before a workout.
“What made you decide on it?” I asked.
“Only 3 buttons to push, shouldn’t be too hard,” he said with a shrug.
The store clerk offered him a chance to try it out. He declined. I tried to keep my temper in check. It just wasn’t going like I had hoped or planned.
We took the rental trumpet home, which came with the option to buy (and which I didn’t really see happening), and it sat there until his first session of summer band.
The first day of summer band was getting students introduced to the band directors and instructors, sort the students by the instruments they were playing, and then into a classroom. There was talk of how to care for their instruments and practicing how to sit properly and breathe.
Then the moment finally came when the band director said, “Okay, open up your trumpet cases, and take out the mouthpiece. That’s all we’ll need for today.”
My son gave me the, “Are you kidding me?!” look across the room and took the mouthpiece out.
The director let them know that not everyone could get a sound to come out of the mouthpiece. It was difficult, but with practice, they would be able to. He showed them how to get a sound out of the mouthpiece (which is basically blowing raspberries with your lips into the mouthpiece).
He let them practice, then went around the room and individually had them each attempt to make a sound. When he got to my son, I held my breath. In a lot of ways, he’s like me. A bit shy and not one to enjoy being put on the hot seat. He took a deep breath and blew raspberries into the mouthpiece, and lo and behold, sound came out! I was so relieved for him, and he looked mildly relieved he was able to do it, too.
Even though time was over for the first session, the band director let the kids take out their trumpets and try to get sound out of the instrument. This had my son (and all the other kids), scrambling for their cases. Again, my son was successful at getting sound out of the instrument. He was looking more and more interested in this instrument that had been sitting untouched at home.
The ride to dinner was filled with noise, a beautifully annoying sound coming from a mouthpiece in the backseat (and at one point, a loud trumpeting sound that about had me running the car off the road). My son couldn’t stop practicing and being excited about the rest of summer band. He had all of us try to make noise from the mouthpiece.
The rest of summer band and that school year was awash with triumphs and pitfalls. Sometimes getting him to do his daily 30 minutes of practice was a battle. Other times, he would tell me how he spent his lunch in the band room practicing with friends. Testing weekly for chair placement brought out his competitive nature, which I never really knew he had. He took it seriously and could be pretty hard on himself if he didn’t get the chair placement he thought he earned. An early triumph for him was when one day, early in the school year, he figured out how to play the Star Wars theme song, just by listening to the song and then playing it by ear on his trumpet. I was astonished. He shared this with his trumpet-playing friends, who then begged him to teach them during their lunch time. He felt so accomplished.
After the first quarter was over, I asked him what he thought about continuing on in band. I was so thrilled when he said he was going to stay in band. He really enjoyed it and had made some good friends in band. He was irritated at other band students that never practiced and goofed off. “I can’t wait to get into high school band. The kids there will take it more seriously,” was something he said often.
His love for music just keeps growing. He spends his time watching YouTube videos of marching bands (mainly DCI) and listening to orchestras and jazz bands. His first paying job was tutoring a student to play the trumpet, which he was recommended for by his junior high director. He periodically brings me sheet music to show me what he’s learning, then has me listen to a recording of it while following along on the sheet music. Yesterday, he brought me sheet music, and I asked him what competition or concert he was going to be using it in. He wasn’t. He was just learning it for the fun and challenge of it.
Now, he’s a senior in high school. He’s been to two out-of-state competitions and countless others across the state, not to mention the work he does to keep his skills up before, during, and after school. He also plays in the jazz band (again, I had to twist his arm into it, but now he absolutely loves it). This week, he told me he was told under no uncertain terms that he was going to be taking private lessons once a week after school. I asked him if this was free, since it didn’t seem like he had a say. He said it wasn’t, but the price was reasonable, and he was going to start working again soon to help pay for it. I asked who told him he had to take private lessons. He told me his section director and the head band director. They had both been at him for a while to do this.
For quite some time, I’ve been asking him (since he was little, but of course, much more frequently since he started high school) about what he wants to do when he finishes high school. It always surprised and saddened me when he would say he didn’t know, or was interested in this or that, and this or that had nothing to do with music. I asked him why he didn’t want to do anything in music, especially since he was so talented and had spent so many years at it. He said he didn’t want to teach music, because he knew he wouldn’t make much money. He sees how we struggle with what I make as a teacher, and doesn’t want that for himself. He wants to make a comfortable living. I understand that, but also know there’s more to life than money. When I mention this, his response is he doesn’t want to have the financial worry and stress ruin his love of music.
Hard to argue against. I sometimes think about how much easier it would be to find a job outside of education that would pay so much better to provide for my family.
But it’s not who I am.
I’m a teacher. It’s the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do. I may not be the best in the world, but I’m always looking for ways to improve and have a positive impact on my students’ lives. I love working with kids and seeing them grow and succeed, especially in areas they never expected.
But the stress and strain of financial worry (and working extra jobs), makes enjoying what I do difficult at times. I never went into teaching for the money. I knew I wouldn’t make much, and was fine with that. But having two boys in band makes it difficult to pay band fees, plus everyday expenses. And working extra jobs takes time away from working at being a better teacher and spending time with my family. My boys are worth working extra jobs for, no doubt about it. I’m wearing myself thin, though, and it shows at times, both at school and at home.
My youngest son recognizes this as well. He knows he wants to be a band director (among other goals and aspirations, mostly music inspired), but knows that he won’t make much staying here in Oklahoma. “No offense, Mom, but I plan on moving to Texas to teach. I’ll make more there.” No offense taken. Sadly, it’s a smart move so he can do what he loves without the added financial burden.
Our state is allowing gifted and talented future educators slip past our borders. They are allowing those already in the profession to have to make the difficult choice of either working extra jobs to make ends meet and allow them to continue teaching (which clearly they’d have to love teaching to take on extra jobs simultaneously), leaving the profession altogether to do something that allows them to earn enough to support their families (without the overkill of unfunded mandates and poor pay), or leaving this state (for many, it’s their home state) to continue in the profession they love without financial ruin.
And our state leaders show no signs of changing this trend. Some are trying, no doubt, to turn things around. But for others, this is what they want. Weaken the profession with unfunded and ridiculous mandates, cuts in funding, and low pay, all to swoop in with their ESAs/vouchers to save (certain) students from the poor schools that aren’t making the cut with high stakes test scores and A-F report cards.
For the life of me, I can’t understand this. I don’t understand why some are hell-bent on destroying public education. And other than continuing to try to keep myself and others educated as to what is going on with the state legislature and making my voice heard, I’m not sure what else to do to turn things around.
I’m just a teacher.
But I’m a teacher who cares and isn’t satisfied with how things are going. And as long as those in the legislature keep going out of their way to tear down public education, and as long as I’m in this state I love, I’ll keep working to make things better.