I’m so thankful to hear from a fine arts teacher! I had so much respect and affection for all of my band directors in middle school and high school. My guess is you felt the same way about your band or choir or orchestra or theater or art teachers. There’s just something special about them, and Ms. A is no exception. Her interview about teaching middle school orchestra made me laugh out out, gasp, and say, “Aww…” more than once. You’re going to love it. Thank you, Ms. A, for everything you do for your students!
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A Note About These Interviews:
I taught seventh grade for almost twenty years and was constantly surprised at the difference between what friends, family, parents, neighbors, and community members imagined my job was like and what it actually was like. The few times I had the privilege of inviting a friend or family member to visit my classroom, they always left wide-eyed and exhausted. The purpose of these interviews is to allow the world a glimpse inside the lives of current educators. Now that I’ve quit teaching, I want to do what I can to support all the teachers still fighting the good fight, and I don’t want to forget what life is like inside a school.
All questions are optional. The teacher may write as much or as little as they want. If they don’t feel comfortable answering a question for any reason, they’re allowed to leave it blank or say “I prefer not to answer.” For confidentiality and privacy purposes, the name of the teacher’s school will not be published, and they may choose how they refer to themselves. (Full name, initials only, or even simply “Teacher.”) Participants have been asked to refrain from using student names or to change names. When describing student or parent interactions, they may be vague or change slight details to protect anonymity as long as the message/tone of the encounter stays the same.
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Interview With Ms. A:
- In no more than three words, describe how you feel right now.
- What is today’s date?
October 12, 2022
- How old are you?
- How many years (total) have you been teaching?
9 (13 if you include teaching private lessons and youth orchestra)
- Have you ever taken a break from teaching? If so, why and for how long?
- What is your current salary?
$64,000 with a stipend for teaching orchestra
- Is there anything you would like to share about your personal life or family situation?
It’s just my dog and I at home. A few years ago we moved to the Houston area away from my family so it’s just the two of us at home.
- In what city and state do you teach?
In the Houston area
- What grade(s) and subject(s) do you currently teach?
Middle school orchestra
- How many years have you been in your current teaching position?
- How many conference periods do you have per day?
- How many students do you teach total?
- If you teach multiple classes, how many students are in your smallest class and your largest class?
Smallest class has 18 kids, largest has 45
- On average, how many meetings do you have per week?
- What other responsibilities do you have at school besides teaching your own classes? (For example: bus duty, cafeteria monitor, after school club, chaperone, committee member, team leader, coach, etc.)
I have a fiddle club I teach during advisory and I do before school sectionals Monday through Thursday starting at 7:30am. Some days we also have concerts that go past 8pm and competitions or other events that happen on Saturdays.
- Are you compensated for any of your extra duties?
We get a stipend for being fine arts teachers, it’s about an extra $2,000 a year.
- When was the last time you took a day off?
This past week I actually took my first personal day from my new job! I went scuba diving in Honduras and took a Thursday/Friday off. I didn’t even know how and had to get one of the APs to show me.
- Describe the reason for your absence and the process you went through in order to take the day off.
I guess I kind of answered it above but I wanted to take some time to escape a little and my friends in Honduras had the week off so I joined them to go scuba diving. I’ve not yet taken a day off since moving to this new district 3 years ago so I didn’t know how and had to ask one of the assistant principals to help me out. Taking time off when you’re an elective teacher is hard because there are almost no music substitutes out there so you have to be really creative with sub plans to keep the kids entertained enough that they won’t be a discipline issue for the sub but also knowing that it’s almost a wasted day for the kids since you won’t be there to actually help teach them.
- Describe a positive interaction you’ve had with a student this year.
Oh man there are so many, how do I pick just one?? I guess the most recent one was with a student that I’ll call O. O is in 8th grade and plays the viola in my top orchestra (I have 4 levels total) and I started her as a beginner when she was in 6th grade. I require my top orchestra students to compete in what is called Region Orchestra in October and leading up to the auditions the kids have to play part of their audition music for the class. (Sounds terrifying, I know. But they have to play the audition in front of a room full of strangers so this is to help them work through the nerves in a safe environment). O was really scared and sent me an email asking for advice on how to overcome the fear. I told her to remember that other kids are equally as nervous to play in front of the class and they’re so caught up in their own playing that they won’t even remember the minute mistakes she makes that she herself will dwell on. Just like she won’t remember the individual mistakes of any other classmates. And I reminded her that any feedback I give her is also out of love and support and out of a desire just to make her a better violist than she already is. And that no matter how she plays that day she will be loved the same way. She wrote back and told me it was the nicest thing anyone has ever said to her and after playing her music she said that message I sent her gave her more confidence to play.
- Describe a challenging interaction you’ve had with a student this year.
I have a beginner student who is learning the double bass this year. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this instrument, it weighs about 40-50lbs and is taller than you are haha. This poor kid has one of the worst cases of ADHD I’ve ever dealt with (and this is coming from someone who also suffers from intense ADHD) and I keep having to redirect his attention and behavior in class every two seconds. Unfortunately these instruments aren’t cheap and being careless with them can be a costly mistake. I had to email home and let the parents know that if I have to correct this kid’s behavior with the instrument one more time they would have to start renting their own bass (I provide school ones because those things again are NOT cheap) and he would need to bring it back and forth to school every day on his own. Seems to be working so far but lord give me strength with this kiddo haha.
- Describe a positive interaction you’ve had with a parent this year.
On the meet the teacher night, one of the parents came up to me and volunteered to lead a parent group for orchestra parents. She offered to help contact parents to make a list of who would volunteer to help me on different orchestra events so that I wouldn’t have to worry about reaching out every time I needed parent volunteers. It seriously took a HUGE load off my plate for this year!
- Describe a challenging interaction you’ve had with a parent this year.
To be honest, I haven’t had any parent issues this year. I know that’s not common and I am SUPER lucky!
- Describe a positive interaction you’ve had with a coworker or administrator this year.
I have so many. I’m really lucky to have some incredible co-workers at this school. It’s kind of notorious that band and orchestra teachers don’t always see eye-to-eye and tend to compete with each other for kids and recognition, etc, but here all the fine arts teachers have each others backs and we work incredibly well together and support each other! Again, I know how lucky I am!
- Describe a challenging interaction you’ve had with a coworker or administrator this year.
I have a student who is in his second year in orchestra with me as a seventh grader who we will call J. J’s parents unfortunately passed away the summer before his 6th grade year. I think because of this, J has had some trouble with behavior in some of his other classes and in hallways and cafeteria, etc. I was in a meeting with other teachers where they were describing troubles they were having this year with some students and J’s name was mentioned. I told them I found it hard to believe he was a behavior issue because he is great in my class. They told me it was just because my class was “fun” and that’s why he behaved. Girl, I got so mad at them for the way they talked about him and I got up and said, “You remember this kid just lost BOTH of his parents right? He’s gone through more trauma in his short life than most of us in this room have!” I just couldn’t believe the lack of empathy these teachers had for him.
- What’s the funniest or weirdest thing that’s happened at school this year?
Oh man so many… first of all whoever named the parts of the instruments hated beginner orchestra teachers. The cut outs on string instruments are literally called F Holes and all four instruments have a G string. Try teaching that to a room of 25 6th graders with a straight face!
- What time did you arrive at work today?
7:00 A.M. to get ready for 7:40 A.M. sectionals before school
- What time did you leave work today? If you are still at work, what time did you leave yesterday?
Yesterday I left at 5pm trying to catch up on everything from the two days I took off and to get ready for upcoming concerts and competitions.
- Describe your lunch today. (Length, food, location, what you did while eating, etc.)
We get lunch? JK. I ate some chips and guacamole while answering emails at my desk.
- Describe one success you experienced today.
I have a student that started as a beginner last year and was born without his left arm. He was dead set on learning violin so we figured out a way to reverse his violin to play with his right hand and then tie the bow to what he does have on his left arm. Today I graded the kids’ chair tests (where I have to rank them based on their performance and that determines where they sit in the orchestra. Yes it’s as brutal as it sounds…) and he got 3rd chair!! This kid inspires me, honestly.
- Describe one challenge you experienced today.
I have a massive headache today. Trying to teach through a migraine. Yay…
- What time did you complete this survey?
- How satisfied are you with your current job? (1 = not at all satisfied, 5 = very satisfied)
- As of right now, do you plan to continue teaching next year?
- What’s the best thing about being a teacher?
The relationships I get to build not only with the kids but their families as well. As an orchestra teacher I’m so lucky in that I get the kids all three years of middle school instead of only one so I get to watch them go from baby elementary kids into high schoolers. We also get to spend a lot of time together outside of school with concerts, field trips, competitions and socials so I get to see them in all kinds of different settings. The most bittersweet moment is the last concert of the school year and saying goodbye to my 8th graders. I’m literally tearing up thinking about that as I write this…
I’d like to finish by adding one last thing. I love teaching more than anything. Being an orchestra teacher has been my dream job since the 6th grade. There are always ups and downs just like with anything in life and the ups have always outweighed the downs… until recently. Being told I’m *just* an elective teacher and that kids are well-behaved in my class just because it’s “fun” really starts to weigh on you. I know my class is important for more reasons that just being “fun” and I wish people realized that elective teachers do more than just play around and babysit the kids. Music cannot exist without math, without science. We learn about history and how it helps to evolve music. We learn about how authors were inspired by symphonies and songs were inspired by novels. We learn about how art, theater and music are always intertwined and cannot exist without the other. It is a physically demanding subject and develops fine motor skills as well as gross motor. Kids learn how to work together, how to support one another, how to handle expensive things delicately (which if you’ve ever been in a room with 40-60 middle schools you know it’s a GREAT feat!) And above all, kids learn how to love something passionately for no reason other than it’s something that makes them feel good and allows them to express themselves. I love teaching more than anything. And I do it because it matters.
Teacher, I want to tell you something, and I want you to listen. You are amazing. You are creative and smart and hardworking and beautiful. You are valued by those who are paying attention, and you deserve so much more than you receive from society. You are a superhero, and the world is a better place with you in it. Thank you for everything you do for your students, your community, and your fellow teachers. I appreciate you. Now, close your eyes and take three long, deep breaths, then open your eyes.
- In no more than three words, describe how you feel right now.
Inspired and full-of-love
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If you are a current teacher and would like to be interviewed for my blog or if you know a current teacher I should interview, contact me!