Did you know that the ancient Hebrew language does not have a word for coincidence? I “found” my first teaching job by “coincidence”. (in quotes because I don’t believe in that word)
I was performing full time and wanted to give teaching a try. I would not have sought out a full time teaching job, but money was tight and I had started delivering pizzas part time to make ends meet; a job I despised.
The principal of a local private school lived across the street from me. We could have bought any house in Colorado Springs. He could have bought any house in Colorado Springs. The fact that we were neighbors was no coincidence!
We weren’t friends, but his daughter babysat for us and he knew I was a musician. When the half time band teacher job opened up at his school, he asked if I was interested. I said, “Yes.” He scheduled an interview for me.
The day I showed up for my interview, there was chaos everywhere. At the time the school functioned with a “let’s put out the latest fire” style of leadership. I never was interviewed. I observed a few classes. Afterwards, they asked me if I was interested in the job and hired me on the spot.
I mentioned that I wasn’t quite done with my bachelor’s degree yet – I needed three more classes – and they said that was fine as long as I finished that school year. Yay! I was able to quit delivering pizzas.
A few weeks after being hired, I went to the school to fill out paperwork. The former band teacher showed up wondering why she didn’t receive her July paycheck. That’s when she found out she was being let go.
A week or two later, I tried to cash my first paycheck. It bounced! It turned out to be a clerical mistake. The payroll account was short by a couple of cents, but it did leave me wondering what kind of place I was working for.
To sum it up, my first teaching job…
- Did not require that I have my bachelor’s degree
- Did not pursue an interview with me
It was a great learning experience for me. I quickly realized teaching was my calling! I love teaching! I love performing! I was able to do both. My second year the position grew to 3 classes. That was the year I had 120+ gigs. I was somehow able to keep up that pace with a lot of coffee and many late night drives to get home from a gig. Because of that, I wasn’t in the best of health. As my third year approached, I could see the teaching would grow to full time. I was torn. I knew I could not keep up the pace I had been maintaining while teaching full time. I pondered over this for a long time and decided that the bulk of my time would go to teaching while the performing would become part time. I believe you can do both. I believe many of you are called to do both. The mix between the two will vary by each individual and where you are in life.
I settled into teaching and perfected my craft. I had lots of enthusiasm, but not much experience in classroom discipline. I became a disciple of classroom discipline and now know a lot. About my fifth year of teaching, I knew I had grown as much as I could in that position and it was time for a change. I had one small problem: I did not have a teaching license.
When I would talk to professors at music schools, they all answered my query the same way…if you want to become a licensed teacher, quit your job, come to our school and in two years you will be a certified teacher. That simply was not an option for me with a family to support.
I found a program through Western State University that allowed me to teach full time while earning my teaching license. I applied, the Colorado Department of Education accepted the Army School of Music as meeting the music credits I needed, and I earned my teaching license during my 7th year at the private school. That leads me to the job search process I used for my current job.
The Job Search Process
I looked for job openings on school district websites, searched music education job websites, networked with friends, looked on local job search sites, and basically did everything I knew to find out about jobs. I applied for 25-30 job openings. Sometimes it was slow going…there were weeks when nothing opened up!
Eventually, I was called for six interviews and received two job offers. They were not the right jobs for me. One was at a private school in Ft. Meyers Florida – a move that my wife and I were not ready to make – and one was at a school in northeast Colorado. The band program was a good fit, but the town did not offer any job opportunities for my wife.
After turning down the second offer in early May – and having already notified my school that I was planning on leaving – the job market seemed to dry up. This was when I really had to call on my faith in God! Nothing happened for the next two weeks.
Finally there was an opening at a suburban school east of Colorado Springs. I applied and was called in for an interview. One of the parents of a student of mine at the private school I taught at was a math teacher there. He put in a good word for me.
At the interview, one of the questions was, “It’s the day before the concert. The students are totally unfocused, running around the room, acting crazy. What would you do?” I pondered this question for a minute or two and answered, “I would not have allowed it to get to that point.” There was some laughter from the interviewers and they responded with “Great Answer.” I was offered the job about three weeks later (they were a very sloooow district).
I was the 5th or 6th band teacher in as many years. The position had become a revolving door. There seemed to be no future there. Many of my colleagues asked, “Are you SURE you want to go work at ________?” I decided to give it a three-year commitment. That was 2005. I stayed for 13 years.
Don’t let a program’s history affect your decision to work with it. Was it hard work? You better believe it! Were there times when it was discouraging? Definitely! Was it worth it to see the program grow to success? You bet! Persistence is key.
I left that position in 2018 and currently teach band and orchestra at a Title I Middle School in Colorado Springs. That job search process was very similar to the earlier one.
More Musician Math
25 Applications + 6 Interviews + 3 Job Offers = Success!
What if I had given up after applying to five schools? I may have had no interviews.
What if I had taken that first job? It may have put a strain on my family.
What if I had taken the advice of some of my colleagues? I would have missed a great opportunity.
Ideas to Help Your Job Search
It may be time to get creative! Why wait for your ideal job? Why not create your ideal job? In the course of my job search, I heard about many small towns that eliminated their music program because they could not find a qualified teacher. What if you were to offer your music teaching services as a contractor? You could create the job you want AND be self-employed. Maybe the school district pays you $15,000 a year to just teach band – or just teach orchestra – or just teach general music – or just teach guitar – you get the idea. What if you put 5 of these positions together? You could pull in $75,000.
Not everyone is meant to be a full time teacher. Maybe you want to perform AND teach. There are many private schools or small districts that would be willing to hire a half time teacher. But be aware. Sometimes these half-time positions can be full time jobs with half the pay.
Do you like teaching music AND theater? You might consider a small town where they are looking for someone to teach music AND something else, both subjects half time. It’s not for everybody, but might be for you.
Focus your search and your goals. I interviewed at one school that wanted to expand their band program. The position called for teaching K-12 music and expanding the band program. I knew that I would not take the job as presented. It seemed destined for failure. So I presented the hiring committee with this proposal.
Let the music teacher focus on building the band while providing lesson plans for the K-4 teachers. I will train and provide lesson plans for K-4 teachers to teach music, I will teach the kids recorder in grade 5, and in grade 6-8 they would all have to be in choir or band, which I would also teach. The committee rejected this plan. Fifteen years later, that school district still struggles with teachers leaving and no real band program.
Don’t be afraid of teaching guitar! I did that. I thought I would eventually want to get rid of it. Instead I expanded it and taught that for thirteen years. Some students – after taking beginning guitar – want to learn a band instrument, orchestra instrument, or want to take choir. As you can see, that does not detract from band and choir, it adds to it! Those students would have remained uninvolved with music.
Two Guys And An Instrument
I have two friends who almost didn’t make it into music. One was 18 years old when he decided to learn the saxophone. He toured for several years with a group throughout the country. He never learned to read music until about ten years ago, and even now only reads a little bit (he’s over 70 and still performs regularly). He’s got great ears!
Another friend joined the Army during the Vietnam War. To join the band, you have to pass an audition. With recruiters getting people in left and right during the war, somehow Wayne got sent to the army school of music, despite not knowing how to play an instrument. The authorities put him on hold until they could get the paperwork straightened out. While waiting, he asked if he could borrow an instrument and start practicing. When they decided to get more serious about sending him to another school, he asked if he could just remain at the School of Music. They agreed IF he could pass the audition. He did, and spent many years in the Army band. He has since retired and is now a dedicated music teacher.
You never know where life will take you!
***This story first appeared in The Saxophone Diaries: Stories and tips from my 30+ years in music. Get a free copy by signing up on my list here: