Take This Job and Love It

I’m a band teacher and belong to several social media sites where other members can post questions, express struggles, and share resources. It’s great most of the time, but I have noticed a disturbing trend where, when responding to a member’s difficult situation – instead of posting helpful advice – members post responses like this:

“I’d put in my resignation today!”

“Get out of there as quick as you can.”

“If I were you, I’d polish my resume’ tonight.”

This troubles me, and here’s why:

The only thing the poster knows is the short narrative that was written. There are literally dozens of variables in every situation that would be too difficult to share in a social media post. 

What’s the pay? 

What is the rest of the teaching situation like? 

You’ve shared the negatives but what are the pluses? 

In my own journey, I’ve been at a prestigious private school, a suburban high school, an urban Title 1 school, and now semi-retired starting a band program at a charter school. They each have had their pluses and minuses.

The private school’s pay was low, but there were few discipline problems. Class sizes were small. Most of my students took private lessons. I was “famous” all over campus. There were very few benefits, and the only retirement I had was what I saved myself.

The suburban high school paid me more. The students lived in the country and were used to hard work. I moved into a new building my 3rd year. Band – especially marching band – was very valued. However, just 50 years ago the district was a country school with one building. Unfortunately, their leadership styles and methodologies are still approached as if they were a tiny district. It ended up being a toxic place where teachers were not valued by higher echelons.

When I moved to the urban school, I received another pay raise. Although the building was old (50+ years), it was one of the nicer band rooms and auditoriums I had. Admin left me alone, told me I was the expert. I was able to develop and direct the program however I saw fit. Instruments were supplied by the school. Students and parents – for the most part – did not put a high value on schooling. I had 20% or more of my students each year move to another school.

At the charter school, I don’t have a great room, but I get to start a program from scratch (1st year here). The entire admin team is very supportive and welcoming. They are willing to make things work and have listened wholeheartedly to advice I’ve given regarding how we should structure this brand new program for long term success.

I share all of that to make the point that if I had specifically amplified the bad things about each of these programs, someone would have said, 

“I’d get out of there as soon as possible.” 

But each position had joyous moments of teaching and were rewarding. I’m glad I overlooked the challenges and tried to work through them. That’s not to say that there doesn’t come a time when you have to leave, but it should be after much thought and dialogue about whether it’s something you can work through. I stayed at my third position two years too long.

Here are some nuggets of advice…

  • Get to know your principal. Don’t just go to see him when you have a problem. Find out about her family, how she became a principal, what she likes to do in her free time. I did this at my 3rd school and it helped tremendously. Realize that they have their own issues. Their job is different from yours. They often have to look at the big picture and make decisions that are best for the school. Don’t be afraid to talk to him, even ask for big things, but don’t take it personally when he says no. I left my previous position because of the direction they were taking the arts (going towards a middle school arts rotation) that I felt would be bad for the band program. I shared my concerns with my principal. Even though I left, we parted as friends. How? We talked many times over the years about subjects besides school.
  • Be bendable. King Solomon – the wisest king ever – stated there’s a season for everything…a time to speak up and a time to be silent. It’s difficult to know when is the right time to speak or be silent. Wisdom can guide you. There are certain things I will take a stand on, and other things I’ll be flexible on. I want to be the easiest teacher to work with, while still advocating for my program. 
  • Get along with your fellow teachers. You’re not in competition with them. Some students are attracted to band, some to choir, some to drama or art or sports. That’s not to say you can’t have high standards. When I had students who wanted to be in marching band and a sport, I always tried to work with them. Rather than flatly saying “no”, I told them they could be in both if they split the rehearsals/practices, if they came half the time to marching band and went half the time to their sports practice. The interesting thing is that not a single coach accepted this. Some students chose sports, some chose marching band. That’s ok.
  • Meet deadlines. I’ve known directors who have complained about “how mean” their principals were, but they never met the deadlines that principals gave them. I had a principal who demanded weekly lesson plans submitted. It was a pain. I found myself spending 2 hours to translate my lesson plans from my language to administratorese. I only did that for 2 weeks. Then I discovered a way to give my principal what she wanted, with it only taking me 5-10 minutes each week. Sometimes it’s a matter of finding out what the administrator is looking for.

Try some of these things, and you may find that you will love the job you have instead of always hoping for that perfect place. It’s non-existent by the way.

James is in his 26th year of teaching and 37th year in the music field. Find out more about him at www.jamesdivine.net or www.jazzysaxman.com