Becoming an independent middle school music teacher

At some point after graduating with a yet another music performance degree, I found myself looking for a solution to the question of employment. Looking for a job becomes your job when you are unemployed, self-employed or underemployed. However, when you cast your net as wide as some of us do, you end up sending your information to anyone who will listen. This was the situation I was in when I was asked to substitute teach at an independent private school.

Until that point I was a substitute teacher for public schools, a sales person at a music store, a painter for a painting company and a freelance musician. In one way or another all of these job have helped me at my current job. Like most people, you learn to take advantage of your strengths and hide your shortcomings while you work to improve both. I knew that what I lacked in music education credentials I could make-up with creativity and hard work. Even if you can pull one over on the people hiring you, you can’t do the same with kids. The kids don’t care about degrees or life experience, they don’t care about your belief in the potential of every learner or that you have their best interest in mind. The last thing they’re thinking about is that this is a job for you and you really want to do well at your job. What they see is another person telling what to do.

When I was a kid I heard a phrase that made sense to me, “you fake it till you make it”. I did this right until the first concert the following January. The little jazz ensemble I taught most mornings played their first tune, “In The Mood”. I picked it because I figured it was easy and still challenging for my students. Between counting the tune off and the first note, my whole attitude changed. My students hit their first notes and I felt like I had learned something new, my eyes were opened when I realized what I was allowed to do with these students. The freedom to create my curriculum according to what I thought was good for these particular kids. The option to let a lesson steer itself into any direction student learning lead it. Suddenly this environment which was just a job till that point, became the kinetic jump for creativity, inspiration and hope. All at once, the high of watching my students perform with confidence and excitement, gave way to pride. I was proud to be a teacher again, I was proud to be part of a community. I was proud to help these students become leaders within our school. I guess the root of all the different thing I felt that night stemmed from the pride I felt because I was working at this little independent school.

I have been a teacher at Soundview School for 6 years….and counting.

Dr. Ed Castro

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