…when I started singing in the school choir…
I didn’t realize at the time it had been placed there by God.
When I was a sophomore in high school, I had a choir director who was absolutely amazing. I fell in love with her, and how she had such a passion for music. She was able to get us to do things that we never thought we could do. As a sophomore in high school, and she had me sing a solo for the Christmas concert. I never thought I could do that before. She inspired me.
The next year, I had another wonderful choir director, who became my voice teacher later on, and who is now a dear friend. Again, she had a passion for music, for musicianship, and for teaching and leading others to learn and love music as much as she did.
Between the influence of those two teachers, I determined that I wanted to be like them, and use music to inspire and influence others. I wanted to be in a high school setting where I could inspire others to find the gifts that were hidden in them, just as much as my singing voice had been hidden in me. I never realized that was a gift I had until they helped reveal it to me.
So, I went to UW-Steven’s Point, where one of the teachers had gone. I was accepted into the music education program, and pursued that degree with enthusiasm.
In the process of coming to that campus, I learned about Christ.
A non-Christian friend of mine invited me to a off campus musical rehearsal. It ended up being hosted by a nearby church, and was about the life of Jesus. I was thrown by the devotion of some of these students to God, to each other in love, to seeking His will in their lives. Jesus was so evident in them, and as I learned more, I wanted what they had. I made the choice to accept the grace of God so evident in their lives.
I continued through my courses and classes, and filled my requirements. There were times I burned out (a side effect of classes that had few credits but lots of requirements) and just coasted the best I could to get through them.
I had some setbacks in my 4th year of classes in my personal life, and was struggling with a major load of insecurity and feelings of worthlessness. But I came to the end of my classroom work, and went ahead with my semester of student teaching.
At the time, I was scared, but I headed into it. I really liked the teacher I was going to be under for the high school portion of my student teaching. She had the same passion I remembered from my teachers in high school.
There was only one problem. As soon as I walked into the classroom, and had to get up in front of the class to run warm ups, or start rehearsing songs, I panicked. You wouldn’t have seen it from the outside, but in the way I handled myself looking back, I can see I never gave myself a chance. I was too scared. I didn’t hold myself with confidence.
Just like animals can tell you are afraid, so can kids. It doesn’t matter what front you put up. They can sense it. Even if they didn’t take advantage of it, and these kids NEVER did, they also were aware, I think, that I just didn’t know what the heck I was doing up in front of them.
When my university supervisor came in for the first time to observe me at the high school level, I had run a full class period rehearsal only once.
The day before.
The rehearsal didn’t run smoothly. Later that week, the teacher made some comment to me that she wanted to smooth over and straighten out the kids on a couple of songs that I had run with them.
That immediately showed me I had done nothing right.
The next time my supervisor came in to observe me, I hadn’t run a full rehearsal at all between the two times he came in. I had no chance to get the feel for a 45 minute class period, much less have the time and opportunity to be in front of the kids, and “hear” what was going on. It took lots of listening and practice, things I just didn’t get there.
When he came in, he brought a video recorder, and put it in the middle of the risers the kids were on, so that it would video me as I directed. It was a teaching tool for me, so I could see what the kids saw, from their perspective. (I have to admit, I watched it once, and only about 10 minutes of it… that’s all I could handle)
To give the kids their credit, they knew what he was there for, and they were on their best (and I mean BEST) behavior. Not because I asked them to, but because they liked me and wanted me to succeed. But when we all could hear a problem in the song, and I wasn’t able to get them to correct it no matter what, they got frustrated and so did I. So I did a no-no and moved on to the next song, leaving the former problem unresolved, because nothing I did seemed to fix it.
Needless to say, my supervisor (and cooperating teacher) weren’t thrilled with my performance. Nor can I blame them.
I headed into my elementary portion completely defeated. I ended up getting dropped in feet first into boiling water. It was swim or drown.
…and did relatively well
…to my own shock…
My elementary teacher was sick and out of school for my whole second week with her. She basically told me to do what teaching I felt comfortable with, and to play musical games with the classes I wasn’t comfortable with.
I ended up teaching full classes for grades 1-4 and told the 5th and 6th graders that if they cooperated with me and stayed with me through 15 minute lessons that week, I would give them 15 minutes of “musical bingo” complete with candy prizes for the winners. The week went really well, and after that I gained confidence.
I was nervous, but fairly confident in my skills when my supervisor came in to observe me with my second graders.
I had prepared the lesson plan, and had 2 classes I was to teach before he would critique me. The first class, halfway through, I realized I had too much material. So I cut things and managed to get the kids to a point where they learned the basic theme and point of my lesson plan. As I was making quick notes to myself for the next class, the first class was leaving, and the second class was coming down the hall.
After both classes were done, I got the impression from my supervisor that I did well with modifying my lesson plan on the fly. And though there were some things that were weak, I overall did pretty well.
A week later, I was called by the supervisor for a meeting with him and my music education chair. When I got to the office, my supervisor told me I had 3 choices.
- Drop out of the education program and graduate with a Bachelor of Arts in Music.
- Drop out of the student teaching, take a few more classes the following semester and try student teaching the following fall.
- Continue student teaching, and attempt to improve my musical skills. I would not be recommended for secondary music ed. (no surprise there) and he might not recommend me for elementary music ed, unless I markedly improved.
I cried through the whole meeting. I managed to get myself to the car, and back to the elementary school, held together through the end of the day, and then cried as I told my teacher what had happened. She gave me the weekend to think about it, and asked me to let her know on Monday.
I was told my musical skills were not strong enough. I already spent many late nights in the Fine Arts building practice rooms, working on my lesson plans and the music. I couldn’t add any more hours there. If that wasn’t enough, and didn’t guarantee a recommendation for at least elementary music certification, what was the point of keeping going?
I ended up dropping out, graduating, and working at McDonald’s and an insurance company to keep the bills paid.
And I hurt.
I had no home church at the time, and didn’t for a long time. I eventually started using my music again. A little at a time. But I shied away from any leadership or teaching positions, and if I got into one, I was petrified every time.
That is what is behind all my insecurities about any musical skill I may have. A dream I had of being a music teacher was crushed. Partially it was my own bad choices, and other things that distracted me from my goal while I was in college, and partially a supervisor who didn’t handle things as well as he could have.
I thank him now for his honesty with me, because I don’t think I would have fit in the classroom the way I had hoped.
But I am very hurt by how he showed me that.
It wasn’t gentle correction, it was a slap in the face.
There was no tact involved, there was no concern about how this might affect me, or how he could help me overcome my obstacles.
It was quit or keep going and maybe not ever reach my goal. I was left feeling that he didn’t know me, he never tried to, never cared to try, that he didn’t care if I succeeded or failed, and didn’t care what his words did to me.
I was never treated with such coldness before, and when it related so directly to a deep love of my heart, for music and the joy it brought me…
…well, it stilled the song in my heart.
It made me fear that I had been wrong all along, and that I had only been chasing a pipe dream. It made me believe that I had no skills in music, that I was fooling myself, and others were only being kind when they complimented me.
Ever since, I’ve wondered deep down if I really had a song in my heart…
…or if it was all just a dream…
But I know in my head that God did give me that song in my heart…
…that He never took it away…
…and I pray that I will believe that one day…