When Robin asked me to reflect on my years of teaching in Albert Lea, I began to realize just how much “stuff” through the years there was to think about. I was hired in the summer of 1993 on a .8 contract. Not quite full time was not what I wanted, especially after teaching for 8 years, going to graduate school, and being happy in a wonderful job in Menomonie, Wisconsin. BUT- I had married my farmer, high school sweetheart finally after 15 years, and it would make our lives work together instead of living apart as we had been doing for 1.5 years. That first year I had just about 100 students in grades 10-12 at the old high school. They didn’t really know how to take my “bold” personality and rather insistent instruction, but we muddled through and had some nice growth and success. My over 300 students now in grades 8-12 still don’t know how to take me some days, but we seem to still be having some fun making great music. My daughter, Claire, was born that first year in April. She just graduated from college and will be an art teacher in Waseca this next year!
After that year I was moved to full time and taught 9th graders at Southwest for several years. We moved to the new 9-12 high school in 2000. How I lived through that year I will never know. I had two brand new colleagues to break in and we had our first England trip that spring. Talk about stress!
I have helped hire and mentor at least 15 new band, orchestra, and choir teachers in the last 23 years. We have hosted Big Nine twice, and will host again in 2019. We have taken trips to all over the US and England and Scotland and endured all the fundraising and planning that goes into those. Solo and ensemble contests, show choir sets, fall musicals, Tiger’s Roar shows, concerts, and choral festivals all seem to get done each year. Each event is so much work, but so worth the effort. At least we moved off the Kiester farm and into Albert Lea three years ago which has made my stress level go down.
I have been lucky to work with supportive administrators, especially Alan Root who was my principal for 20 of those years. Even so, I still am battling each year to make sure our students can get the classes and support they need to be successful. I have had personal battles as well- cancer in 2010- with another England trip at the end of that, and this year, a broken wrist. My son, Jack, has turned out so well after all my worrying about his lack of enthusiasm for music. He is a senior this year and has turned into a singer, trumpet player, and guitarist. Who would have predicted that after all the naughty Jack Stories I told my students!
People often ask me how I do all these things every year, and the best answer is I LOVE IT. I could not do what I do without loving the people I serve every day. I love the music we make. Picking music each year is the most important thing I do, and it takes lots of time. I try to instill in my students the ideas that excellence is worth the work. Stick with the hard work. Overcome the scary stuff. Work together, be kind, be honest, be encouraging, be brave.
Now that I am REALLY old and have been here so long, I am starting to get children of former students. This is very fun! I know that living in Albert Lea is not for everyone, but what a fine place to raise kids. There is something to be said about having a real downtown, knowing people in the grocery store, and seeing neighbors and friends at community events and in the sports stands. Our schools and churches are strong. My colleagues in the metro area and I often talk about the differences in the situations in which we teach, and they are jealous of the strong sense of belonging to the community that I feel.
The summer is going fast and my stack of music to-do is growing. I do not miss the hectic 7AM – 6PM schedules I often have during the school year, but I do have to admit that I get a little lonesome for my students in the summertime. I often say I have more fun being around my students than a lot of adults I know! So I will keep doing this for a while longer and building up more memories and leading kids in singing meaningful music. For me, it is definitely worth the hard work!