Coming back to Princeton has gone as well as I could have hoped. Not only was I fortunate enough to have a partner willing to move with me (she also works for the district), but I get to work in a music program that is top-notch from kindergarten all the way through high school. My colleagues are truly outstanding! I have also enjoyed the additional time spent with family who still live in the area. I feel very blessed.
Returning to Princeton was never in my plans. But, to be fair, I have never aced the “Where do you see yourself in five years?” question. I have been lucky enough to enjoy each position I’ve held, and while sometimes I have felt called to teach somewhere without always completely knowing why (as was the case with Princeton), I have tried to use new professional opportunities for growth.
Getting the position at Princeton forced me to be a better teacher very quickly. This is the first job I’ve had where my focus has needed to shift from building to maintaining. My first teaching position was in a small Iowa town with a population of roughly the same number of people as are in my current school. Because of that, I had nowhere to go but up, and I optimistically told a friend, “You know, I can’t mess this up!” When I started at Princeton my sentence to the same friend was nearly identical, but the inflection had become more trepidatious: “Oh… I can’t mess this up.” I have since become much more comfortable.
Most of my teachers, save for a few, have retired. But the ones who are still around have become friends and colleagues. I didn’t have any of the awkward former teacher/student moments that I might’ve had. Not only that, but I knew where everything was during the new-teacher workshop, which was great!
Aside from some additional businesses in town, I don’t feel the community has changed much. However I think my role in the community has changed. Growing up in Princeton I always felt like I was something of an outsider despite the fact that I was active in my school and had a solid group of friends. The community was there, and I was present in it. Now I have a different role which allows me to be part of it. As a teacher who happens to spend a lot of time interacting with the public, I feel like I have the chance to help Princeton reach more of its maximum potential, even if it is only in a small, specific way. Over time I have changed and therefore my perspective of the community has changed.
Anytime there is a transition there are certain challenges that may be expected. Usually the biggest challenge is resistance from upperclassmen. But the transition could not have gone any smoother. The kids were well-prepared for the change, they were familiar with who I was, and I had even judged and worked with them at Large Group Contest the year before. They trusted that I had a vested interest in their success, and we were able to bond over our experience of having had the same teacher. Me at the beginning of his high school teaching career, they at the end. Making that connection was worth its weight in gold with the very students who could have been the most difficult. Most of the challenges I faced were unexpected. The number of events alone was staggering compared to what I had been used to. It has also taken me a while to find my own voice within the program. In my previous positions I had been constantly creating. I had little to no blueprint of what had been so I was able to make everything in my musical image. In Princeton I took over for someone with a sixteen-year tenure, so things were solidly in place. Therefore I was a caretaker, but I was no longer a creator. I struggled with that. After a few years the program has begun to be more reflective of myself and the “new” music department. And ironically because of the way Covid-19 blew everything up, I am seeing potential to restructure the way we do performances as well as the kind of performances we do. The potential is exciting. I just hope we get back to normal soon.