How has it been teaching back home?

Katelyn Larson

Teaching at Stillwater High School, my alma mater, is truly a dream come true. The Stillwater Choral Program changed my life as a high school student, and it is a privilege to invest myself wholeheartedly into a program that gave me so much. I also feel incredibly fortunate to work with my dear friend and colleague, Angela Mitchell, who inspired me to pursue this career path.

Did you ever see yourself working back at home? Was it a goal of yours to return?

No, I never fathomed working in my hometown! When I graduated from St. Olaf, I actually wasn’t even sure I wanted to teach right away. My career path began as a part-time choir teacher and voice instructor at St. Francis High School. As the choral program grew, my FTE increased and I gained a broad experience teaching high school choir, middle school choir, general music, show choir, and private voice lessons. The learning curve was steep, but I kept trying to seize opportunities to improve. It wasn’t until my third year of teaching that I felt like I was truly in the right vocation. I began the graduate program at The University of St. Thomas in 2014, and my professors and colleagues fueled my passion for teaching even more. I am so grateful for that experience. When the opportunity to apply for the Stillwater position presented itself in 2016, I couldn’t pass it up.

How has teaching at home made you a more effective educator?

I think that teaching with my former choir teacher, Angela Mitchell, has helped me to grow immensely over the past five years. I am inspired by her every single day. She has taught me so much about the ins and outs of the Stillwater Choral program, and as the person who used to hold my current position, she’s been an invaluable resource. The students in the Stillwater Choral Program also challenge me to be better! They are invested, hardworking, and motivated to maintain a tradition of excellence.

Was it strange to see old teachers/mentors at first?

Yes! It wasn’t odd to work with Angela, as we’ve been good friends since I graduated from St. Olaf, but it was definitely tough for me to call my other teachers/mentors by their first names.

How has the community changed since you attended?

When I graduated in 2007, the high school had about 2,000 students in 10th -12th grade. In 2017, we expanded the high school to include 9th graders, so our choral program gained two ensembles. We have also seen a huge increase in tenor/bass involvement over the past 5 years, which is wonderful!  Thankfully, our community has become more diverse as well. There is a greater representation of BIPOC students in our district and choral program than there was 13 years ago.

Did you face any expected, or unexpected challenges upon returning to your home program? If so, what?

The biggest challenge in returning to my home district was leaving my incredible students and colleagues at St. Francis High School, who I loved dearly, and stepping into someone else’s shoes at Stillwater High School. Angela is one of the best high school choir directors I know! She is rightfully adored and admired by all of her students, and I’m sure that the change in leadership was hard for some singers. That said, the students were incredibly welcoming, gracious, and patient throughout the transition.