REFLECTION — Occasionally, but not frequently enough, I step out of my frantic day-to-day and reflect. The questions I usually ask myself are varied, but there’s often a theme:
Am I doing what I should be doing? – Professionally, personally, as a member of various communities…
What am I not seeing that I should be doing or focusing on? – Am I missing something?
When is it time to make changes? – Are my warm-ups still effective? Am I just doing what I’ve always been doing – and is that still working? Am I on autopilot? Should I consider a career move, or is this precisely the time to dig in and build back where I am?
Clearly covid threw a huge wrench in our profession. We lost momentum in our programs and I, personally, don’t feel like we’re completely back. I’m not sure we ever will be. And there’s actually some good in that. With more light shining on race and culture, I find myself re-thinking almost everything. I’ve begun to question my programming choices more than ever. This is good. It’s the perfect opportunity to re-build my program and get rid of that which is no longer relevant, effective or apropos. In the same breath, I also find myself yearning for how things “used to be.” My particular teaching situation has fallen prey to a series of hits. I’m sure some of you can relate. Here’s my story.
HOW I GOT HERE
I teach in Minneapolis Public Schools, at Southwest High School. This is my seventh year there, and my 21st year of public school teaching. When I arrived at Southwest, I had an unbelievably supportive principal. We had many performing arts offerings and wonderful FTEs for a MN high school: 1.0 dance, 1.0 guitar, 1.9 choir, 1.2 Band/Orchestra, 1.8 Theater. I had 337 students in my choir program. Of our 2000+ students, more than half of them took performing arts for all four years of high school.
My first four years there were truly idyllic. Since then, we’ve gone through 4 principals. Our school board initiated a “Comprehensive District re-Design.” This meant changing boundaries so that, after 4 years, Southwest enrollment would decline by about half. Our world was immobilized by Covid. In 2022, Our union decided to go on strike, which lasted three weeks. And our building went from a 7-period day to a 6-period day – which was truly the major blow.
Next year will be the fourth year since switching to a 6-period day. The results have been devastating. We’ve experienced a drop of about 800 students from our building. I’m doing everything in my power to keep my choir numbers above 100 total students. Our performing arts staffing has gone from from 6.9 FTEs to 3.8 FTEs. My choir colleague’s position was eliminated, so I’m running the department by myself. Here’s the drastic change in choir numbers at Southwest:
SO WHAT NOW?
Ultimately, I’ve rolled up my sleeves, dug in deep and attempted to move forward. We’ve proposed various scheduling options, none of which have been initiated. Our new administration is supportive and proving to be effective thus far, but no major scheduling alternatives as of yet. I still wallow in self-pity and spend way too much time complaining about the state I’m in. It’s hard not to do so. But with encouragement from many of you and by amazing parents and colleagues, I have no choice but to move forward as best as I can.
WHAT I KNOW
- Things won’t go back to normal, because normal doesn’t exist.
- Students need choir communities.
- The 6-period day kills high school performing arts programs.
- I need to re-think how I do choir.
- I need to worry less about what I think my program was or is supposed to be and focus on meeting the needs of those students sitting in front of me every day.
- I believe what I do matters.
- I believe in the choral art.
I realize this is depressing to read. I also think it’s important to be honest. In the past, I’ve tended to emphasize the successes and positives of my program when I talk to you at Summer Dialogue or Fall Conference. ACDA-MN is a unique and valuable community for all of us. We need to open up to each other more about our struggles AND successes. Instead of staying isolated in our schools/districts, we can learn from each other and help each other out. And if nothing else, we’ll feel less alone and isolated, knowing that we’re all going through this crazy profession together.