Thursday, May 28, 2015


It's hard to miss the tree right outside the choir room. In the fall, it makes that oh-so-gradual change from summer green to a brilliant, fiery red. This year, I documented its changes on Instagram, taking pics whenever I noticed any major changes.


I started to think of it as the Choir Room Tree. It could just as well be the Band Room Tree, but it's just a little bit closer to my door. And I know my friend and colleague Lynn is not Instagramming the tree like I am.


I've always rolled pretty well with change. How many times have I moved in my adult life, started over, had a new adventure? Elverta. England. Washington. Antioch. Stockton. Lincoln and the nearly four years I've been here.

Winter this year was pretty stressful--more so than I let on here, or on any of the social media I'm attached to. I was under evaluation from a new boss. Mr. Principal, the one who hired me, loved me, but he retired at the end of my first year at the Large Suburban High School, and a new principal took over, just in time for that crucial year which decides if I stay or if I go. Mrs. Principal was more particular, more terrifying, but we have had a good, congenial relationship. She suggested things I didn't necessarily agree with, but I changed my approach to show her I am open to trying new things. She appreciated it.

I rolled with it.

The Choir Room Tree got ready for winter. I enjoyed a crazy December, then returned in January to finish the evaluation cycle.

I thought this was it. I thought I'd found the place where I would stay, establish something good. I had already started digging, planting. I did establish something good. But it's not to be mine to see grow.

I found out at the end of February. The deadline for these things is March 15th. Mrs. Principal was so bloody nice about it, except for telling me I'm "not the right fit." She assured me I'm a good teacher. She wrote me a very good letter of recommendation. "Her students adore her." Damn right they do, and the feeling is mutual. How am I the wrong fit?

It's hard to feel like a good teacher. It's hard to feel good about anything when you've put so much heart, so much effort, into something only to be told you won't get to keep it.

I wanted to pull back, but that's easier said than done. My kids are fantastic, and they deserve the best of me, every day. So after a week of licking my wounds, I dusted off and started working my ass off again. I didn't tell them--I couldn't. My last three months with them wouldn't be covered by storm clouds. The more I realized this, the more fun I had. With the pressures of evaluation behind me, and the outcome decided, I could just relax and enjoy working with my kids.

Imagine that.


Spring came early. It usually does, around here.  I knew that even as I watched the Choir Room Tree change weekly, my own life would change, again.

It's easy to feel heartbroken. It's easy to wish. What's hard is to look at that tree and know it will continue to cycle through the seasons without will the kids who walk in and out of that nearby choir room.

There will be new kids. I know that every time I make a new step in my life, it leads to something better. I've told my family and friends that perhaps losing this job, being made to leave the Large Suburban High School, is the kick in the ass I need to find something full-time. Let's face it, growing the job at this school to full-time wasn't going to happen soon. I need to take care of myself financially. Dad suggested I go full-time somewhere, stay on at home for a bit, and think about buying a new car. RoPro is 12 years old. It's nice to see possibilities, to make bigger plans.

But it doesn't make it easy to leave. Not this school. On my last teaching day in Antioch, I watched the clock click to release time. The bell rang. I breathed a huge sigh of relief. Two very difficult, stressful years were finished, just like that. I won't feel that way here. Packing my personal belongings will be a tedious task. I hate the thought of leaving.

I took my kids to Anaheim, enjoying every minute because I won't be the person to take them next year. One evening, I crowded around a tiny table with a bunch of my girls, talking and laughing and munching on chicken and fries. I spilled ranch dressing on my lap and they all laughed at me as I rolled my eyes and laughed along with them. I sat there and thought, "I'm the right teacher for these kids!! Why can't I stay?!" At times, the unfairness of it all hit me full in the face. I won't deny feeling angry at Mrs. Principal. Of course I've been angry.


And so begins The Process. First it's necessary to check Ed-join daily. All the good teaching jobs are posted there, and it's easy to click-click-click-apply. Then came the interviews. Four in the first week--two on the same day. Offers of more. The rejections came, too.

I wear my interview clothes, sweat profusely, fidget a little. I feel like an absolute asshole, but somehow, I guess I come across as charming and articulate. I leave, thinking that the interview panel must be shaking their heads, thinking, "Who was that impostor?!" I suppose it's not that bad, but we are our own worst critics, right?

Emotions course through me every day. Hope that I'll get a job. Fear that I will end up substitute teaching. Sadness at seeing my friends tell me on Facebook that "my kids" are so lucky to have me. I know! Why do I have to leave them?! Anger. Frustration. Bittersweet joy at knowing my choir is going to have a great Spring Concert. Joy as I spend time with them in class, making great music, connecting with them. Rolling my eyes at them (and they at me). When you have a good rapport with your students, there's nothing like it.

Meanwhile, the tree has its summer leaves on.


Concert week was hell. Hell. I woke up with a cold on Sunday, and felt pretty rough most of the week. The kids knew, but I still couldn't talk about it without feeling like I'd burst into tears.

We gave a great concert. I had given them my favorite song, "Somewhere Only We Know," to close the set, and they nailed it. It's the kind of song that doesn't need conducting, so I wasn't on stage with them for this one, but rather down on the floor, just keeping time. As the last chord faded away, I put both hands to my heart and grinned up at them. I wanted to laugh from sheer pride, and weep for the heartbreak. I just smiled.

I hope they got the message.

When my choir president gave me flowers, she told the audience how much she and her peers love the variety of music I give them. How much fun choir has been. I know Mrs. Principal was in the audience, and I can't help but hope she squirmed in discomfort. "Not the right fit," my ass.

As the choir kids started dismantling the risers, and the band kids hauled chairs and stands out, my colleague, Lynn, and I crossed paths on the stage. She hugged me. "They sounded good," she said. A high compliment from Lynn. "Thank you," I replied...and in my head, "I know."


The choir room tree is at full summer leaf, shading the area in front of the room. It's not the only thing that has changed. My portion of the office is bare, stripped of my Keane posters and personal pictures. My large Snoopy doll has come home. All that remains are the Grizzly Pride posters and some mostly-empty bookcases, ready for someone else to fill.

On Facebook, my profile now lists me as the Former Choir Director at Granite Bay High School. I still don't know where I'm going to land--but the interviews are rolling in. In the meantime, I'm going to start studying for my personal trainer certification--maybe if I need to fall back on that, it will be an option for me. But I'm confident that something will happen for me in music education. I haven't put this much time, and heart, and effort, into what I do to just quit when the chips are down. I haven't found the lasting gig yet, but I will.

My parents were out of town for the concert, so I sent them a long, detailed email about it, and how proud I was. Dad's response, was simple: "Was happy to hear how well concert went. We are proud of you and feel the success of your choir is because of you."

Thank you, Dad.

Everyone who knows me knows just what I've put into the last two years. I promise that every time I talked about what I do, here on the blog, or on Facebook, it's never embellished. My enthusiasm and that of my kids was real. I've spent two years looking around that room, telling myself, "This is mine." That's why it's so baffling that this one didn't work out.

"My" tree is the one to the left in this picture.


I take a certain "in your face" pride at knowing that my two senior girls who are singing at graduation picked "Somewhere Only We Know" to audition with. Would they have chosen it if I hadn't taught it to the class? It's unlikely. Mrs. Principal was on the committee that chose the singers for graduation, and she did not know we were doing that song in class...until the concert last week. Perhaps it's childish--okay, it's very childish--but I rather hope she squirmed a little when choir performed it, thinking, "Oh...and two girls love this song and this teacher so much they want to sing this at graduation."

She probably didn't. But it gives me some small comfort to think she might have.


They gave me a pitch pipe.

On the day of our final, my kids made me open a gift they'd bought me in front of the whole class. After all the times I've dropped my old pitch pipe, and after it failed to produce an "F" for me at the Spring Concert, prompting a massive eye roll from me and a giggle from my formally-attired choir, they decided I really ought to have a new one. I'll never use it without thinking of them.

And so, I'm finished. My grades are submitted, and my keys are turned in. My personal effects have been removed to my storage unit.

Surprisingly, this week, I'm not quite as sad. I'm still a little angry, but I suppose I'm starting to sort out all of the emotions. I'm starting to see the possibilities.

Mostly, I'm just really ready for my summer vacation. Weeks stretch ahead with not much, and I'm looking forward to getting back to running after a few weeks off. Half Marathon Number Three is on the books for November. I'm getting excited to crack open NASM's Essentials of Personal Fitness Training. The summer fruits and veggies are coming out, and my friend Meghan is suggesting a day trip to Monterey. I have concert tickets for Ben Folds with Summer, and a trip to the Charles Schulz Museum planned.

Maybe this isn't so much a setback as it is an opportunity. I grew a lot at Granite Bay, and damn, did I enjoy it there. I'm not a big believer in God and fate--I don't think there's some outside force making me keep searching in life. Rather, I think this is a sucky situation brought on by a school administrator who wants her people in the jobs, and I can either curl up in a ball and let it defeat me, or shake my fist at the sky and say, "Nope. I'm not losing myself to this one." I choose the latter; that's just how I am.


Writing this blog post has taken a few months. I started with the tree because I had to write something (or not blog at all), and I just wasn't ready to make it all public. I've had an image to maintain in front of my kids--yes, they're still, and always, "my kids"--one of professionalism, grace, and dignity. They may suspect what is going on. In fact, I'm sure they do. There was no surprise; they've seen this happen before, with their previous choir teacher.

So I've typed a section here, a section there. I took a few more pictures of my tree. I've come to terms.

I find myself ready to click the "Publish" button, and yet, reluctant. My leaving is official--the papers are signed, everyone knows, and yet, it seems like posting it here makes it Real.

But I owe it to myself to publish this, because in the end, it's just one more Wild and Absolutely True Adventure of Meg. A really good one, with a bittersweet ending. With last week's concert, I feel like I'm going out on top.

And yet...I keep typing, instead of clicking that orange button. goes.

1 comment:

Sara said...

What a sad, unfair situation for you. Reading your post I couldn't help say stuff outloud like "WHAT" and "EXCUSE ME". I know right now it's hard to find comfort in the unfairness of an administrator, but I'm sure that in ten years you'll meet your ex-students again and learn how much your teaching durably impacted their life. HUGS.