If you had told my 20-something year old self that I would walk away from my “dream job” at the age of 30, I never would have believed you. When I was 23 years old, I was so fortunate to land the job of my dreams. Teaching high school chorus was the job I had thought about since I was in the eighth grade. I imagined myself being in that position until my retirement. However, life had other plans for me.

The reality of teaching high school

High School Chorus was a big job, filled with after school requirements, weekends, and trips across the East Coast. When I started having children, I didn’t feel that I could do that the justice I felt it deserved, and that the students deserved. Walking away from that job was the hardest decision I have ever made. For the next seven years, I stayed home with my children, and enjoyed every minute. But, I would be lying if I said there wasn’t a constant fear in the back of my mind wondering if I would ever find a teaching job again, let alone a “dream job.”

Jessica with her high school choir in 2007

Over the course of these seven years, somehow I found that my dream changed. I found a desire to work with younger children, something I had done before but always looked at as a stepping stone to teaching High School Chorus. But, after 7 years of being with my own little ones, I found that I wanted to teach elementary general music. At this time, I came across a job posting in a local district for a part-time elementary music teacher. I applied for it and was so fortunate to be offered the job. This gave me an opportunity to gradually get used to being back in the workplace and managing my family. I was so grateful for that gradual opportunity to slowly return. At the end of the year, a full-time music position became available, and I was offered the job in the same school. My fear of never finding a teaching job again was put to rest!

Re-entering the classroom

Being back at work is so fulfilling, and honestly, I didn’t realize how much I missed it. I really enjoy the interaction with adults and students again. The one thing that I have found difficult is learning a new curriculum.  I often find myself overwhelmed with materials, songs, and activities, and I struggle to narrow it down, which I suppose is a good problem.  I spend the majority of my free time at home writing lesson plans and prepping for the day. I teach six lessons per day, and need new lessons every four days. Preparing for a new curriculum is exhausting and time consuming!

As for managing home life, it has been a challenge, I’m not going to lie. When I get home from work at 4:00, I am helping my kids with homework, going through agenda binders, packing lunches for the next day, making dinner, and having about an hour of play time and reading before bed. Once the kids are asleep by 8:00 (hopefully), I begin my lesson planning and researching. I am lucky if I am in bed by 10:30! I am now the mom that receives phone calls that my child doesn’t have their lunch, or their cello, and I am late on preschool payments. This did not happen during my 7 year stint as a stay at home mom! But, every day we figure out how to be more organized. Every day gets a little easier.

Connecting with kids in new ways

Jessica in her new job as an elementary general music teacher

I have enjoyed hearing my own kids talk about their teachers and their experiences at school over the past few years. It’s funny that most of the stories I hear are about personal stories from the teachers. “Mom, did you know my teacher saw this movie over the weekend?” “Did you know my teacher has two daughters?” “My teacher told me the funniest story today…” When my kids come home, they don’t talk about curriculum or what they learned. They talk about the experience the teachers gave them. This is what caused me to look into my own teaching… am I a teacher that kids talk about when they come home? Do they remember things I say or stories I tell? Do they talk about a fun activity we did in class?

One of my main goals now is to make connections with students. I felt like I always tried to do that as a young teacher, but I don’t think I really understood the true value in it until this time in my life and seeing how those connections have impacted my own children. I make it a point to greet every student at the door now as they come in, and say goodbye to every student as they leave. I share personal stories about how I love running, or something funny one of my kiddos said at home. These simple moments that take a few minutes have changed the way I look at teaching entirely.

How I’ve changed

Jessica with her husband and three boys

I realize that I am definitely a different teacher than I was at 23. I think this is a natural progression for anyone, but what I am finding out is that I am more focused now with making children enjoy music. I think it is easy to become centralized on the outcomes, goals, and learning objectives, and forget that the main part of my job is teaching children to appreciate and enjoy music!  Once I can get them to enjoy it, the grasping of concepts becomes much simpler, and naturally falls into place.

I also am learning that I am not alone. As music educators, it can be easy to feel like we are on an island by ourselves. And to be honest, there are many times that I became so consumed with my job and my “to-do lists” that I shut people out. Since returning to teaching, I am much more willing to seek help if I need it. The guidance counselors, behavior specialists, principal, and fellow teachers are all amazing resources! In my 20’s I thought I could handle anything alone. But the truth is, I couldn’t. Not the way I can with the help of others. I am a better teacher because of all of these people that I mentioned, and I couldn’t survive without them.

Moving forward, I hope to continue to grow as an educator. I never want to stop learning or improving myself. I am always searching for new ways to engage students, to really make them enjoy music, and learn in the process. Returning to teaching has filled me with many emotions, including gratitude, excitement, fear, self-doubt, and the love and joy of teaching again.  I feel like I am that 23 year old again starting over. My passion is just as strong, but I just feel a little wiser than before. And the most valuable thing I have learned on this journey is that people change, and apparently, so do dreams.