If I teach at school, will I still have the chance to play music? And how will my artistic career end up with?
These were the two questions I was asking myself obsessively when the high school where I work contacted me in 2012. I was SCARED.
Scared of not having anymore time to play and study my instruments. I imagined myself a 50 years old fellow, artistically dead, teaching paradiddle to a 12 years old boy following the 80 BPM of a metronome. Something rather creepy, isn’t it?
Yet I’m sure that any musician, in front of such a choice, would feel like I did in that moment, asking him or herself the same questions, which can be synthesized in the Amletic doubt: musician or music teacher?
LIFE CHOICE OR NEED
You don’t born to be a teacher, but you can become a teacher. There is no vocation, call, interior voice or other similar bullshits. There are opportunities, certain working conditions in the country you live in, and many other factors that have really nothing to deal with fate, destiny or chance. If you also like teaching and you take it as a mission, much better for you then.
This is what happened to me: I completed the first part of my studies at the Conservatory, I got a degree that I could use to teach in public schools as a teacher substitute, and the public school called me for the first annual substitution. I accepted. End of the story.
But in the meantime, I also made some choices that had an impact on my artistic career. I decided to specialize into instrumental teaching and get a 3-years degree at the Conservatory, which would (or rather will, as I’m still completing my last year) allow me to get a more permanent position at school.
This practically meant attending mainly useless classes, taught by people who never really worked at school and who wouldn’t have wanted a student like me…
But this also had an immediate effect: after having started working at school, I had to stop travelling across Italy and Europe to attend auditions, because I didn’t have anymore time to get trained, because of my job as a teacher and my courses at the Conservatory.
However, at the end of the day, I was looking forward to this. As I already wrote in the post “how to prepare for an orchestral audition”, I was fed off studying orchestral pieces and I had enough of attempting auditions over and over again. Therefore, working at school gave me the opportunity and also pushed me to think over my artistic targets.
ITALIAN WORKING CONDITIONS
I have to admit that the choice I made was also forced by the job market situation of the last few years in Italy. The economical crisis damaged also and primarily art. In my Country, which the rest of the world mainly appreciates for its artworks, orchestras started to shut down, one after the other.
Those where I worked started to delay the release of our wages and the situation got worse during the years. Let’s say that this wasn’t the best historical time to attempt an orchestral career.
Therefore, I took my chance and I disappeared from the circle of the “orchestral freelancers”, cool term to define those fix-term employed musicians, who travel around to work in different orchestras, playing here and there while trying a new audition.
School was my lifeline to step out that permanent “fix-term” sort of employment at high unemployment risk, which is the orchestral freelancing. Mine is rather a “fix-term” sort of employment at low unemployment risk: the fix-term teacher substitute.
MUSIC EDUCATION OR INSTRUMENT TEACHER
One of the factors that pushed me into the teaching path was the chance I had to choose whether becoming a percussion instrument teacher or a music teacher. Surely, the career prospects are completely different. The only thing these two paths have in common are the wages, that are low in both cases.
The fact is that I consider myself good at a pair of things in my life, that’s to say playing percussion and teaching it. Again, that’s what I think. Fact is that I really can’t imagine myself at a teaching desk, or worse, in the middle of 25 children sat in circle, teaching them a musical riddle to make them understand the concept of music structure (I swear, this is what I learnt during my teaching courses at the Conservatory, besides ballets, other riddles and techniques to play coulisse flutes).
Becoming a percussion instruments teacher allowed me to continue dealing with what I like doing: hitting my drums, marimbas etc.
RANKING FOR MUSIC INSTRUMENT TEACHERS
“Well well, but was it so easy getting into the teaching substitutions?” Yes, and this is also something that made my choice easier.
The ranking lists to teach certain music instruments, such as percussion instruments, are relatively empty. In Padua, where I subscribed to the first ranking list in 2011, we were just two. I had the highest rank and obtained the position at the High School where I teach. That’s it.
If I wasn’t in the right place at the right time, I’d probably do something else by now. Surely, if I had imagined what my career path would be, I wouldn’t bother myself with those 3 years of didactics…. (But ok, I’m getting boring by always talking about didactics course and I’ll stop talking about it in this post).
TEACHING IS (ALSO) A NICE JOB
The last thought that I can’t – ethically- ignore : Teaching is great.
…Sometimes. Maybe. Not always
Sometimes I ask myself whether I really made the right choice. Usually, I ask myself this sort of questions when, for many different reasons, I’d rather not have in front of me a particularly annoying kid. It can happen.
The fact is that when you are a teacher and love the subject you teach, you sometimes can’t really understand how is it possible that some of your pupils don’t share the same passion with you. Well, the earlier you understand that this can happen, the better it’s for you.
The truth is that I have in front of me a guy or a girl with their own dreams, their own ambitions and their own time, which they decided to spend over learning a percussion instrument. I can’t demand to be training lots of “young Paolo Parolini”, nor “young Paolo Parolini percussionists”.
What I think I can – and should – do is working at my best to encourage the individual growth of my students. To do that, I can use the most fantastic of the subjects, music, and I can teach it using the most exciting – at least for me – instruments in the world, percussion.
This is my job and I try to do it at my very best. But this is nothing more than a job, it isn’t a mission. And if I don’t do it well, I’d deserve to be fired.
But if I chose to carry on with my job, it’s also because I think that teaching can become the most exciting profession in the world. Usually, I’ve these thoughts when I watch any of my students playing in front of a public. If you, reader, are a teacher too, you can understand what I’m talking about. Now, I’m not really great when it comes to explain with words what I feel in those moments and I’d risk to ruin everything, if I only tried to. Also, I’m emotional.
However, if you didn’t get the message, I say that again: teaching is also something great. Really great.
Question: which are your “good reasons” to start teaching? Leave us a comment!