Side Effects May Include…

A weekend that had previously been filled with football (a sad Michigan State loss and an exciting Cincinnati Bengals win) took a turn in an unexpected direction when a good friend and college classmate of mine posed a thought-provoking question.

I’m starting to feel like music is more of a hobby than a career. It’s a bit disconcerting. Do you feel that way sometimes, or should I be concerned?

This question came up because both of us struggled to find work as music teachers after graduating in May, and have subsequently turned to substitute teaching to gain experience and pay the bills. I guess it’s only natural for some self-doubt to start creeping in after failing to find work in your chosen field.

I thought about the question for a little while, and tried to give my friend a reasonable answer. I told him that he was probably feeling disheartened about his involvement in music because he hasn’t yet made the step from music student to music teacher. There’s no doubt in my mind that it’ll happen, but having to sub in the interim has stripped away some of the initial energy and excitement he felt upon receiving his degree.

After spending some time in a music classroom earlier last week, he was once again excited. The experience of teaching music, even for just a day, was enough to recharge his batteries and refocus him on his ultimate goal.

This whole situation got me thinking about my own experience subbing. So far, I’ve been surprised by the job. It’s yielded several unexpected benefits.

If anything, subbing has helped reaffirm my career choice. After the unsuccessful job hunt, the thought of going back to school and getting certified in another subject had crossed my mind—something a little more marketable than music. After spending time in several different classrooms—music included—I’m now more positive than ever that teaching music is my future.

Subbing has also created numerous opportunities to practice classroom management. Students aren’t always on their best behavior for subs, so I’ve had to quickly assert myself as the authority figure in the classroom. Sometimes this can be accomplished with a confident introduction, or sharing a fact relevant to the class. Other classes require more drastic measures at times, like separating students and showing that you won’t tolerate disrespect.*

*I ran into such a situation during a music class early in my subbing career. I overheard one student directing some nasty homophobic slurs at another student. The student was quietly asked to sit out of rehearsal for 10-15 minutes, and was talked to after class about their actions. I’ve been back in the same class a few times since that incident, and haven’t had trouble with a single student.