I am nearing the end of my first summer here at American Band College, and figured this would be a good time to reflect and tell the general public what this degree program is like.  It is certainly the only one of its kind, and for band directors, that is a very good thing.

The foundation of the program is::

  1. ABC is only interested in you knowing exactly what you need to know to be a good band director.  They won’t dig into philosophy, they won’t have you work on general education requirements that have nothing to do with running a band program.
  2. You only have to study what you don’t know.  Upon arriving in Ashland, you take an entrance exam.  While they give you study materials, they encourage you not to stress about studying too much before you arrive.  It is designed to assess what you do and don’t know at that time.  Then, the next day they give you the results of the exam.  Every master’s candidate has “weakness areas” that they didn’t test above 70% on their entrance exam.  People have anywhere from 3 to 24 weakness areas.  Anything that is not considered a “weakness area” you no longer have to study.  You already know it.  You will not be tested on it again.
  3. You will be forced to learn what you don’t know through project-based learning.  In addition to several incredibly practical projects that all students partake in (conducting assessment, video-taping the teaching of a piece throughout the rehearsal process, adjudicating bands, etc.) each student does three Practical Application projects that they choose based on their weakness areas.  Since I understand woodwinds already, I chose to do my first project on learning more about the French Horn.  You can watch my website take shape at!
  4. This is a place to collaborate.  Everyone in the program is in the same boat you are in, or they were very recently.  Candidates come from literally all over the country (and world – we have students this year from Germany, South Korea, and Canada!) to be better band directors.  I firmly believe that music teaching is the most collaborative profession in the world.  I have never heard a band director say “I’m not telling you how I warm up my band – you might beat me at state!”  We all share and learn from each other constantly – both online and here in person.  It’s one of my favorite things about being a music teacher.  I admit how young and dumb I am, I seek out those who know more than me, and I absorb everything I can from them.  And they welcome and encourage it!  ABC is the perfect place for collaboration.

Not to mention, it’s in an absolutely lovely part of the country.  Western Oregon is truly beautiful, and many people here from around the country are taken aback by the mountains and the delightfully dry climate (as opposed to much of the hot, humid south).

Ashland Mountains


They also build a day off into the schedule so that people from far away get a chance to explore this part of the country.  This year, we went to Crater Lake.  It’s easy to forget how positively blue that water is.  Pictures truly don’t do it justice.

Crater Lake


This first year of ABC is nearly over for me.  Tomorrow we play in a parade here in Ashland and then play a Fireworks concert on the high school football field.



Then we take our final exam on the 5th where we are re-tested on our weakness areas to see where we made improvements during the two and a half weeks we were here.  And then home to finish our first year projects, which are due on August 8th.


ABC Logo Text

If you are or know someone who is a band director who has not done their master’s yet, they seriously need to come here.  I wholeheartedly believe that this will make me a better teacher.  I have gained so much from our clinicians, conductors, and my fellow candidates in such a short period of time.  And the best part is – there are still two more years left in the program!  For the next two summers I will come back and I will continue to learn and grow towards becoming the phenomenal teacher that I want to be.



Saying goodbye sucks.  It really does.  Saying goodbye to a community and school district that has given me everything I have as a teacher is the hardest thing I’ve had to do.  These kids have weaseled their way into my heart in a way that seems illogical.  They are just kids.  Other people’s children they have raised who I see for an hour or two a day.  Then they go to their house and I go to mine and we live largely very separate lives.  But at the same time, we understand each other on a very deep level.  They know what aggravates me (gum chewing, cell phones in class, talking when they shouldn’t be).  They know what makes me happy (purple, helpful children, playing rhythms correctly).  I know their families (some wonderful, some not so wonderful).  I know their personalities.  I can tell from the second I see their face what kind of day they are having (just as they can tell when they see my face).

I’m often called a “passionate” person.  I interpret myself in this way:  Either I don’t care about something at all, or I care a hundred and crazy percent.  I care about these kids a hundred and crazy percent.  They have worked hard.  They have grown so much as musicians.  They have learned to put the needs of the group before their own needs.  They have learned what I expect from them:  “Have fun.  Work hard.  Be helpful.”  And they execute all of those things beautifully.  When I need a student to carry an enormous instrument because a student is on crutches and can’t carry their own, I have fifteen kids volunteer to carry it.  When I get to school 40 minutes before school starts and ask the group of music kids hanging with friends “Hey, can you guys help me put the room back together after our concert last night?”  They all jump up immediately and run to the door to see who can put the first chair and stand where they are supposed to go.  How did I get so lucky?  Will I ever have such wonderful, hard working, fun, and helpful students ever again?

Though I have applied to several school districts and even interviewed with one, I will not have a job by the time this school year ends.  I’ve been telling people for months “It’s so early for teacher hiring.  School districts hire all the way through August.  If I don’t have a job by August, then I’ll panic.”  Which is all true.  Except for the fact that I am panicked now.  I would have loved to say at the end of the year concerts “Don’t worry about me guys!  I have this great new job lined up!  It won’t be the same without you guys, but I will be okay.”  Because I have eleven year olds who ask me every day “Have you found a new job yet, Mrs. Butler?”  And I daily smile at them and say “Not yet, guys!  But I’m looking – I’m sure I’ll find something!’  And every day I find it harder to smile and say that line.

I really do believe it will eventually all work out, just for now, the impending oblivion is blinding.  I pour so much into my job that the thought that I wouldn’t have a program to give so much of myself to is staggering to me.  But I really do have at least two-three more months left before true despair will set in.  And as soon as I have a real job offer that I accept and it is official – I will share it here.

But for the next week – the last week I have with these wonderful kids -I will be immersed in goodbyes.  I will not enjoy them.  But they are important.  And I’ll do everything I can to make sure these kids feel loved while I still can.


If you’re not in the mood for the long version, here’s the short one:  We are moving to Seattle in June.  Tyler took an exciting new job that he starts today and after this school year is over Tyler, Harvey and I are bound for the west side of Washington and we are very excited!

This is not news to all of you, but I would guess that most of you did not know this was on our radar, or that the decision has been made for a while now.  Here’s the long version:

Tyler has a good friend who used to work with him here in Tri-Cities at Robinson Tech.  This friend started working for TrustCC –  a security consulting agency based out of Seattle, WA.  Since this friend started working for TrustCC he has been telling Tyler how fantastic the job is and how great Tyler would be at this work.  In fact, when we moved to Kennewick last summer, we partially did so because the job required Washington residency.  At the time, we thought he could work from home in Kennewick and I could continue to do the job I loved in Umatilla, OR (we found out three days after we moved that this was not the case – the job could only be done from Puget Sound).  But we loved our year in Kennewick.  We got to spend time with my family, particularly special because it was my sister’s senior year in high school and possibly the last time we would live in the same area ever again.  I got to work another year in Umatilla (which has been phenomenal) and Tyler got to work another 9 months for Robinson Tech.  We are both glad that we got to work quite a bit longer in our jobs to really feel like we completed the work we had started out to do and make sure that our workplaces had good replacements for us (still on the search for an awesome teacher to take over this awesome program here in Eastern Oregon!)

TrustCC Tyler

Tyler actually starts training at his new job today and will be in full swing of that work shortly.  He may have to spend a few days at a time up in Seattle in the next couple of months, but we know that this is just part of the transition and helpful for us to get used to.  As part of this new job, Tyler will be spending some time on the road to different parts of the country (about a week out of every month) and I think this is a good time for Harvey and I to get used to living just the two of us on occasion.  I think it will make all three of us even more grateful for the time we do get to spend together.

As far as work for me on the West Side is concerned, there are several leads I am pursuing.  I went to the Tacoma Teacher Job Fair over spring break, handed out 30 resumes, interviewed with a few districts and found out about a few potential jobs.  Most of them are not official or posted online yet (much like the position I am vacating), but I will continue to keep a look out and keep my name on the minds of districts on the other side of the mountains.  The beautiful thing about being an educator is – worst case scenario – we can always make rent with me subbing.  I hope we don’t have to resort to that, but it’s there – just in case.

 I told all of the teachers and students today about our transition.  It was a difficult day.  Some were sad, some disappointed, some very angry.  I just had to remind them (and myself) that teaching is entirely temporary.  If I stayed until all of them graduated, then I would still be “abandoning” the students who are younger than them.  Teachers will come and go through their lives, students will come and go through mine.  I can tell myself that until I’m blue in the face and it is still unbearable to think of leaving these students who I have come to know and love so dearly.  But I know that there are many more fantastic, hard-working students on the West Side that I have yet to meet and grow to love, too.  And I can’t wait to meet them.

Anyone who’s been in a musical ensemble that’s half decent (or better) has had that moment.  You sing a chord so beautifully in tune that the first delightfully delicate overtone speaks for the first time in that choir.  You play that big, fat, beautiful chord and for a moment, you forget who you are.  It resonates through each of you and into everything surrounding you.  You don’t just hear it, you feel it.  The conductor cuts you off and everyone has the same look on their face.  Excitement, awe, thrill fills every cell in your body because we did it.  We were not many players, we were a band.  We are not many singers, we are a choir.

Whitworth Clarinets

It’s largely because of experiencing moments like this as a clarinetist and singer that I went into teaching music.  Because I know how much it changed me, both emotionally and physically, and I want everyone in the world to experience that at some point in their lives.  Everyone.

Today, we had one of those in my high school concert band.  It was breathtaking.  I squealed with joy and I could not stop smiling.  My cheeks hurt, and I just couldn’t shake the feeling for over ten minutes.  This is my job, this is my band, these are my kids.  And they just did that.  Yeah, they did.  We went on to have one of the best rehearsals we’ve had yet this year.  There’s no other way to say it – we were a better band at the end of that rehearsal than we were at the beginning.  I wish I could say that at the end of every single rehearsal, but sometimes it can be difficult to see tangible progress every day.  But today there was no doubt in any of our minds.  There are great things to come this year.  And we cannot wait to tackle them.

As the school year comes to a close, I find myself reflecting back on this year and looking forward to the next one – as all teachers do.  Year Two really does seem to have flown by in a very different kind of blur than Year One did.  Several things about this school year have been prominently different for me, and pretty much all of them have been beneficial for me and my program.

Calvin Friends

The most drastic change in my second year of teaching is that all of a sudden, I had friends my age that were actually available to hang out.  I can’t even describe how frustrating and infuriating it was my first year of teaching when I tried reaching out to people who lived near me who simply would not reciprocate friendship.  Nice enough people, but also completely unavailable to be real friends.  Even though I always have Tyler as my rock, not having friends to process work and life with was incredibly difficult for me.  This year, a whole slew of twenty-something musicians and music teachers have moved to the area and a couple of them actually enjoy (and make time for) hanging out with us.  One moved five blocks away from our house and the other is actually staying with us for a few weeks until they find their own place.  I hardly have words to describe how much of a difference it makes to be able to really process aloud with a music teacher friend who understands.  Now that I have a support network out here, I no longer feel alone and stranded.

Clarinet Recital

Additionally, I made the decision to start performing again.  I performed the first movement of the Mozart Clarinet Concerto in a concerto competition in March.  I sang in two concerts so far with a community choir  and will play with a local orchestra in their summer pops concert.  I also started playing and singing with a new big band which has some exciting gigs coming up this summer with music that I really love to play and sing.  The deal I made with myself was this – if I was going to commit time (a precious commodity) to rehearsing and performing with an ensemble, it has to be something that is fun and rewarding.  I’m honestly not 100% that I’ll continue to perform with both groups as I enter my 3rd year of teaching.  I do love making music with others and I especially love being in a rehearsal where I don’t have to be the boss.  But the commitment of being in two rehearsals per week (one of which is a 45 minute drive away and on a school night) is making me reconsider whether I can maintain this schedule.  But regardless, I know I will continue to be a member of ensembles where I simply get to enjoy making music again.  And I hope I can continue to do that throughout my career.

UHS Room 4

A note left by a student at the end of last year

The biggest difference in my work life this year has been me settling into myself as a teacher. Last year, I was timid (I know, right?  Me?).  I didn’t tell my friends when my concerts were because I was worried that they would hear my kids and think they were terrible.  I didn’t take them to contest and I didn’t want anyone to come to work with my kids.  What if they weren’t good enough and thought I was a terrible teacher?  My kids played alright, but there was still the transition of “She’s the new director” that we had to go through as a music program.  I got through the first year, but wasn’t sure of myself at all.

UHS Room 1

High school band room right before my second year of teaching, with some new updates

Viking Woman

Me playing drum kit at a football game in the legit viking helmet

Second year, I am not so timid.  I am no longer worried about telling kids off in the hallway that aren’t in the music department.  I always tell my friends when my concerts are.  I wear a viking helmet to football games.  I’m rarely hesitant to tell a “Butler Story,” as they are known to my kids, to give them some insight to who I am as a person (as well as a chop break mid-rehearsal).  I’m never afraid to be my goofy, ridiculous self with my ensembles.  When it came time for us to host a small school band festival this week, my kids (both middle school and high school) didn’t even remotely hesitate when I told them that I needed their help to make the day a success.  Some came early.  Others stayed late.  As I was on my way to move tons of percussion equipment I had eight separate kids cheerily volunteer to help me haul things.  They are my kids, without a doubt.  If I help them understand how important something is, they will go to the ends of the earth to make it happen.  They see me staying late, hauling equipment, and taking care of what needs to be done and they reflect it.  As much as my kids reflect some things of me that I don’t always love, they also reflect some of the things that make me great.  And that makes them great.  And I couldn’t be more pleased that those things carry over, too.

 Here’s the summary:  I’m really happy with how things are going here.  Last year, I really wasn’t sure how long I would be in a job that was 6-12.  Honestly, we really don’t know how long Hermiston will be our home.  But what I can tell you is this – we love our jobs.  I see so much incredible potential here in this program.  The longer I’m here, the better the kids play and sing.  I really want to keep working like crazy and see just how great they can be.  Year two has reaped so many incredible results.  Not as many musical successes as I would like – but the kids and I are showing our true colors, and I love what I see.  Music is a great place to be again.  And I just can’t wait to see what the future brings for us!

Well it seems that has had it’s first hiatus  from the Internet.  Rather than apologize or get too defensive, I’d just like to paint you a brief picture of what life has been like since our cruise in August.

  • The week before school started in August, I contracted a nasty cold (with laryngitis) that turned into bronchitis.  Because I was a fool and didn’t take any time off, this lasted for SIX WEEKS.  I couldn’t sing, I coughed constantly, even had some nasty chest pain that forced me to make an emergency doctor’s appointment (which I still refused to do until after school was over).  Needless to say this whole experience just screams “Rookie Teacher” and I’m going to do my best to never repeat that.  It was literally my hell.
  • This seems minor, but has effected my daily life – In September while at a wedding in Eltopia I dropped  my beautiful smartphone on a dirt road (which apparently had a rock underneath it) and shattered the screen, rendering it useless.  To replace the part itself was $300 and to purchase a new one outright was $600, neither of which we could justify.  Thankfully, a dear friend agreed to give me her old Verizon smartphone which, though it has been a welcome gift, is much slower and frustrating than my last phone.  But until our upgrade in July I am making do (but am daily infuriated).
  • In mid-October while driving to see Disney on Ice with my mom and teenage sister, the check engine light in my van went on and the temperature gage flew off the chart.  Thanks to several kind men who were my knights in shining armor, I was still able to get to Disney on Ice (a breathtaking experience) but my van did not live to see another day.  The little blue egg, tragically, said her goodbyes to this world.

Thankfully, we were able to replace the blue egg with a 2002 Honda CR-V which we love and adore (and still haven’t named, now that I think about it).  We are so grateful that we are able to replace our vehicle so quickly with a car that we really wanted.

  • However, our joy did not last long.  Within a week of having my van die, someone broke into our house.  It was a day that Lucy was at the groomer, and we happened to leave our kitchen blinds open that day.  They went through our back gate, threw a rock through our bedroom window to reach the latch, climbed in through the window, took the iHome and iPod right next to said window, dug through my jewelry box (though didn’t take anything – not much to take anyway), grabbed the laptop that was within view of the kitchen window and walked out the front door.

All said and done, it could have been much worse.  If Lucy had been home, they might have done something to her to keep her sedated while they robbed us.  They could have taken much, much more or done more damage to our house.  We are grateful that it wasn’t worse, but the invasion of privacy and more costly tragedies to our life was a lot to take all at once, and it shook me.  It also didn’t help that our property management didn’t get the window fixed for three weeks, a constant reminder that a stranger walked in through that hole in my house and helped themselves to our belongings.

Suffice to say, Team Butler has had a rough fall of 2012.  Another major contributing factor to my despair was that I was pouring myself into my job.  As a first year teacher last year, I had been warned to steer clear of burnout – to go home on time and leave what work was not done for the next day, which I dutifully did pretty much the whole year.  And though the job was overwhelming at times, I did successfully avoid feeling burned out for most of the year.  This year, however, I decided that the “First Year” excuse was over.  “Sure, teachers get burned out, but there is way too much to do at school for me to just leave at 4:00pm every day.  It’s just not being the best teacher I can be.”  So I stayed until 6:00pm.  Every night.  I was working 11 hour days, every single day.  Especially after the break-in, being home by myself at night was not appealing, so I would just stay at school for however long it took for Tyler to get home.  I wrote an entire blog post about how burned out I was feeling, but it was too depressing, so it stays in the archives.  Here’s a little snapshot of what that chapter of my life was like, quoted from October 12th (before the car-tastrophe or the break-in):

Lately, I just feel like I’m stuck in neutral – revving my engine and trying to get somewhere, but my car isn’t moving.  If I had to describe myself in one word, it would be rundown.  I wake up late, get to work barely in time, pour myself into my job for 11 hours, go home, watch some TV, eat something that’s heavily processed, fall into bed, wake up late (again) the next morning and start over.
That’s it.
I’m so exhausted all the time.  I’m sleeping fine, but somehow I’m just not well rested.  I’ve been at work from 7:00am until 5:30 or 6:00pm every day this entire week.  And even though I feel like I live at work, I still feel so behind.  I still haven’t finished selecting music for our next concert, my desk constantly feels so cluttered, and I can’t remember if I finished grading those practice journals yet.

By the end of October, I was really in bad shape.  I hated my job, I hated where we lived, and I just wanted to get out.  Life was pretty miserable, and I felt so alone in all of it.  My saving grace came in early November when we had the District 6 Honor Band and Choir event.  While my students had the opportunity to work with outstanding peers and exemplary conductors, the rest of the band and choir directors mostly get time to spend with each other.  I was open with my colleagues about how I felt and they were all gravely concerned.  I was so moved by how much people really, truly, cared about me.  I was able to set up appointments with other directors to go observe them in their classrooms, arrange for additional performing opportunities for my students, as well as organize some much-needed social time with the directors who live closest to me.

It may be a bit early to call, but I feel that I have come through the other side.  I still stay late at work often, but it’s no longer every day.  I again feel connected to other band and choir directors who know exactly what I am going through and want to see me succeed (as I want them to succeed).  My car is replaced, my window is fixed, my cell phone is functional, and my voice has completely healed from my six week illness.  We even bought a treadmill off of craigslist so that we (and Lucy!) can be active during the dark winter months.  Team Butler is eating healthier, working out more, and trying hard to be well-adjusted people in the midst of this madness.  And we might just make it yet.

Losing weight is a journey that many of us as Americans go through at various stages in life.  Looking at the person in the mirror and saying “Nope, not good enough (yet)” is a regular occurrence.  Even now, at least 10lbs lighter than I have ever been in my life, that morning pep talk still happens most days.  “Nope.  Not there yet.”  Occasionally someone will say “DANG girl!  You look good!”  And I honestly don’t believe them.  But I typically say “Thank you.  I don’t always feel like it, but thank you for saying so.”  Because the truth is I never feel like it. When you and those closest to you see you every day or even once a week, it’s much harder to notice the gradual change. You just smile, accept the compliment, and hope they’re not lying just to make you feel good.

What it took for me to notice actual change in my appearance was looking back at the photos that were taken during our trip to Seattle this weekend.  While I still don’t see the body I want to have, I did notice that my face really does look slimmer. It makes it easier to accept the compliments, because there is real change happening here, even if I don’t always see it.

I’m not going to pretend that these are before and after pictures, because they aren’t.  Consider them before and during photos, with after coming about 30lbs from now.  Here’s what I looked like in 2009, about 50lbs heavier than I am now.

Ignore the hair in the wind if you can.

The best part?  He genuinely loved me, even at a size 16-18.  That’s a real man.

Probably my favorite – making indoor s’mores in our college apartment.  A one time occurrence, but definitely contributing to this lifestyle.  Also, where did that necklace go?  I miss it.

That was me at 226lbs, Class I obesity.  I didn’t know how to exercise, I didn’t weigh myself, and I certainly wasn’t putting good fuel into my body (see above).  Here’s me today:

Me and a dear friend Felicity this past weekend in Seattle

Celebrating a friend’s birthday in Seattle this weekend with some of my closest Whitworth friends.  A joyous reunion indeed!

This is Sarah Butler today. I workout regularly, I weigh myself every week, and I try to be very intentional about what goes into my body. I often slip up. It’s hard to break 20 years of bad habits, behaviors, and attitudes about food. But certainly much better off than I was at 226lbs.

I’ll say it again – this is not the “Before and After” shoot.  I still look in the mirror everyday and say “Not quite.  Still room to grow (or shrink, as the case may be).  Not there yet.”  For those of you irritated with me for not celebrating the success, you’re allowed to be annoyed.  The only consolation you may take in my daily speech is that last word – yet.  It’s the same word I use with my students all the time.

Student:  “This music is too hard – I can’t play this!”
Mrs. Butler:  “Yet.”

Student:  “Mrs. Butler!  Why the heck would you give us this piece?  We speak ENGLISH!  We don’t know how to sing in Latin!”
Mrs. Butler:  “Yet.”

It implies that we are all a work in progress.  It’s not saying that I hate the body I am in, or that I want to give up.  It’s me saying that I am still on my way to finding what that body will look and feel like to live in.  It’s been rough the past few months –  I’ve been maintaining rather than losing weight lately.  It makes it much harder to accept the compliments when people claim that I look good.  But I try my best to forgive myself and remember that it’s all forward motion. As long as I’m not taking steps back (gaining weight) it’s all moving in the right direction.  I will not always be in “weight loss mode.” Once I reach what looks and feels like a healthy body, I will need to be able to maintain the way I am now.  So for today, I will attempt to celebrate what I consider to be minor successes in the big picture of things, but always keeping my eye on the prize – a healthier and (hopefully) happier me.

I’m spending this weekend in Forest Grove, Oregon at the Music in May festival here at Pacific University.  I brought with me four choir students and one band student, all of whom are behaving wonderfully and contributing to the success of the groups.  I intended to spend most of this weekend holed up in a hotel room grading post-concert evaluations and continuing to plan for next school year.  But my weekend is not going as planned.  Every time I drop in a rehearsal “just for a few minutes,”  I am always compelled to stay for the entire three hours.  All of the guest conductors here are fantastic, and I find myself taking furious notes, just to get down the wonderful things they are saying before I forget.  Here’s my absolute favorite quote of the weekend (so far).  The choir was working on Libertango, a driving piece that required exquisite focus from every single member.  Here’s what the conductor told the Sopranos when they were singing with very little energy (you have to picture this coming from a tiny, powerful Russian woman):

“Look, everything about this body says confidence.  This is not a teenage girl trying to find herself.  The tango is a mature dance!  We are not asking “Ooh, what Disney princess would I be?”  We are saying “Disney cannot HANDLE a princess like ME!”  To which the entire choir cheered and gave her a standing ovation, myself included.

And as I write down the quotes from both the choir director and the band director (both of whom, to some degree, remind me of the band and choir conductors I had in college) I realize how different these fields are.  The guest band conductor has these students playing beautifully with a balanced, gorgeous, in-tune sound with over 150 high school students.  He’s having them play difficult music, and providing the structure for them to do it successfully.  Students are playing their warm-ups backwards, practicing good and bad balance, beautiful and ugly sound so that they can explore and find what it means to be a band, really and truly.  I can’t pull myself away from how beautiful, complicated, compelling, and moving the music is.  The energy of this group is incredible.  And my students have never been a part of anything like this, anywhere else.

Then I look at my notes from the choir conductor, and think on other conductors I’ve had.  Excellent choir conductors really focus on full body, mind and spirit – not just the voice.  Today the choir started their morning with yoga, followed by pitch retention exercises focused on tone production, and ended with some complicated solfege workouts.  These students did not come with their music learned, and she is having to work very hard to get them to learn pitches, rhythms, and pronunciation on very complicated pieces – not what she came here to do.  But at the same time, she talks about the history of music, dating back to ancient tribal times.  She talks about the music as it relates to every day life, and how we as musicians have a responsibility to provide beautiful, compelling music to our audiences that is passionate, technically sound, and has beautiful tone quality – not just us today, but all musicians everywhere and every day.  I am moved to tears by both the music, and the words that she says.  The beauty is overwhelming, and the impact she has on these students (and me) is palpable.  And my students have never been a part of anything like this, anywhere else.

The band director is highly intellectual, knows exactly what he needs from each player, but is still goofy and a nice guy to be around.  I truly respect him and enjoy his company.  The choir director is very in tune with her emotions, and has incredibly high expectations for the singers.  While in rehearsal, she is absolutely a force to be reckoned with, and will not allow anything less than exquisite.  I truly respect her, and outside of the rehearsal context, I enjoy her company also.

Here’s my dilemma:  It is my job to be both of these people.  To be the highly intellectual yet goofy band director and the highly emotionally in tune woman who will not accept anything less than exceptional from every singer.  I’m not saying these two personalities are the only ones who exist in these fields, because that is certainly not true.  But it does seem to be that certain personalities gravitate towards certain musical tendencies.  In many ways, I still feel like a student.  I am very, very early on in my career, and nothing is completely decided for me.  When people ask “What’s your dream job?” I can pretty much always answer with confidence.  But the answer I give has changed so many times over the past 6 years, and I know that it is likely to continue to change.  As much as I feel that I am a mediocre choir director at best, I see the way that excellent choir directors lead and work with students, and I think to myself “I can totally see myself being that one day.  I want to grow up to be like them.”  And then I look at excellent band directors who I admire and I say the exact same thing.  “I want to grow up to be like them.”  But these people are completely different.

The truth of the matter is, there is to my knowledge no one in the professional music world who is both a professional choir director and a professional band director.  Everybody who has done both for a time eventually chooses.  If I was forced to make a choice at this point in my career I would choose band, if only because it’s what I have done longer and am more comfortable with.  But I am so drawn to the holistic approach to choir, addressing mind, body and soul.  I am drawn to the incredible beauty you can create with a group of people using no more than the body that God gave them, no added tools in their hands.  I don’t know that I ever want to completely leave either field, and I anticipate that difficult choice that I may have to one day make.

But for now, I will be satisfied with being the One Woman Show – being the end all, be all of music education for the students at Clara Brownell and Umatilla High.  For now, I am not forced to choose one or the other, just pushed to be excellent in these two different fields and lacking the expertise to do so.

As far as I’m concerned, my teaching career started here:

A crazy, frizzy-haired, overwhelmed and excited student teacher.  I was Ms. Mowry.  I had finished school, worked my tail off in student teaching, and was ready to take on the world.

Then I became this girl:

I’d gotten the job!  I didn’t feel like I had much time to get my room together and prepare for the beginning of the school year, but I was excited.  Then I became a real first year teacher:

I taught my first semester, conducted my first concert, and it was all an overwhelming success.  I really, for the first time felt like Mrs. Butler – a real teacher.  I came back from Christmas break and felt a strange dichotomy in my life.  I still felt like Mrs. Butler – not so much of a clueless rookie anymore, but still frustrated with myself with all of the things that I simply don’t know or don’t know how to do yet.  I mentioned in my last post the following statement about myself as a teacher:

“I often talk about the disconnect between the teacher that I want to be and the teacher I am now and how frustrated I get when I see how great I can be and that I’m just not there yet, mostly from lack of experience.  This week really gave me some confidence that with experience, I can become that teacher.

I’ve done a great deal of reflecting on that statement, and what exactly it looks like to be the “ideal” Mrs. Butler, how she looks, how she acts, and who she is.  I just got back from the Oregon Music Educators’ Association conference in Eugene, OR and while I was there,  I was inspired by many teachers that I consider to be an ideal music teacher.  They have their life together, they work incredibly hard for their students, and they have so much enthusiasm for their work, it’s staggering.  After seeing so many of these educators that I want to be like, I’ve decided to make a list of everything that I want for myself as a teacher and as a person.  So here it is – the checklist of the ideal Mrs. Butler, so that I may always keep her in the forefront of my mind and strive to become her every single day.

The Ideal Sarah Butler:

  • Always eats breakfast
  • Never overindulges
  • Gets to work at 6:30am every day
  • Is at a healthy weight
  • Is organized, both at work and at home
  • Makes time for her friends, new and old, and keeps in touch with those that are far away
  • Never leaves the house with a dirty dish on the counter
  • Makes sure that each music class makes beautiful sound at least at least once per class period
  • Does sight-singing with her choirs every single day
  • Takes enough time at school to be prepared, and also spends quality time with her husband every day
  • Takes time to recover over the weekends
  • Provides her students with opportunities to play/sing outside of their school ensembles (All State, Honor Groups, etc.)
  • Knows and is known by students, other teachers, classified staff, administrators, and parents
  • Rehearses her conducting skills to make every motion in her pattern intentional and helpful for her students
  • Makes sure every single student in her program graduates with the ability to read music
  • Shows her enthusiasm every day (even if the last class was rotten)
  • Stays in touch with what’s going on with her students – the movies they watch, the music they listen to, the slang they use
  •  Is not afraid to ask her colleagues for help, even on the simplest questions
  •  Never, ever hesitates to make a stand for her program and her students’ right to have a quality education in music
  •  Says something positive every single time she cuts of a group before she allows herself to be critical
  •  Really listens to the sound her groups are producing, and doesn’t settle for “okay” tone quality

I may not have a picture to post of “The Ideal Sarah Butler” yet but as soon as I do, I’ll be sure to show you what she looks like.  I can’t wait to meet her.

This is the first morning of my first winter break as a teacher, and today I am reflecting on my first few months of teaching leading up to and including my first two concerts as a music teacher that happened last week.  First, the high school concert on Tuesday followed by the middle school concert on Wednesday.  I had spent the whole last week rehearsing, making programs, e-mailing staff, and asking mentors for tips.  I wasn’t really nervous about how the kids would perform, but I was terrified that I wouldn’t get the logistics down before the concerts and the kids would suffer because of something I did or did not do.

As we were preparing, people told me that in the past not many people have come to the concerts, so I estimated for about as many people as have attended in the past.  Instead of the usual handful of people, we packed the house at both concerts!  I was so overwhelmed with gratitude for the community, parents, staff, and administrators that came, I couldn’t believe it!  The whole school year I’ve been thinking about how nerve racking it will be when the audience was there judging whether or not I was a good teacher based on how the kids performed.  But when it came down to the night of and I saw all of those people, I was so excited for the kids to show off what they could do, I wasn’t nearly as nervous as I’d anticipated.

More than anything, I finally feel like I’ve earned the title of “music teacher” or “band and choir director” or what have you.  I may have been rehearsing every single day all school year, built relationships with students that I care deeply for, and attended staff meetings, but until this week I just felt like a rookie.  I felt like I really didn’t know all the things I needed to know to do this job, that I was just flying by the seat of my pants all the time and holding on for dear life.  But after this week, figuring out all the logistics of lighting, sound boards, seating, risers, etc., and after seeing all of those kids work so hard and be so successful in their performances, I finally feel like I do really belong here and this is where I am supposed to be.  I often talk about the disconnect between the teacher that I want to be and the teacher I am now and how frustrated I get when I see how great I can be and that I’m just not there yet, mostly from lack of experience.  This week really gave me some confidence that with experience, I can become that teacher.  The night of the concerts, I was her – bright and shining and so ecstatic about every single kid in those ensembles!  Now all I have to do is learn how to be her every single day.

Now that we are officially on break (which is a very bizarre feeling by the way), I think now might be a good time to show how we’ve gotten the Butler house in the Christmas spirit.  We have so enjoyed getting the house ready for the holidays and scheduling in all of our dinner engagements and travel plans.  Here’s what the Butler household looks like nowadays:

Here’s the outside of the house – Tyler is very big on having a single strand of white lights to keep things simple and classy.

Here’s our wreath we got from Tyler’s mom, which has brightened our doorway significantly!

Then, as soon as you walk in, you see our little table adorned with some small decorations.  Several of you will be joining us for some holiday meals around this table – we can’t wait to see you!

Our piano got some festive spirit from some garland and the herb wreath we got from Michaela for Christmas!  It’s made out of organic bay leaves and rosemary, which we can use as spices once the wreath has finished drying – such a thoughtful gift!

Then, our season table got a little cheer with a nativity and some more fun things from Tyler’s mom.

Our first stockings were hung by the pencil sketch with care,

And of course, no house would be complete without a tree!  I grew up with a tree with multicolored lights and every color of ornaments imaginable, which I loved.  But I also love this new tree for our house  – white lights with ornaments in only white, green, gold, and red.  We had so much fun making this tree ours, touches from my family and touches from his.  here are some highlights of my favorite ornaments:

My grandma saw this at Hobby Lobby when we were shopping for a tree on Black Friday, and I just couldn’t say no!  Go Cougs!

My mom got this for us the day after Christmas last year after Tyler proposed.  It was one of the first that we hung up – I love it!

My Aunt Elizabeth got this for me for my bridal shower after Tyler and I got engaged when they were at Disney Land.  Love it!

These may not be of interest to anyone but me, but this last shot shows the first ornament I bought for our tree (the silver B on top) and it shows the fun musical ornaments I found – showing here is a treble clef, with a bell on the end.  I love noisy things and I love music!

So that’s our house!  If you will be in the Tri-City area or in Eastern Oregon over the holidays, give us a jingle – this first Christmas season is a special one for us and we love filling it with time with our friends and family!

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