I was supposed to be doing a flag camp this week, but clearly I’m not there. I committed to teach this camp way back in March or April, and had ironed out the fee and the show and some other things, but I hadn’t actually RECEIVED the show and couldn’t start choreographing anything until I had, at the minimum, scores and a recording. Earlier this month, I found out why I didn’t have my stuff yet. The director I’ve worked with for the past few years was suddenly yanked, and though the new guy had all of my info, he didn’t call me. I’ve had mixed feelings about it ever since.
I’d been starting to feel like I wanted to retire from teaching colorguard, and had told a few people that this would probably be my last year. My shoulder joints are wrecked, one of my wrists isn’t great anymore, and aside from the physical stress, the mental stress was starting to get to me. I always had trouble getting my show materials on time, which meant that I was writing material in a rush the week before camp, and often rewriting huge portions of the show during lunch breaks and evenings at camp. Teaching at band camp is, in some ways, more intense and stressful than learning at band camp used to be. Back then, I mostly only had myself to worry about, except for in the years when I was a section leader and I had to look out for the other girls a bit too. Now, I have to worry about the girls, the other staff members, the band parents, and then, somewhere way down on the list, myself.
I’ve had to ice down my shoulders and take drugs for the last few years at camp in order to be able to teach for all five days. Two years ago when I was working with two schools, I lost part of my range of motion and had to go to physical therapy for a few months. Last year, I did camp with a sinus infection.
I leave, and I think about all of these things, and I think about the fact that I’m taking vacation time from my day job to do this, and sometimes it doesn’t seem worth it. At least when I was a student, I went through all of this crap and then I got to put on a uniform and PERFORM every week. That’s when it all paid off. I worked my ass off in practices and rehearsals, and then I got on the field, and I kicked ass. In college, performances were often the only times when I felt like I was good at anything, like I was doing something right.
And now, here I am. Once upon a time, a motivational speaker we had at the beginning of band camp made a crack that the only thing colorguard members could do with those skills after college was juggle potatoes at the grocery store. He was mostly right. But I got this opportunity to go into a high school that really had no program at all, and made something out of it. I used to be so excited about it – I could still use those skills after all, and I could make a program there, and I’d even get paid for it.
The first year I taught, it was like something out of a movie. I taught the girls this show and we performed it for the parents at the end of camp and it was this magical transformation, and parents came up to me afterward and thanked me half to death for doing this wonderful service for their kids, and for their school. Someone said they’d try to get me more money next year, and I said it was okay – I wasn’t doing it for the money anyway.
Somewhere in the last year or so, I realized that the money was one of the only reasons I was still holding on. I negotiated a 30% increase in my fee, and I considered not taking the job if they couldn’t pay me at that level, and I let the director’s disorganization get to me, and I let some of the parents get to me, and I worried about my shoulders and about my free time, and I forgot about the girls.
Those girls are so young, and they live in one of the poorest, most isolated counties in Virginia. For many of them, Roanoke is the largest city they’ve ever visited. Most of them have never been on a plane. Most of them weren’t really planning on going to college, but they might, but whatever. It depends on what their boyfriends want to do.
I had a week with them. I talked to them about how important it was to go to college, about how much financial aid is available out there to help them. They talked to me about their boyfriends (some of whom were out of high school and had been in jail), about their parents who kept losing jobs when the factories closed down, about their friends who were getting pregnant in high school, about all kinds of things. I tried to teach them everything I could, and to give them advice when I had any, and to give them what little perspective I’ve picked up over the years. I gained a lot of perspective from them, too. I never had enough time to tell them everything I wanted to, or to hear everything they wanted to tell me.
The girls who were freshmen when I started down there are seniors this year. I was kind of hoping I’d be the one to decide when I had nothing left to teach them. But instead, I’m taking vacation next week and I guess I’ll lounge around or something. I don’t know.
My shoulders won’t hurt this year.