Avoiding The Midwest Clinic Blues

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Guest Blog by John M. Hillsman, band director at Beauregard High School

I want to share these thoughts with band director friends, especially my younger band director friends. I formulated these ten statements over the years. Occasionally, I slightly revise one statement. I keep them handy in my notes on my phone/iPad and refer to them as necessary. 

I well remember being a young band director attending The Midwest Clinic. Two things always happened as a result of attending the event: 1. I would come home feeling motivated and empowered to teach. The experience was invigorating. 2. I realized, and annually I was reminded, of the extent to which I was (and continue to be) a virtual “nobody” in the profession. I would also come home almost depressed about myself professionally. I was depressed to the point I actually did not attend the clinic for years because the invigoration was not worth the depression and lack of self-worth I felt professionally. The Midwest Clinic is built around the “somebodies.” The entire time you are there if you are like me, you realize you stand in an outer circle looking into the inner circle. I finally came to the realization that it is perfectly alright to be in that outer circle. Most of us are. Fortunately, in our profession, most in that inner circle are gracious to those of us who are not! 

I continue to go to The Midwest Clinic annually and totally enjoy myself and the experience. I still come home invigorated to teach but never depressed about myself any longer. However, to do so, it took me coming to the ten realizations I share below.

  1. Have a hobby or do something you enjoy outside of band directing/music if you want to last in this business until retirement (and in my case, beyond it).
  2. Most of us will not have the “premier” band programs. You will discover that it is as much about landing the “right” job as anything else. You can be a stellar and wonderful teacher, but premier programs are the result of great teaching and the “stars have aligned” resources all falling into place.
  3. Align your program goals with the resources at your disposal and make it the best you can for your students. Trying to develop the program beyond its resources breeds frustration for all involved and especially for you as the director. It is as important as teaching to build your resources, but in most programs, there will be limitations on the resources available to you.
  4. When you go to an event such as The Midwest Clinic, you may realize how insignificant you are in the big picture, but you are the big picture to your students and your community. They don’t care about your status on a national level. They care about you on their level. You are highly important to them. Never forget your importance to them.
  5. The biggest obstacles you will face in doing your job will be thrown in front of you by the very people who hired you to do your job.
  6. The conditions that you agreed to when accepting your position (scheduling, funding, job conditions, resources, etc.) are only good as long as that person or group who hired you is your supervisor(s). In many instances and especially in non-union states, these agreements are made on a handshake. When that supervisor moves on, often so do the conditions you agreed to. Be alert to recognize when you are not the band director that a new administrator wants. Seldom do they have the integrity to just be forthcoming and tell you. They chip away at your resources and continually drop hints while smiling at you to your face. If you don’t take the hint, they can and often do something that can potentially damage your career. (I have seen this situation happen to good band directors often throughout my career.)
  7. Life in our chosen profession can change on a dime. The conditions that favored and fostered your success can be chipped away at or outright stripped away. You cannot, in many instances, continue to build or even maintain your program when the resources you have are diminished. It is like investing $100K and then withdrawing $40K, but still expecting to get the same return on your investment. It doesn’t work that way though many administrators will allow your resources to diminish and expect you to continue to build or maintain the current levels of program success. This situation is often a harsh reality that we often face at times in our careers. 
  8. Realize that resources in your band program are more than just monetary. They include things such as the socioeconomics of your community and specifically your students and parents, the intellectual levels of students and parents, the value of your band program to your school and community, your ability to obtain funding for your program (are there resources within the community to support your program?), administrative support, etc. Realize that in most instances, administrative support is often the single most important resource. Plan accordingly. Align program goals to the resources at your disposal. Example: Don’t plan a band trip your students/parents cannot afford.
  9. Due to factors beyond your control, sometimes it is important to know when to move to greener pastures. However, make sure that the pastures you move along to are actually greener. There are more factors involved in doing your job that you cannot control than you can control. (Refer to some of the points above for an explanation.)
  10. LET YOUR FAMILY COME FIRST. This is probably the single biggest mistake many band directors make. Don’t let your job consume you. Know that being happy at home and at work are both important to your well being. Often times I have been happy at work, but not at home (generally my fault in hindsight). At times, I have been happy at home but not at work, often due to those factors beyond the scope of my control. However, true happiness and fulfillment come when you are happy at home and at work. If one has to be slighted, let it be work, not home.

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John Hillsman is a native of Tifton, Georgia. Upon graduation from Tift County High School, he attended Troy State University. He currently holds a Bachelors, Masters and Specialist Degrees in Music Education from Troy University.

Prior to accepting his current position as band director at Beauregard High School and Sanford Middle School in Opelika, Alabama, Mr. Hillsman was the band director at Hawkinsville High School/Pulaski Middle School, Westover High School, Washington County High School, and he retired from Jeff Davis High School in the state of Georgia. This year marks his thirty-fifth as a music educator.