The Caffeinated Flutist, Vol. 5: What If I Don’t Want to Teach? By Mary Hales

Hey there, flute-trepreneurs!

This column is going to be covering a topic near and dear to my heart - the fact that education is not for everyone, even as a fallback. I struggled with this for a long time, and sometimes still do, but it’s important to recognize our strengths and weaknesses and deal with them accordingly. (A point of clarification before we continue - for the purposes of this column, when I say “teach,” I’m referring to K-12 public school music, from general through ensemble directing. I’m NOT including private studios or higher education.)

The most difficult decision I made in college was to switch from a Bachelor’s in Music Education to a Flute Performance degree, even though I knew my heart was already there. By the time I switched, I had taken the one class my undergrad school offered before I would have had to enter the College of Education for the other required courses in my degree, but that class was all I needed to confirm to myself that I didn’t want to teach in the public schools. I talked to everyone accessible to me before I changed my degree - none more so than my family, friends, and professors. All of them helped me come to the same realization, through different logical explanations: that yes, music education is a valuable field, but not all of us are called to be educators, and that is not a bad thing. (We can get into all of that in another column, and probably spend an entire column on it.)

Let me put it this way - there is nothing worse for students than an unmotivated teacher who doesn’t want to be there, and I knew I would have been exactly that for my students, had I chosen to go into public education. I started in that degree track, knowing that most Education degrees are geared towards K-12 education, with the caveat that I knew it would be “safe” - easier to find employment, etc. But was it really what I wanted to do? I always knew that the answer to that question was no.

So, if you’re like me and don’t want to be a public school music teacher, here are some other things you can do:

  1. Change your degree track!It sounds scary, and it is a little scary - I was terrified when I first thought about switching my degree focus. Sometimes I still wonder if I really made the right decision, especially in the current job market. However, I know I wouldn’t be where I am if I had chosen to stick it out in the Ed program, and I’m so happy with where I am in life and the things I’m learning that it confirms for me I made the right choice. If you’re worried Performance isn’t for you, think about Composition or Theory, or a BA. Just don’t feel obligated to “stick it out” in a degree that makes you miserable, purely in the name of “safety”.
  2. Solidify your goals.There are lots of other available fields besides teaching in the public schools - private studio teaching, Skype lessons, freelancing, etc. Figure out what your musical, professional, and personal goals are, and see where they line up. I would recommend making bubble charts for all the things you want in life, maybe even on different days, and try to be as impartial with yourself as possible. Put practicality to the side for the moment; turn off your inner editor - what do you want?
  3. Talk to the people around you.Your professors are invaluable wellsprings of knowledge and advice, especially for situations like this. I’ll never forget when I emailed my theory professor, asking him the specific question “What degrees did you get to be where you are?” The first sentence in his response was, “If you don’t see yourself teaching K-12, don’t get the Ed degree.” I’ve carried that piece of advice with me ever since, as a reminder that I did the right thing.
  4. Think about the people you want to emulate.Think about it - is there someone in your professional field that you’re jealous of? Why is that? Do you envy one thing in particular, or multiple things? These are the questions I’ve been asking myself lately while trying to figure out what my path will be after I graduate from Mizzou in the spring. (For the record, my person I envy is Jasmine Choi, because…well, she’s Jasmine Choi.) While the digital era makes it hard to remember that Instagram and real life are far from the same thing, it can make us think about what we want in our lives. This is where those bubble charts we made earlier can come in handy - think about how you can attain the things you want while emulating the people you admire.
  5. Keep those goals in front of your face every day.I had some really great chats with my wonderful professor, Alice K. Dade, over the course of this last week. Just a couple of the things she told me to do were a) keep my list of goals up all the time, and b) when I wake up in the morning, ask myself, “Do I have to do this?” If the answer is no, find a different path.

It can almost all be boiled down to this - music is so hard, and we all know that as flutists. It’s exhausting and all-consuming, but if it’s what you have to do, it’s the most fulfilling thing in the world to be able to do it.

Thanks for reading, everybody! Until next time!

Flutist Mary Hales is a native of Conway, Arkansas, currently studying under Alice K. Dade at the University of Missouri School of Music for her Masters in Flute Performance. Follow more of her writing at; find her on social media with the handle @maryhalesflute.

Leave a Reply