Moving In

I have always been itinerant.

I moved for the first time when I was five weeks old. My father's career as a minister, first in the American Baptist Church, then the United Methodist Church, meant we moved on average every three years. Once I finished my schooling at the age of 30, I kept moving. The longest I've had a single address was the four years I lived in Philomath--my high school years. It appears the moving has, finally, slowed down: our plan is to remain in this house another four and a half years, then move to somewhere in inner Portland, where we may expect to spend the rest of our independent adult lives. That was my parents' story, too: my father's longest appointment was his last, and since retiring in 1990, he and my mother have lived continuously in the house they inherited from my grandmother.

I've changed jobs a lot, too, and not just in my ministry years. I was technically in the Banks district for six years, but the middle two were on layoff, and the last two were half time. I expect to be in my current job, with Reynolds, for a very long time, hopefully the remainder of my career, but until Reynolds restores full time music across the district, I will be changing schools in January every year. (That's how Hartley and Scott have chosen to have their respective halves of both me and the PE teacher: I will do second semester this year and first semester next year at Hartley, then do the same at Scott while she trades places with me.)

The two schools have a lot in common: large student populations, many of whom are English Language Learners, most of whom are on free or reduced lunches; and neither school has a dedicated music room, so I'm again in the gym. One thing Hartley does not have, at least not in my first four days, is anything approaching the level of problem behaviors I faced at Scott. It could be that the PE teacher really whipped these students into shape, and I'm benefiting from her skills at teaching proper gym behavior. I think there's more to it than that, though.

Changing schools as many times as I have, and, before, that, subbing in as many as I did, I've discovered that schools have personalities. Scott's personality was disordered, something that we all inherited from a previous principal who, as near as I can tell, was just marking time to retirement. There was also a clash brought on by a merging of neighborhoods, and an influx of over a hundred children that expanded the school's population by twenty percent. The new principal has worked diligently at taming the wildness of the school, but it's clearly hard on her.

Hartley has a very different vibe. There are still problems of class size--in this case, it's the third grade that is huge--and fifth grades can be just as obnoxious as anywhere else. But I don't get the sense that these children have had their boundaries altered in uncomfortable ways. They know what to expect. There are fewer new faces, and the overall atmosphere of the place is calmer.

Both schools are supportive environments that provide the only stability many of these children will ever know. Both are more than schools to them: they are community.

As for me, I almost instantly became a rock star. Children greet me in the hall with a grin and a wave, are delighted to see me when I walk past the library to lunch, point me out to each other and whisper "music teacher!" to those who haven't yet met me. I do think that, as of today, I have had every one of the 500+ students in the gym, and I've got a good start on learning names. They're like any other children I've taught: sweet, earnest, squirrely at times, hungry for attention and approval, friendly, polite, easily chastened, thrilled to have two sticks to hit together, laughing at the musical jokes I play on them, endlessly creative. As much as I love it here already, I cannot help but ache for the children I left behind at Scott, many of whom I will never see again.

But I won't dwell on it; for one thing living as an itinerant has taught me well is how to say goodbye. It's sad and sweet, and I treasure the notes children wrote me, and the puppy piles of hugs I experienced in my last week at Scott. My job now, though, is to build something new, and considering how quickly I became a rock star here, I fully expect the hugging to commence any day now.


  1. How about changing "itinerant" to "gypsy"... More accurate, adds a little romance, and helps to frame the persecution we suffered as the "outsiders", especially in Idaho. And turns out I also wrote a little about this experience,


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