Kelli T. Smith ’07

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This summer, Kelli Smith ’07, participated in an email interview with Chair, Barbara Witham McCargar. This is what she shared after just finishing her 9th year at Wayland Union Schools teaching grades six-12 band. Her bands have consistently received superior ratings at Michigan School Band and Orchestra Association festivals, and the jazz band (which has been doing wonderful things) has really become something the Wayland community really rallies behind.

What memories stick with you after ten plus years out of AQ? My most favorite memories from my days at AQ were always homecoming. I loved playing with the jazz band in the tent and I loved performing the odd things our percussion group did.

What is your best advice for new music educators and those preparing to teach today? My advice for new K-12 music teachers: No job is beneath you. There are kids everywhere just waiting for you to bring out the music in them! You might have majored in instrumental or choral music, but you might just find that teaching sweet kindergartners is really your passion! Apply for everything available to you!

Kelli’s “go-tos” for just about everything

Life – There has to be a healthy balance between work and home. You also need to take care of YOU. Get a hobby, exercise and have an end time to your work day. Work STAYS at work.

Career/Networking/Professional Development – I try to play with other musicians every opportunity I get. Being a musician is just as important to me as teaching young musicians. It fills my soul. Also, by joining community ensembles you get to network just by being in the group! I also make it a point to go to conferences every year, be it the Michigan Music Conference or the Midwest Clinic. Not only are there more networking opportunities, but there is also so much to learn. And what better way to learn than to listen to your peers about their experiences? I also reach out to colleagues that I respect and look up to. Whether it's for advice about any given situation or to ask them to come out to work with my kids, I know that there are things I can't always hear. It's important for me and for my students to have these kinds of professionals come in for fresh perspectives.

Job changes – My very first rule of thumb is EMPLOYMENT. Take ANY job in your field that you can get your hands on. This will help you get that precious experience that other employers like to see! My first job was at a charter academy. I taught everything except band! I was even a reading para pro. I knew I wanted more, and that summer I applied to 20 different schools across the state, got 15 interviews and was ultimately offered two jobs. I took the job back near my family on the other side of the state. I knew I needed a change after three years. I missed West Michigan. That's when I decided to begin applying for jobs again, except I could be more picky this time. I only applied to one school, and that was the job that brought me back to West Michigan, where I longed to be! Ultimately, you know what you want out of your life and your career. You will know when and if the time comes for a job change.

A nugget of wisdom from Sister Catherine Williams – It was no secret that I struggled for a few years. Money was always tight, family life was strenuous, I had a full class load and I worked full-time. I nearly crumbled in my third year. Sister Catherine helped me in a way I very much needed at that time and told me to just pay it forward when I could. Pay it forward. I can happily say that I do just that whenever I can. I happily do it with no judgement, and I like to think I would make her proud of just how far I've taken that moment with me.

Final thoughts as you reflect back on what your AQ education meant to you 

I adored my time at Aquinas very much. I'm glad that I made some great music with great people and fabulous faculty. I’m forever indebted to Rupert Kettle, adjunct professor of music in percussion and percussion group, and honorary AQ degree holder, for talking me into switching my major to percussion. I am so thankful that I was able to learn true appreciation of jazz with Doc [Paul] Brewer. And every time I sit down at the piano, I can hear Mary Hurd gently correcting me and us both laughing in her studio.