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Cally Bitterlin

Cally BitterlinK-State graduation year: May 2008
Degree: Bachelors in Music Education
Other degree received: Masters in Music
Current employer: Waco Independent School District, Waco, TX
Position: Assistant Band Director, Piano Instructor, color guard sponsor at University High School



How many times, if any, did you change your major during college?

0. I thought about it when times got tough, but I never did and I am so glad.

Describe the process of choosing your major.

While in high school, I took inventory of my interests and strengths and considered careers associated with those skills. During this   time, I was thinking about majoring in Finance and Music Education. In the end, it was my love of music and the desire to inspire other through music that won out.

What activities/organizations were you involved in while in college?
  • Kansas State Marching Band
  • Basketball Bands
  • Tau Beta Sigma
  • Kappa Delta Pi
  • Co-ed bowling league
  • Jazz Band Lab B
  • Women’s Glee
  • Musicum Collegium 
  • KSU Distance Education
Did you complete an internship or have related work experience prior to receiving your job?

Kansas State did an excellent job of putting us in the local schools for upper level classes. I observed classes at elementary schools and middle schools in Manhattan, KS as well as my student teaching experience in my last semester. So, while not an actual internship, I was given many opportunities to learn in real world situations and teach with wonderful people in and around the K-State community.

Describe the process of finding your first job.

I always had my ears and eyes open while graduation approached. I was in contact with friends, professors and educators looking for my first job. Kansasteachingjobs.com was where I found the opening in Wamego for a K-2 music instructor. It took about 4 months to find this opening, but you have to consider that I graduated in December, so finding a job in the middle of a school year was probably not going to happen. I did substitute teach almost everyday until then so that offered me more time to grow in the classroom.

I applied and was offered an interview along with 3 other applicants. The interview itself was not as intimidating as I thought it would be. I was very nervous up to that point, though. I dressed professionally, had read up on district’s accomplishments and had memorized simple facts such as the school colors, mascot and the names of the front office workers and administrators. These facts allowed for the interview to be more of a conversation and not so much a question/answer session. I received a call about a week later with an offer for the position, which I happily accepted.

Briefly describe a typical day at your job.

I currently work at a 5A high school in Texas and love it. Before school, the students are allowed to come to the band hall to practice and receive help with anything from instrument repair to region music. I then have a little time to do grades, plan, keep up with finances, order supplies, make copies (the list goes on and on and never gets smaller). Then, I teach piano lab for an hour. I have a mixed group of beginner musicians, band students, orchestra students and choir students. Everyone thinks of music in a slightly different way and some just want to “make beats.” It is a struggle to find some common ground, but I have found the old-school-house way of teaching works. Kids sit in common clusters and I teach small lessons to each group while the others are practicing. After that, I go to our feeder middle school and work with the Varsity band students on everything from basic sound to concert music and solos. This time is also used for recruitment and retention. After a lunch break, percussion and color guard have class. I work with color guard during this time on routines for the marching show and concerts. During the spring, I will be working with the Non-Varsity percussion preparing for contest. The winds class happens at the end of the day. In the fall, we have marching rehearsal and in the spring the winds and percussion are split into Varsity, Non-Varsity and Sub-Non Varsity. After school, there is rehearsal on Monday and Wednesday from 5-7:15 (school does not end until 4:30, but doesn’t start until 9. It’s the bus schedule for this large district that causes this. There are 2 high schools in town if that gives you an idea.) We also allow sectionals to take place after school on non-rehearsal days. During marching season, we go to EVERY game on Fridays. Texas loves their football and the band is an important part of that. It also allows us a chance to have a type of “dress rehearsal” of our UIL show every week.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I love the students and how they can surprise you. “Ah-ha” moments are amazing to witness. Seeing a student’s face when they do well is also wonderful to see. Nobody likes paperwork, but the learning that takes place and the music that is made outweighs all of the administrative work.

What are the most challenging aspects of your job?

There are lots of hurdles in this profession. In this district, we have Title I students and along with that also come Title I parents. Many of our students are taking care of their parents, grandparents, siblings and sometimes their own kids. Parents often do not see the benefits in music and that battle is always taking place. Also, paperwork; it is abundant and can overwhelm you if you let it. Prioritize it, digitize it and chunk it when you can. Otherwise, it will consume you and you will lose the original focus – Music Education.

What advice would you give someone interested in your field?

Rely on the people in your life that pull you through the breakdowns and realized that professors are people too and they want you to be successful. Dr. Tracz and Dr. Burrack were major players for me. It wasn’t that I talked one-on-one with them all the time, but what they had to say in class always made me feel better and reassured me I was doing the right thing.

During and after college, introduce yourself to as many music educators as you can. Make friends, build networks, get phone numbers, attend concerts at local colleges and attend the community band concerts or, better yet, JOIN THEM! That is exactly how I got the job I have now. I was subbing a lot and going crazy not being in the same classroom everyday. So, I looked online for local groups that were looking for a saxophone player and found the Waco Community Band that rehearsed at the local community college. I met many music educators including the conductor, the director of bands at MCC. He put in a plug for me at the 2ndrehearsal and one of the clarinet players introduced herself and got me an interview to be her assistant at a middle school. The next semester I was working at both the middle and high school and the year after that I was full time at the high school.

Overall, GET INVOLVED! I know you’re busy, but think of things like that extra ensemble or club as time that you’re building your resume or networking while having a good time. And, if you’re doing those things, you’re not doing homework so that’s always a plus.

What were the stepping stones that led to your current career?

During high school, I was inspired by my band director to pursue music education and that started it all for me. I have always wanted to go to K-State and I was lucky that they have a wonderful music education program. After getting my undergrad, I knew I wasn’t done learning so I did the summer master’s program and learned so much more. The degrees, the school and my activities are all reasons that I was hired. The head director of the high school I am at told me that my experience in jazz band, Tau Beta Sigma (community and band service) and my comfort level speaking in the interview got me the job. While having good class attendance and making good grades are important, employers want to see that you were successful while participating in other things. They want to see if you can manage your time and not lose your mind. All the extras also show how social you can be and sometimes your sense of humor. My time in the bowling league is always something that is brought up in the interview. This relaxes me and the interviewer.

Has your career path taken any unconventional turns that you never would have expected?

I never wanted to teach elementary music. It just never interested me, but that was the first job I had, with ages 5-8. I learned so much that year and am thankful for the experience, but it only confirmed that I am happier with older students and band.

What job have you enjoyed the most and why?

My current position has been wonderful and I am looking forward to the spring since this year I have been moved up to 1st assistant and will be conducting the non-varsity band at UIL in April on stage and in the sight reading room. I never thought I would move away from home, but I’m glad I did. I have learned so much: Title I teaching and that sometimes these kids need a parent figure more than a teacher, a lot about the Hispanic culture and the fact that Mariachi bands go to contest and is a serious business, UIL, sight reading, some Spanish, the list goes on forever.

What were the major lifestyle changes your first year out of college that made the transition hard from college to the world of work and how did you adapt?

The major change was with personal finances. There are no loans like student financial aid. In fact, you will be expected to pay those back soon. You have to budget your paychecks and make them work. Keeping up with a budget can be hard and if you have no experience with finances or budgeting, find a program or take a course on personal finance to get you started. This can make or break you especially if you do not have a budget at school and are spending your own money on supplies. I was lucky that I had taken an accounting class in high school and have parents that run their own farming business so I knew what I had to do and understood the importance of making hard financial decisions.

What was the one thing you did in college that has had the most impact on your life or career?

My experience in the Kansas State Marching Band helped me in more ways than one. At first, it was just to march and it was a requirement for my major. Then, I wanted that leadership experience and became section leader of the tenor saxophone section for 2 years, all while learning under Dr. Tracz and his staff. The next year, I was on student staff and saw the inner workings of all that makes game day run smoothly. At the time, it was a responsibility. Looking back on it, I was learning how to be the leader of the leaders and manage time. Every little aspect of my marching band experience directly correlates to what I do now. Especially in Texas where bands are super competitive when compared to Kansas.

What tips do you have for current undergrads about opportunities they should definitely take advantage of while they are in school?

It’s going to sound silly, but when I was invited to participate in activities such as subbing at a volleyball game for the band, joining the TBS softball team or even just hanging out with a group of people I often turned it down. I regret that. If you don’t have time, you don’t have time. But, if you do have time and you’re just turning it down because…don’t. You’re missing out.

Was there a specific class you remember that sparked your interest in your career direction?

High School Band. 

Was there a specific person in college who had a significant impact on your life or career?

Dr. Tracz has always been a huge advocate for me. He didn’t have to make me a section leader or let me be on student staff or answer my e-mails, but he did and still does. He is very good at seeing the potential and the good in people. If you are willing to put in the work and just do what you’re supposed to do he will help you any way he can.

What didn't college teach you that you wish you would have known before you started your career?

I felt the master’s portion of my education taught me so much more about teaching than my undergrad. It was so much more relevant. Learning the basics are important, how to do a fermata and how to write classroom rules, but I wish there was a section on sight reading with a band included in conducting and I wish we could have discussed how teaching in a Title I school has its own struggles, but nothing to fear. I left KSU thinking I would never have to teach those inner city kids, but I kind of do. It’s not as bad as some places, but some warning would have been nice. I was not prepared for students in 8thgrade to tell me they were pregnant, to witness a real fight break out or to hear a bomb threat called in, and most of all I was not prepared for maturity level, the lack of motivation, struggles these kids go through day to day and how to show empathy toward those kids without being insulting. I know nothing of those true struggles, but I am there to help if they want it. 

Do you keep in touch with your college classmates? How have those relationships influenced your career?

I do stay in touch! My class of music educators and even the surrounding classes were pretty close. While not all of us are best friends, I feel comfortable calling just about anyone with a question. And since we have social networks, it’s easier than ever to get that help. Bad days happen and when someone is there that knows what how that feels, it makes it not so bad. We kept each other going in school and we still keep each other going in our careers.