Caroline Fitzgerald grew up in Pearl City, Hawaii and started learning the saxophone in seventh grade. Her band teacher was the most influential teacher in her life and the reason she decided to pursue music education.
After spending several summers at Interlochen Arts Camp, Fitzgerald attended Interlochen Arts Academy for high school. From Interlochen, she auditioned for the University of Michigan, visited Ann Arbor, and ended up going to U-M, where she studied saxophone and music education.
Fitzgerald began her career in music education as a part-time assistant band director at Saline High School. The following year she happily accepted a full time position in the Ann Arbor Public Schools.
During her first three years in the district, Fitzgerald taught band at Thurston, Wines, Northside, and King elementary schools, and co-taught with her mentor, Jay MacArthur, at Clague Middle School. After three very happy years at Clague, Fitzgerald accepted a position as head band director at Scarlett Middle School, where she set her expectations for the students extremely high. She says the Scarlett band kids have exceeded her expectations, and the band program has quadrupled in the four years that she has been there. That includes more students in more classes.
Also during her time at Scarlett, Fitzgerald earned her master’s degree in music education from U-M. In October of 2015, she and her husband welcomed their first baby girl, Alaina.
What inspired you to become a teacher? I’ve had really inspiring teachers who absolutely love what they do. As early as second grade, I remember being excited about learning because my teacher liked teaching. Lessons were fun, engaging, and taught me to think outside the box. The older I got, the more I encountered teachers who did not love teaching as much. I began to think about ways their lessons could be presented differently, or how to help my classmates understand the material. I thought of teaching like a big puzzle of how to teach the same material in a variety of ways to reach every kid. This was all before seventh grade. When I signed up for band in seventh grade, my teacher changed my life. The way that he taught band made me feel smart, important, and part of a bigger whole. When I was in his classroom, I felt proud and accomplished. That’s a feeling I want all my students experience because it ultimately played a huge role in the positive choices that I’ve made throughout my life.
What was your plan B? I actually didn’t have a plan B. In seventh grade I decided to become a music teacher, found out what kind of education I needed, worked to become the best musician I could be, and applied for music education programs. I never doubted that I was going to be a teacher. There were times when I questioned whether I wanted to pursue music because—especially in college—music can be so competitive. I found it challenging to remember that feeling of pride and accomplishment amid the School of Music atmosphere. However, I had supportive teachers and friends who helped me through.
Why did you want to work for AAPS? Being at the University of Michigan as an undergraduate music student, I knew I wanted to be in a district that supported the arts as much as Ann Arbor does. Also, being from a military family, it was important to me to find a community where I could be rooted. I feel so privileged to get to work for such a supportive district while being able to make a home in such a welcoming and diverse community.
Describe an average workday. My average work day starts at 6 a.m. when my baby daughter wakes up. I juggle getting ready for school and keeping her occupied. I arrive at school around 7:25, straighten up the band room, and write the lesson plans on the board for every class that day. Throughout the day I
teach jazz band, 6th grade band, two classes of 7th grade band, 8th grade band, and a new class for 6th graders called “Culture Through Music” that I teach with our choir teacher, Cory Bergman.
After school, I help facilitate tutoring with band kids, staff meetings, or after school jazz band. I get home around 5:20, feed my daughter dinner, and put her to bed.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned about teaching? About learning? I’ve only been teaching for seven years and I’m sure my answer to this question will evolve. Right now in my life, I think that the most important thing I’ve learned about teaching is this: You only see the kids for less than one hour a day. That’s not enough time. You have to help them develop a love for what you are trying to teach them. You have to connect with them. They have to want to learn it. If the passion to learn the subject is there, they will be successful.
How do you survive a bad day at work? I have the most wonderful colleagues who understand what a bad day can be like. They are so supportive and always talk me through any tough day.
What was your own experience like in middle school band? I’ve already talked about my teacher. He was so strict! He had really high expectations and you didn’t dare come to class without your part learned. At the same time, he was very nurturing and helpful when anybody needed extra help. Our class was a mix of 7th and 8th graders. As a 7th grader, you looked up to the 8th graders and learned as much as you could from them. As an 8th grader, you were expected to mentor and be an example for the younger students. I would imagine teaching a mixed class like that would be hard, but it actually worked out really well.
What was always written on your report card in grade school? I got all A’s and was a very good student—except for the C I got in p.e. in elementary school.
What would you tell a college student considering becoming a teacher? I would tell them that if they are passionate about it, they need to do it. If someone was on the fence about becoming a teacher, I’d tell them to explore all of their interests and find a field that excites them. I don’t think that teaching should be a backup career or something that anybody settles for. I don’t think that’s what’s best for them or their future students.
What do you like to do when you’re not working? I do my best to stay connected to the people who mean the most to me. I visit with friends and usually travel on school breaks to see family who live out of state.
Where would you like to be in 10 years? I’d like to be happy.
What’s most exciting about your personal life right now? My baby just turned one! She’s walking, talking, sleeping, and finally growing some hair.