Point Higgins Elementary Elementary and Fawn Mountain Elementary schools welcomed new music teacher Paula DeAngeles this school year.
Hailing from Colorado, DeAngeles, in an interview in her Point Higgins classroom this past week, said she has hit the ground running, with an asynchronous class schedule, two curriculums, 16 classes to teach and school bands to lead.
“I have to prep 32 lessons or more for the week, which is a little insane, to make sure you’re organized,” DeAngeles said.
Her focus on organization allows her to give her students the positive, supportive and playful exposure to music that she aims for.
“I will sacrifice good singing or something just to have them have fun,” DeAngeles said. “I want them to come in this room and have joy and not even realize, ‘Hey, we’re singing,’ or ‘Hey, we’re learning music.’”
Her passion is not only for music, she said, but also for the students.
“I think you have to have a love for kids to teach this. That love has to come first,” she said. “That joy has to come first or they don’t care. They’re not going to want to learn, they’re not going to want to come in, they’re not going to want to do anything for you.”
DeAngeles started her career as a music teacher as an musician in Colorado, who was contracted by schools to teach orchestras.
“I taught eight orchestras at four elementary schools,” she said.
She also taught students in private lessons, focusing on piano, violin and viola.
Over the years, she kept adding more and more orchestras to her roster, and she finally decided to go back to school to earn her teaching degree.
She said that although she had many years of experience teaching the orchestra groups, it was difficult to convince schools that she also could be successful as a school’s general music teacher.
“I’m like this first-year teacher with 22 years of experience,” she said.
She wasn’t deterred, however and threw herself into applying for school positions.
“I just decided this was the year, so I applied for 65 jobs,” she said, in states including Texas, Utah and Alaska.
Her biggest motivation to look at other states for employment was that Colorado has a tax system that makes funding for government programs like schools and fire departments very difficult, causing low wages in a high-cost-of-living environment.
“Colorado is in the bottom five for teacher pay and in the top five for costs of living,” she said.
She said she told her group of Colorado orchestra students, when she’d announced that she was looking for work elsewhere, “Don’t worry, I’ll only leave you for Alaska, nobody else, just Alaska.”
When she got the call to invite her as the new Point Higgins and Fawn Mountain teacher, she said, “I was shocked. I said yes.”
She said a few things motivated her to accept the teaching job in Ketchikan, and her interview with Fawn Mountain principal Linnaea Troina was one of the clinchers.
“It was the longest interview I’ve ever had,” and very positive, DeAngeles said.
She said another important asset any place she’d choose to live would have would be access to a multitude of outdoor activities.
“I’m very outdoorsy,” she said. “I climb fourteeners, I’m a total ski junky and everything, so it had to be a place that had some nice outdoors.”
A final key factor in her decision was more mundane.
“I asked, ‘Does Amazon Prime deliver?’ and they all said ‘Yes,’ and I’m like, ‘Alright, I’m in,’” DeAngeles said, grinning.
DeAngeles said she’s already been enjoying much of what Ketchikan offers, such as hiking the Dude and Deer mountain trails. She said she also has enjoyed watching whales spouting as they cruise by her North End home.
As to whether the abundant rainfall will bother her, DeAngeles was optimistic. She said she grew up in Chicago, and moved to Colorado in high school, where she noticed a dramatic climate difference.
“The first thing I noticed when I moved to Colorado is, it doesn’t rain. Colorado will rain every afternoon for about five minutes and that’s it. It’s done, because the clouds come off the mountains, and it’ll rain and that’s it,” she explained. “So, you don’t get those spring rains, where it just rains for days and days and days. It’s just a very dry climate.”
She added, “I remember missing the rain,” recalling a day when it finally rained she went outside simply to enjoy the experience.
She said people have asked her several times already if she will stay in Ketchikan, and she says she answers, “Of course I’m going to stay, but ask me in December.”
Living on a remote island wasn’t a negative factor for her either, as she asserted, “I’m an adventurer at heart.”
DeAngeles, several years ago, was told by medical professionals that she had only two years to live She said that changed her outlook and the way she made decisions.
She said she told herself, “‘You know what? I’m going to join a rock band.’ … I just changed my life.”
She began to tour as a fiddle player with the Irish rock band “Potcheen.” A memorable performance she recalled was opening for Charlie Daniels at the 75th anniversary Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.
As part of the band, she also was on a magazine cover and part of a TV special.
She added, “Everybody supported me in that.”
She also made other changes in her life, inspired by her new clarity, such as leaving her marriage and intensifying her adventures.
“If all I have is two years … I’m going to hike until I can’t hike. I’m going to ski until i can’t ski. I’m going to tour,” she said she told herself.
Then, she found out it was a misdiagnosis.
She said the life changes she made were beneficial, and “I’ve kind of stayed living that way.”
DeAngeles is bringing that passion to her classrooms.
She said she likes the approach of the Kodaly music curriculum she’s using alongside the district’s Quaver curriculum.
The Kodaly method is “a lot of singing and games, so the kids don’t even realize they’re in music class half the time, because you’re playing playground games with them,” she said.
“My job is to expose them to as much as I can,” she added. “That way, they can be in middle school and think “Hey I kind of like music. I think I want to do this.’”
DeAngeles is guiding student in playing guitars, ukeleles, recorders, glockenspiels, “shake and rattle” instruments, metallophones and Orff percussion instruments.
She said she also is introducing them to singing in choir, so they will be prepared when they enter middle school and have the opportunity to sing in the choir.
“Just to give them that experience,” she said.