Growing up in the small Texas Panhandle town of Stratford, MaryAnn Spurlock thought she wanted to become a medical examiner.

But as a band student, Spurlock’s plans changed midway through her senior year in high school.

“It just got to where it was the last of everything, and I said band was the one thing that I didn’t think I could live without for the the rest of my life,” Spurlock said.

“So it was like, well, I’m changing my mind, I’m going to become a band director.”

Spurlock hasn’t totally reached that goal, but she’s moving toward it. After graduating last year from West Texas A&M University in Canyon, Spurlock is in her first year as an assistant band director in the Brownwood school district.

Spurlock helps with the high school and middle school bands, and teaches sixth-grade students on clarinets, saxophones and flutes.

In the high school band hall, Spurlock said she walks around and listens as band students play, and corrects “little things that I see that Mr. and Mrs. Lambert can’t see from the podium.”

Spurlock said her own band experience was influenced by five different directors in her four years of high school.

“Even though none of them really stuck around, each one of them just had such an impact on me,” Spurlock said.

She recalled a band director who’d come from a 6A school and tried to run Stratford’s 1A program like a 6A program.

“That didn’t really go over well with very many people, but I soaked it in,” Spurlock said. “I loved it. He had such high expectations for us and I wanted to raise that bar. 

“He really believed in me and he really believed in us. He was the one that got me into private lessons, and my private lessons teacher had a really big impact on me also.”

As a freshman music education major at West Texas A&M, Spurlock got off to a rough start. “It was definitely a reality check,” Spurlock said. “I thought I was good until I got to college, and I was like, I’m not good at all.

“I didn’t know any music theory and I had not heard of half of the terms that they were using in my classes.”

Spurlock finished her first day of class “crying and ready to quit, and thinking that I had made the biggest mistake of my life,” Spurlock said.

An older friend from her high school band told her to “just stick with it, you know more than you think you do. It’s going to be OK, it’ll work itself out,” Spurlock recalled.

“And lo and behold, it did.”

With her first year as assistant band director nearly behind her, Spurlock said she likes her job. “It’s slightly different than I thought it would be,” Spurlock said, noting that college didn’t prepare her for the paperwork or for the teacher-parent relations.

“In college, everything is taught in a perfect world but we don’t live in a perfect world,” Spurlock said. “So trying to use my knowledge in a not-perfect world is sometimes kind of a challenge in figuring out how I’m supposed to use it.”

The best part of Spurlock’s job: “the kids,” Spurlock said. “They’re so great. I love getting to teach them new things. I’ve been really fortunate to work with really good kids that are just super excited, and any knowledge or tidbit that you have to share, they’re just ready to soak it up like a sponge.

“So I’ve been very blessed with amazing students. This town is awesome.”

Spurlock also likes the constant learning she experiences. “As a teacher, you’re not just teaching but you’re always in a continuous learning situation,” Spurlock said. “You’re never going to know it all. It’s never a finished product.”

Spurlock said she watches medical shows on television but doesn’t regret abandoning her plan to become a medical examiner.

“This is where I was meant to be, and I love it,” Spurlock said.