Sunday, January 26, 2014

We Are Teachers

I saw this (12 Things You Should Never Say to Teachers) on Facebook this morning, and had to share it with my friends because, well, it resonated. I have had a parent try #8 on me, trying to get me to go lightly on her very rude son's behavior. It didn't work.

And it is true, I get a lot of people who make remarks--without intending to, I'm sure--that almost belittle the profession.

"I could never do that!" (Yes, I know.)

"You must have so much patience!" (Actually no. I get frustrated. I get angry. I just know how to control myself in public. You know, like a grown-up.)

"Well, at least you get a summer vacation!" (Yes, but just because I don't have kids in there doesn't mean I don't spend time in my classroom...oh, and I don't get paid for those months.)

But in the long run, my career is absolutely worth it, especially these days. I've landed at a great school, I fit in there, and I am making good things happen so far. There's room for a lot of growth and improvement, and I have the willingness to go for it.

What makes it worth it? So many things.

It's working with another kid who is going through substantial difficulties with his sense of who he is (and a divorce at home, to boot) and knowing that choir is a safe place for him, that he knows he's appreciated, respected, and liked. It's him giving me a hug at the choir Christmas party and saying, "I signed up for another semester."

It's writing a letter of recommendation for a girl who will be flying the GB nest soon, knowing she's on to amazing adventures and that her time in my choir will have only given her good.

It's the seeing the nerves melt away and the pride and satisfaction take over on my kids' faces when they know they've had a great performance.

It's sitting down at the piano to warm up 24 singers and hearing a happy, healthy singing sound rush over me as they get going.

It's watching a student who has been let down by all of the adults in her life who were supposed to be there for her flounder on stage...and then be that adult who gets in her face as she cries and says, "You overcame your mistake and sang that song so beautifully...and right now I am so very proud of you."

Yesterday, I attended the Folsom Jazz Festival--the 25th! How time flies. It was my parents and a core group of their Band Booster friends who took that festival from a half day with maybe 20 groups to what it is now--a twelve-hour day filled with jazz music from high schools, middle schools and elementary schools from all over California. I heard a middle school group yesterday that rivals most high schools, and it was glorious. The arts are alive in California; no budget cuts can keep us down for long.

In all of the hubbub, I managed to get a quick moment to say hello to Mr. Gaesser, the man in charge of Folsom's music program, and the man who inspired me all through high school. Four years of marching band, one year of jazz choir, two years of being his go-to babysitter for his three adorable children. We're "friends" on Facebook these days, and he knows I've been teaching music all these years, but it's not often that I actually get a chance to see him or talk to him (I need to go observe him teaching).

At first he did a double-take. The last time he saw me I was well over 200 pounds and I know I look a lot different now. Then a big smile split his face, and his arms went wide for a hug. He was bustling around, trying to make sure his jazz kids were all in place for their various performances, but he took a moment to ask how I am. "The job is going well?"

"Very well, I just love it at GB," I told him.

He said it was good to see me, and then he paused.

"Life is good?"

I smiled at him, and nodded. "Life is very good."

"I'm glad." And then he was off, chasing down students and running a jazz festival. I was left with a huge smile on my face. It doesn't matter how long you're out of high school...your music teacher is always special. This one, in particular, was a huge influence.

This is why we teach. Not to create Mozarts (I'd argue that you can't create a Mozart, a Mozart is born and you can only give him or her the tools to create and let them fly). We teach because it builds kids up to have music, to have that safe place. Because nearly 20 years after high school graduation has come and gone, that kid still keeps the lessons the teacher gave them, still has the memories of how great it felt to belong to something so special.

A few minutes ago, a message popped up on Facebook. It was simple, and to the point.

"It was great to see you yesterday. I'm proud of you."

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