Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

Why We Teach (or, Taking It For Granite, Part 3)

For the next couple of days, instead of teaching children, I shall go to Boston and take classes about how to teach children. Sort of.

It’s our state music ed association’s annual professional development conference. Every year I look forward to going. Not so much for the extremely-early-morning drive from central Massachusetts to Boston, which this year will be made that much more exciting by the incoming winter weather. In the last few years, the conference organizers have assembled more and more interesting slates of workshops and clinics and lectures. A dozen years ago, I used to find two or three sessions on each of the days of the conference that I really wanted to attend, but not much more. So I spent a lot of time perusing the vendors’ and exhibitors’ areas. Lately, I’ve been finding at least two and sometimes as many as four interesting-sounding clinics available during each of the seven hour-long time blocks per day set aside for those sessions. I have to figure out exactly when I’m planning to eat lunch tomorrow. Hmm.

But one other thing that I go to All-State for … is the opportunity to see / chat with / hang out with my music teacher friends, some of whom I only get to see once all year: at All-State. Either we’re geographically separated, or – as is usually the case with us music teacher types – our schedules are just busy enough (but not with conveniently-aligned busy-ness) that All-State is pretty much it.

And, more rarely but still often enough that I look forward to it, All-State provides me with the opportunity to see teachers with whom I used to work, or teachers who advised me during my graduate school work or my student teaching experience, or – and this is the really fun part – people who were my music teachers. I enjoy these visits; those particular teachers probably experience that lurch that goes with the thought, “I taught him middle-school or high-school music how many years ago?!”

Fear not, my former teachers: I’ve been a teacher long enough to have experienced that lurch, myself.

But it’s a good lurch, and it’s one that I’ve been caused to think about pretty often lately.

For most of my teaching career, I’ve taught at the secondary-school level, so seeing the difference between what my former students look like now, compared with what they looked like when they were in my classes or ensembles isn’t quite as much of a shock as it would be if I’d known them in kindergarten. Still, quite a moment.

When I got onto Facebook a few years ago, I didn’t really intend to be connected as a Facebook-Friend with any of my former students, and certainly not any current students. The latter still do not (and will not) adorn my Friend list; but I did invent a rule for myself that supposed that if one of my former students is THIS many years out of high school and looks me up, I’ll be happy to Accept Their Friend Request. I don’t go tracking down former students. It’s not an ego thing; I just felt that actively tracking down formers was a bit much – no matter how much I wondered what and how they were doing.

So, seeing online the activities and careers of former students (whether they’ve become teachers or musicians, or anything else) has been a neat thing. Some play in local bands … some anchor the news in far-flung places … some are pretty intense advocates for (and examples of) military spouses … and several of them do (or soon will) hold down teaching jobs. And I’ve been invited to three of my former students’ weddings. In all cases, I’m pleased to think I got to be one of their teachers. They’re fine folks.

If one of them comes back and visits me at school, I quite seriously tell them, “as happy as you seem to be to see me, I am at least three times as happy to see you.” Because, of their own free will, they decided that their educational experience with me meant enough to them that they wanted to set aside time to re-connect. That’s a big deal. And it actually helps me understand why my teachers said that sort of thing when I’d go back to visit them.

When I was in high school, I’d occasionally organize trips down to the junior high school – friends of mine and I would get one of our parents to drive us over, and then we’d descend on the classrooms of favorite teachers. Let’s go find Mr. Tornrose! Mrs. Lowe! Mrs. Luther! Mr. Lamb! Mrs. Minarsky!

It would be something of a crapshoot: sometimes they’d be in meetings, or conducting help sessions … but most times they’d be sitting behind their desks, grading papers or attending to similar necessities; and as soon as we burst into the room, they’d drop everything and chat with us for a while. Interestingly, even half an hour or an hour after their school day had ended, rarely would they have left the building. (We probably didn’t realize how much of a good influence they were on us, just because of that alone.) And 20 minutes or half an hour or sometimes an hour later, we’d still be standing, talking, remembering, laughing.

And again, we thought we were the ones who were really excited about it all. We were sure they couldn’t be nearly as excited as we were. As it turns out … we had no idea.

This past week, I saw one photo, posted online, that really got my attention. In it, an a cappella singing group full of graduate students (not even music majors!) was doing its thing, clearly having a blast. And when I looked closely, I realized that standing side-by-side were two of my former students – from two completely different parts of my teaching life. One had been a stalwart member of my first high school choral ensemble (and whom I was pleased to deliver to All-State Chorus rehearsals for two consecutive years, singing a different voice part each time). The other had marched with the college band that I directed a few years ago – I’d had no idea that she even liked to sing. And by some wonder of coincidence … perhaps! … they had ended up pursuing post-graduate study in the same education program at the same university (teachers! score!) and ended up within inches of each other, doing music for fun (again, score!).

They may not have any idea how big a grin that put onto my face.

So, another on the list of things never to take for granted: former students. Better than almost anything else, they’re a reminder of “why we teach”.

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February 29, 2012 - Posted by | education, Facebook, Internet, music, social media, teachers | , , , , , , , ,

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