Sunday, January 1, 2017

The teacher learns

I swear, the kids aren’t out of school a week and they’re already wondering about next year’s teachers. Hoping for some, dreading others, desperate to have that certain friend in their class, this is important business for school aged kids. In their mind, the right teacher can make or break their entire year, which at their age also translates into the entire rest of their lives.
I’ll give them that.
For the last five years I have taught music in a part-time position at a private school. I have sat in countless circles, sang countless rhymes, and tapped wooden sticks together more times than there are probably stars in the sky. I have grown to love dozens of children and their families, and in fact there are probably a few readers of this column who have cursed me over the years for teaching their kids annoying folk songs that stick in even the strongest adult head. (I apologize whole-heartedly for the leprechaun song.)
            But there are always reasons, and for those reasons I had to say goodbye to that position and walk away from it all. The kids, the songs, the hugs, the giggles. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do in my life, giving up the teaching and giving up the learning. A good teacher learns as much from the students, I think.
            One of the best things that I learned came when I was introducing a new song. Maybe it had a lot of words, or maybe it was a difficult song to sing. Regardless, there was always at least one child that complained. I remember specifically one day when I pleaded, “Look, I’m not trying to teach you to sing this song. I’m giving you the gift of this song so that you can take it with you wherever you go.”
            Sometimes I would hear the children doing handclaps or singing songs on the playground that I had taught them in class. Two of my favorite little kiddos had a game where they marched around the schoolyard singing all of their concert songs like they were on a wild adventure that required music. Even the greatest of writers could not put into words the wonderful way that made me feel.
            So as my own children chat around the dinner table about which teacher they want after the long summer of sprinklers and lightening bugs, I tend to silently cross my fingers, too. I wish for the teacher who plants a seed of extra learning about the Civil War or electricity or the magic of poetry. I wish for the teacher who doesn’t squash their creativity with red pen marks or makes them feel as if they will never succeed. I wish for the teacher that gives them the gift, whether it be multiplication or an old American folk tune.
            Each child deserves at least that much, if not more.


Originally written 6.7.15            

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