My personal musings about anything that gets on my radar screen--heavily dominated by politics.


Why I Teach

I had a remarkable evening a couple nights ago. As many of you know, I am a teacher--and not just an ordinary classroom teacher: I teach elementary music. Two nights ago I had my program--150 students representing 5 schools in a highly impacted part of Jefferson County.

What made that night remarkable was that the performance ended with a standing ovation from the parents in the audience. And not to be self-congratulatory--I had little to do with this. These students who performed get to see me twice a week for 30 minutes, and that's only when they're not going to field days, or on field trips, or taking tests, or doing one of the thousand other things which keeps them from coming to my class. So, really, whenever they perform well its merely the result of decent planning on my part and a lot of hard work, effort and concentration on their part.

What does a standing ovation say? Well, among other things, it says to the students that their parents cared enough about them to come out to a performance tonight. It says to the parents that their children had enough pride in themselves and their performance to put it together and perform it well. It says to the gathered community that music is a common value of theirs and that they recognize its importance and its role in their children's education. And it says to a kid "you've accomplished something estimable--feel good about yourself"; and it says to the parent "your child has accomplished something estimable--feel good about yourself."

Now, let's be honest--this was a performance by students who have been playing one or two years. No matter how good it was, it was still just that--a very young band and orchestra performance, which brings with it an inherent degree of sonic pain. But to see a student's reaction to their parents give them a standing O, or to see the pride in a parent's face as they are delivering the standing O, is worth all the pain. Totally. Well, almost totally.. .

My point is, teaching gives me an opportunity to be a part of some very special moments in the formation of the next generation. And frankly, I don't care how many of them continue to play their instruments for the rest of their lives. I hope they play and enjoy it for many, many years, but the lessons of hard work, energy investment, performance, and reward are far more important. These are what I hope stick with the students--these are the skills that transfer to "real life".

At both the RMAB BBQ a few weeks ago and at the JeffCO Assembly, I got strange looks when I told people what I do. "A teacher, an artist, and a center-right Republican?" Yes. Teaching is important; it is our best hope for changing the world. And, as my friend and fellow trumpet player Rich Duston (Exvigilare) can attest, music performance is very Republican: when you put the horn up to your face, it's go time. You and you alone are responsible for what comes out the other end of the instrument, and if you haven't done your preparation, you're going to have a miserable experience. And, from a market perspective, if you can't play, you won't work. Even though we all get playing jobs based on who we know, the fact is you don't get a second job if you can't play. It is the ultimate meritocracy.

So, while I believe the teaching profession is screwed up perhaps beyond hope, the actual job of teaching is great. And I think, contrary to perception, 70-75% of teachers are very much like me--they just want to do good things for kids. Sadly, there's the 10-15% of social engineers who want to turn schools into ideological Petrie Dishes, and another 10-15% of incompetents and burn-outs who hide behind the skirts of the union. And it's that 25-30% that the public hears about and hears from the most; the 70-75% are too busy to make headlines.

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