My apologies that it has been a while since I have blogged (I know you’ve been waiting with baited breath). September and October are busy months in the life of a high school band director. The Johnston High School Varsity Marching Band that I direct gave over 20 public performances in the last few weeks. Interestingly they wish that they had more. For good or for bad, I think I’m ready to move on to the next part of our curriculum. We had a great marching season full of growth and entertained well over 20,000 people. Marching band is a great environment to teacher discipline, teamwork and leadership. We even manage to teach music pretty well sometimes during this time of year. Mostly it is fun to see students grow. During conferences it was fascinating to hear parent after parent tell us how much they enjoyed seeing their students get better week after week. This is one of those activities where we publicly demonstrate our skill development from the beginning of the process to the very end. It is a very rewarding process…..and I’m glad it’s over for the year.
So, what do we want for our kids? I do think we want our kids to learn many of the things that they learn in marching band. We want our kids to develop discipline, learn to work as a team and develop leadership skills, along with the many other things we teach in our band classes in the fall. But, my thoughts these days have been drifting to what do I really want for MY kid. As a parent and as a teacher, what do I want for my son? In particular, what kind of teachers do I wish for my son to encounter?
My son is a junior in high school and, being the son of two educators, he knows that we take school pretty seriously. He has been fortunate to have had so many outstanding teachers. I started listing them and realized that there are too many to name without leaving some out. Time magazine has a front page this week that talks about the “Bad Apples,” of teaching. Do you see “Bad Apples” in your schools? I’m not sure that I really do. I certainly see teachers with a wide range of skills and talents. Not every teacher that my son has encountered has been perfect, but every one of them has wanted to see him grow and learn. Sometimes he has to work a little harder to understand the purpose of the lesson or the class, but that’s not all bad. I just haven’t encountered teachers who aren’t there to nurture him, make him feel safe, provide him with rigorous and relevant content, and who don’t want to see him succeed. Maybe I’m naive, maybe we have been very lucky, or maybe it is that teachers, by and large, really dedicate themselves to making kids better.
As I thought about what I really want for my kid I realized that most of the teachers he has encountered have been by chance. They are teachers that he was assigned to and it is amazing that we have been so pleased with these teachers that have been more or less randomly assigned to him. I have also thought though about the teachers that we have picked out for him. Two or three years ago it was clear that we needed to start getting my son private lessons on his euphonium. There are lots of great euphonium teachers that are available to us. We thought about it a lot and we chose to send my son to a music educator named Chris Crandell. Chris has been my friend for a long time and I could lay out a long back story about who Chris is and some of his journey as a music educator, but I’m not sure that would mean much to anyone in relationship to this blog. Suffice it to say that my wife and I talked it over and thought about our options and we decided to send our son to work with Chris once a week. I had every confidence that Chris would do well with Brogan. What I didn’t know at that time is that Chris would become as important a teacher as my son will likely ever encounter.
This gets at the heart of what we want for our kids. Does Chris teach skills to my son? Absolutely. Does Chris encourage my to work hard and to think critically? Yes. He does all of those things, but mostly Chris cares. My son has no question that Chris wants what is best for him because Chris tells him that. Chris knows when to demand more from him and when to sit back a little bit. Chris asks him questions and the questions go way beyond when to breathe in a piece of music. Chris asks my son questions about life. This is an important point; Chris asks questions. While he certainly has the knowledge to TELL my son lots of things, Chris finds way to engage my son with questions. What is interesting is that Chris makes it look easy.
It is important to note is that Chris’s approach is centered entirely on his student. He starts by assessing what his student needs and wants. His approach is then based on meeting those needs. I am certain that Chris’s approach with other students is entirely different. Isn’t that great? Chris doesn’t have a “one size fits all” teaching style. That’s what we want for our kids. It is certainly what I want for my kid. Chris has inspired my son. Chris has pushed my son to levels that I didn’t think were possible.
Whether we are working with one kid or 200 kids at a time it has to be our goal to figure out what our students need and what our students want. That’s a big order, but if we can find a way to do it our classrooms become game changers. Time magazine can talk about “bad apples” all they want. I’m sick of hearing about “accountability” from non-educators as though teachers aren’t held accountable. We are accountable to our kids and I just don’t run across teachers who don’t take that seriously. Lucky for me my son has a team of teachers who are student-centered and want to see him succeed. That’s what I want for my kid.