I am a young music teacher. And a tired music teacher. I can feel my shoulders draw together, my chest tighten up, as I listen to the long list of things that must be done . . . things that have changed again . . . forms that have been altered and need to be done over. I look at my colleagues and I hear their stress. I see them scramble. I understand how we come to a place where we worry about our time and everybody else's time . . . wondering if it's fair and right and what we all need. I can see how it happens over the long years and I feel a deep sympathy about it. Almost a sadness. At the very least? An understanding. We're people trying to do our best and struggling with all of those human things . . . we don't even need to name them here.
I find myself staring at my bulletin boards the evening before students return, thinking, "How can this ever be enough? How can I ever move through all of this AND all of what these beautiful children are dealing with at home, and still manage to give them joy through music?"
That's why I got into this business. Joy. Encouragement. My teachers.
A music teacher changed my life.
Skilled conductors - artists in their own right - people who would not settle for mediocre.
They drew me up out of my strange, backward self. The kid with ADD who took everything much too literally . . . who had trouble fitting in . . . who had trouble making good grades . . . who felt like not enough. They pushed me and challenged me and believed that I could contribute something worthy to my community. They believed in me . . . and I believed them.
So here I am. 26 years old and still reading and writing music. Because it enriches my life. Because it helps me to communicate with people I otherwise don't have much in common with.
I sit down on the floor in the middle of the room. Yoda is staring at me from the board by the front door . . . "May the form be with you." - come on, Yoda, give me something better than that.
And then I remember.
Mrs. Beeler asks me to stay after class . . . I can't be more than 8 years old . . . and I've just played a Debussy tune on the piano I've memorized from the radio. She calls my mom and says, "It's time for piano lessons."
My middle school chorus teacher talks to me after the other students have gone and tells me that even though I didn't get the "lead" in the play I've won the part with more lines than anybody else . . . because she knows I can memorize it if I try hard. So I go home . . . and I try hard. And I memorize all the lines - and people laugh at the jokes in the script . . . and I feel this incredible joy.
My favorite band director, who was probably the first artful conductor I'd ever seen in any kind of student ensemble, conducted a piece called "The Promise of Living" and I never got over it. I wrote poetry because of the melody in that wordless piece of symphonic music (immature poetry, but it was a start).
My music minister and piano teacher telling me that he thought I'd end up in church music even though I didn't think I would . . . and here I am.
Dr. Withers finding me in the basement of the college chapel, crying because I'd blanked on two WHOLE pages of Beethoven in front of a packed audience . . . and she said, "Get up there and let them tell you how well you did. We know what happened, but they have no idea. This is part of a performing life. You have to learn to live with this and still love it."
Dr. Tsai telling me in a grad school piano lesson that step 1 is immediate "self forgiveness." Forgive your mistakes as soon as they happen so that you can move on with musicality.
They're in my classroom. My teachers are there . . . in my classroom. I couldn't evict them even if I wanted to. When I talk to my students, my teachers are talking to them, too. That should be enough - just knowing that should convince me - this job matters.
This. Job. Matters.
Teachers - what you do is important. You are important. Your work is meaningful. Your work creates meaning and dispels darkness in the lives of countless children.
Make it your goal to find joy in the work.
Did you hear that? Really? Find. Joy. In. This. Work.
Students see your joy. Maybe they will sit down in the middle of their classroom when they are 26 years old and remember. They will remember you. They will remember your words. And your words, 20 years after you've said them, will create meaning once more.