Sunday, December 16, 2012

Of Teaching and Learning

Like many of you, I've been glued to my social media outlet of choice on and off since Friday, staring at the television news, and trying to tear myself away from the side of my five year-old son.  I've been trying to rationalize away my fears, to explain what may have gone so horrifically wrong in the mind of a young man, and to have some comprehension.  I've thought about what I would write here.  I've thought about many different things, but quite simply I don't want this space to be about what happened in Connecticut, because I am not part of the story.  It wouldn't be right for me to write about people I do not know, and experience I have not had, when I am not a trained journalist writing for assignment.

Then this morning we had on our usual CBS Sunday Morning in the background and I heard a story about a public school music teacher and a principal harpist in The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra who had formed a group for youth-The Urban Harp Youth Ensemble.  I listened to the story as I dressed for the day, and it got the wheels in my head turning.  Teachers like Roselyn Lewis changed my life.  From kindergarten through junior high school I was a shy and, okay I'll admit it, dorky kid.  I had a few friends, but never was a social butterfly.  I envied those girls.  The ones who had perfectly matched outfits.  The ones who played some mysterious game of tag by the fire escape on the playground.  The ones who sat with the boys on the junior high school bus.  The ones who got to wear cheerleading sweaters to school on game days.  I was always buried in a book, giant glasses slipping down my nose, hair never quite right, re-wearing the same quasi-cool sweater to school.  Then I discovered band.  I started by playing the flute.  Worked my way through the level books early on.  By high school I was fully-immersed in the world of band nerds.  If my entire day could've been spent in that band room, which occupied its own floor in my first high school, I would have been thrilled.  These were my people.  Music was my language.  I was finally in a place where I felt appreciated. Loved.  Accepted.

During my sophomore year of high school my dad started working at a high school just for kids like me.  A music & performing arts magnet school.  He tried to get me to go in 10th grade,  but I wouldn't budge.  Don't ask me why, but one day the bug bit, and I found myself auditioning for a spot.  Little did I know it would be the single most important decision I have made on the fly.  I may have started there with the intention of becoming a concert flutist, but I left having discovered my voice.

My choir director Basil Kochan, my band director Steve Hadgis, my English teacher Mary Styslinger, and many others were beacons of light for a young, awkward girl.  I hadn't ever sung a note outside my bedroom before Mr. Kochan.  I hadn't ever played a solo on my flute before Mr. Hadgis.  I hadn't ever written my own words for publication before Ms. Styslinger.  Suddenly I blossomed.  They provided me the confidence I needed to move forward in life.

There are teachers out there in this world that do the very same thing every day.  Teachers, principals, counselors, coaches, and many others who work with our young people that inspire greatness in many ways.  These people are willing to do whatever it takes to help them on the path to their own destiny.  Even if it means sacrificing their own.  Tomorrow I will head back to my office in a school building.  I will not be fearful.  I will love my students even more than I did last week, or the week before.  I am one of many surrogate caretakers they have while they are in our presence.  Just as my son will enter his classroom tomorrow and his teachers will care for him in the same way.  We will carry on.  We will continue to work to build a safer country for our children.  It is what must happen to honor those who have gone before.