More than just a teacher

All too often when I see students (both current and former) out in the real world, whether it’s at a concert, running, or even food shopping they seemed surprised to find out that I do indeed…. Have a life that exists outside of education.

I love music. I love watching music at concerts. I love playing music on stage. I love playing music in my classroom. I have been a musician on stage in bands and open mic nights (and all sorts of other performance spaces) for over twenty years. It’s an expression of life that I know will be with me for as long as I live. I’m not saying I belong on American Idol but I’m saying that it’s a passion of mine that helps me find peace at the end of a busy day.

That passion for music needs to be in my classroom. It needs to be a part of my instruction in some capacity if for no other reason than it helps me connect with my students on a different level than the content of the subject I teach. I have found that over the years my students get excited about the class at hand if they see my gig bag sitting behind desk. They will ask if I’m going to play a song for them, to which I reply, “Maaaayyyyyyybe…. If we can get everything done that we need to today”…. We always get everything done. I’ll pull the guitar out of the gig bag and entertain them for a few minutes. This respite serves a far greater function than the kids realize. Yes, I always have an intentional, maniacal plan for all actions I take in my classroom.

I will often write a song on the fly about the day’s lesson. The good, the bad, and the ugly parts all get whipped together into a parody song for all of us to have a good laugh. It may only be the final five to ten minutes of class but it’s a way for me to connect with each class that is unique to those particular students on that particular day. Sharing this side of me helps the organic atmosphere of learning. It helps students feel that this place, our classroom, is not just a place to bury their noses in work work work. It is also a place for laughter, music, song, jokes…..a place where they can be safe.

When they see me sharing my authentic self it gives them permission to do the same thing.

It is this sense of home and community that drives curiosity and learning. When students “want” to come back tomorrow, learning happens. When students find out that I play guitar they usually don’t believe me. They sometimes think I might only know how to play children’s’ songs for my kids. The look in their eyes when I whip through a blues solo or start playing one of the current popular songs (decently enough for them to recognize it… lol) is priceless. They might giggle, they might guffaw, they might even make a snarky comment or two but it’s ok. They are learning how to be audience members. The lesson is never really over. They are learning the entire time…and I’ve heard much worse onstage in bars from Captain Drunkpants and Queen Inappropriately-Dancing-Too-Close-To-The-Stage, believe me.

Some students ask if they can bring in a musical instrument that they play, I say “Yes of course”. Some students ask if they can bring in a list of songs for me to learn, I say “Yes, of course”. What is happening is that kids feel safe that I won’t make fun of them for their musical preferences. They feel inspired to take a risk and share with the class the same way that I have. It may start with musical preferences but it slow extends to more and more aspects of their lives. We are creating a learning community that is not limited to the content that I teach but which is far more important. It is a learning community that is interconnected, that is curious to find new things…. And appreciate them without judgement. That is the learning that drives me.

When we share our passions with our students, we are helping to build the foundation of community that is vital to their successful classroom experience.   

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