I am currently sitting in my hotel room in the world renowned A Hotel in Colorado Springs, CO. The Broadmoor is a 5-star hotel in the gorgeous foothills of the Colorado Rockies and is the annual host of the Colorado Music Educators Association Clinic Conference. Between the pine trees and beneath the “purple mountains majesty,” educators gather to learn strategies, share ideas, and determine the future of a grand profession.
It has been almost three years since my last professional conference. When I attended the Nebraska Music Educators Association Conference in Spring of 2013, I was a
super-senior who had just finished my student teaching assignments in Lincoln and York Nebraska, respectively. At the time, my mother was undergoing treatment for an aggressive form of breast cancer back home in Denver, CO. On the last day of the conference, my mother was scheduled to undergo a mastectomy to remove the quickly growing tumor.
Around the time of her surgery, I wandered into the convention hall, where vendors, universities, repair shops, and lots of other groups were set-up. While there, I purchased a Mollard conducting baton that I used throughout the first year and half of my teaching career.
Today, in a similar conference hall, I purchased another Mollard baton. This time a 14″ baton with an oak handle in a tear-drop shape. Between the last baton and the first, so much of my life has changd: professionally and personally.
Three years ago, I was a student at a conservative Christian university finishing a degree in Music Education and Vocal Performance. Today, I am a third year teacher at an urban school teaching Instrumental Music to students from 100 different countries. Three years ago, I had hopes for my professional career as a choral director or vocal performer. Today, I am uncertain of the path that lies ahead. Three years ago, the educator that stood on the street in Lincoln, NE, worried about his mother’s surgery 800 miles away, could not have predicted the subsequent events that would bring me here, to this gorgeous place at another conference.
In my teaching assignment, I am responsible for all instrumental music activities including wind, brass, percussion, and string instruments at a large comprehensive high school serving 2300 students. Our student body is diverse in culture, language, and economic status. While not officially a Title I school, we meet the requirements and are held to similar standards of accountability. Working at a school like this is no easy task. To say I was unprepared for the job does not begin to cover it, but I do not fault my university education or my student teaching mentor teachers.
Nothing can truly prepare you for the first time a student confides in you about being homeless or LGBTQ. I was not prepared to bear the emotional burden of teaching students who rarely have enough to eat, climate-appropriate clothing, or adequate housing. I was not prepared to teach students who knew only a refugee camp in Southeast Asia before moving to the United States in hope of a better life. A better life that may never be accessible to them.
No. I was not prepared. I still don’t feel prepared. But I have everything I need. I have the courage to be vulnerable with my students. To connect with them on a human level through the music we perform and through the bonds we create. I have the compassion to sit with them while they struggle through a break-up. I have the creativity, ingenuity, and drive to create experiences for them that will build their character, excite their hearts, and enrich their minds. edication. They deserve compassionate and dedicated teachers who care about them and their lives. This work matters: for my students, but also for me
Three years ago, I didn’t believe this. In fact, I’m not sure I believed it three months ago. And that’s the main thing I will take down the mountain with me tomorrow afternoon: though the job is certainly difficult and time is fleeting, you can achieve it. I can do it. My student musicians deserve my talent, my work, and my dedication.
On Monday, I will return to my classroom and step on my podium in front of ensembles ranging from beginners to advanced players. I will be a better teacher than the one that left them on Wedesday afternoon. I am refreshed and ready to take on the challenge! I hope you’ll follow along!