The last day of classes for the semester is always a bittersweet day for teachers. The best part of teaching is getting to know your students; to understand what their interests and needs are, where they've been and where they want to go, what they know and what they want to learn. It's endlessly fascinating and rewarding to be granted a peek into your students' hopes and dreams, and to try to help them reach their goals. By the last day of the term, if you're lucky, you've developed a classroom "culture" of trust and mutual respect--and it's hard to let go of that. It's pretty special.
Given the tumultuous events of the past couple of months, this semester's final day of class with my sophomore seminar may have been one of the most bittersweet of all. The way that our class was scheduled, we met on both the day before and the day after the Presidential election on November 8, and my students were deeply and visibly impacted on both days--so much so that we scrapped our syllabus on these days and used our time together to try to process what these events would mean for us as future music teachers, and for our profession.
Our discussions on those two days were powerful, and raw. We shared our fears and concerns, for our future students and for ourselves. We wondered how we would move forward in an educational and political climate that suddenly seemed much less stable, or positive, or welcoming of the ideas we had been thinking about all semester. Ideas about creativity, and diversity, and agency, and social justice. Some students seemed visibly shaken, while others appeared to retreat--withdrawing into their own private thoughts. There weren't a lot of easy answers--it would have been insulting to tell them that "everything would be OK" when the truth is that we have no idea what's going to happen.
I was struck during these two days at how mature, and honest, and respectful every one of these young persons were during our conversations. The issues we were dealing with were ones that polite families tend to avoid around the holiday dinner table--matters of racism, sexism, religion, sexual orientation, and the intersections that connect all of these topics. Sometimes we stumbled in discussing these issues, as when sight reading a difficult new piece of music. And yet every time, these indelicacies were met with patience, understanding, and even humor.
In fact, one of the only positives to come out of these last couple of months was the certainty that, at least 3 days per week, the 17 of us we were together, could speak freely, and knew that we were accepted and valued for who we were. We were, in the highest sense of the term, a community of learners.
At our last meeting today I told my students how much I appreciated them, and cared about them, and thanked them for helping me on those days--because truth be told, I don't know that I could have made it through the past couple of months without them.
Our time together on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays became a form of salvation for me this Fall. I honestly can't remember a single day this semester when I didn't look forward to seeing each one of these students in our windowless, second-floor cubbyhole of a classroom. Every class meeting I knew I could look forward to spending 50 minutes with 17 bright, talented future music teachers, and that we shared a common vision of what was truly important in the world.
If you, like me, have been struggling to find something positive to focus on in the aftermath of November 8, I have something to share with you; a gift, if you will.
Here it is:
Meet the members of MUS277: Principles of Music Education from the Fall 2016 semester.
Look at their faces, and into their eyes.
They are singers, and percussionists, and saxophonists, and trumpeters, and clarinetists, and flautists, and oboists. They love their families, they have lost loved ones, and they love their school. They are interested in sociology, and jazz, and psychology, and chemistry, and accapella singing. They love making music, and they love each other. They can't wait to graduate, get jobs, and help others find the joy in music and in learning that they have found for themselves.
If you're very lucky, in just a few years, you might be able to hire one of these persons, or work with one of them, or have your own child taught by one of them. Each of these persons will be wonderful teachers, colleagues, and citizens--because they care, deeply, about others.
So, to my students: Thank you. It has been an honor and a privilege to spend time with you this Fall, to learn from you, and to watch you grow as future music teachers. You have taught me how to be a better teacher, and to see the positives when the world seems at its darkest. I look forward to watching you all continue to grow over the next few years, and I can't wait for you to be my colleagues--we need you, perhaps now more than ever.
And, to those who would privatize and destroy public education, a special message:
Look at these future teachers again, closer...
They are smart, but not arrogant or entitled.
They are talented, but not elitist or superior.
They will respond to hate with kindness.
They will respond to ignorance with patience.
They are passionate, and compassionate.
Also...they aren't afraid. They see you, and know who you are, and what you're about.
You don't stand a chance against them.