What Did They Learn?


This coming week marks the last week of my teaching career. It is doubtful that I will ever go back. I might work as a substitute teacher for a while, but it really seems to be a matter of completely moving on to a new career.

I am both scared and excited. I’m also feeling very nostalgic. I have given my best as a music educator for sixteen years, and I have to wonder why I have been so passionate. What did I really hope to do for my kids? It’s unrealistic to believe that I have created thousands of future professional musicians. In fact, most of the children that have come through my classes in elementary school won’t even continue music in to middle school. Few will be able to read music as adults. Have a really accomplished anything?

  1. I have respected and loved children, and most of them know it. Even in the best of schools, children can have hard lives. Sometimes, a bad day leaves a lasting impression on the best of kids. I have learned, as I have matured as a teacher, that children are doing the best that they know how to do. In elementary school, if kids are messing up, it’s because their brain made a poor decision — not that they wanted to be bad. That means that kindness and teaching are going to go farther than harsh punishment ever would. Kids need to know, from the earliest ages, that they have worth, that they deserve respect, and that they are amazing. I have filled countless buckets in 16 years, and that’s a powerful legacy.
  2. I have modeled that people can have lots of hobbies and interests. Sometimes, people (even adults) think that the only things that I know and love revolve around the world of music. I’ve shared with them my love of running, learning, and enjoying life. I’ve also had the opporunity to teach and model that choosing one thing and not choosing another is ok. Many of my kids had never considered this.
  3. I’ve made mistakes ok. Learning is a process. We tell ourselves and we tell kids that mistakes are ok and part of the learning process, but then we never act like it. What do the kids really learn? Even with bad choices in behavior, I’ve made sure that mistakes are not scary moments, but chances to learn. I’ve tried to make taking risks and trying new things a regular part of what we do.
  4. I’ve tried to lead by example that life is an adventure. I hope, that in the end, my lasting legacy to the children I’ve taught is a sense that there is a lot to see, do, and learn in life — and that life, overall, is fun. I hope they’ve learned to be a little bit like Mrs. Frizzle from the Magic School Bus. I hope that they will take chances, make mistakes, and get messy!

It’s interesting that, as I close out my teaching career, these are the things I want most for my students. Sure, I’d love to think that a handful of my former students eventually go on to become professional musicians. I hope that they all carry some love of music with them throughout their lives. Even so, those aren’t the most important lessons to give to my students.

No, I hope I gave them a chance to start a little further ahead of the game than I was able to start. I want them to feel the freedom that comes when one is not chained by logical fallacies and emotional hang-ups. I want them to be the best unique individual that they can become.


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