Thanks to Bob Brewer for allowing me to share his February 15, 2018 post. I knew Bob as an excellent tuba player and musician. He has had a distinguished performance and teaching career.
I used many stories of my past teaching experiences in my methods classes as a professor preparing band directors but I don’t think I ever shared this one. I was teaching Junior High Band in an Ozark mountain town. Tommy, not his real name, was a drummer who was not much different to me than most drummers other than he was bigger than most of the other kids in 9th grade. He liked playing well, was funny, obviously liked to have a good time, got into a little mischief if not kept busy but when provoked he had a dark side. If a disagreement came up Tommy took it as a personal challenge which could escalate to a fist fight. But if I kept the section busy and light-hearted, things rocked along just fine.
Tommy was described by his other teachers with words like incorrigible, violent, explosive, even dangerous. I never met his parents and knew nothing first hand about his home life, only unsubstantiated stories told to me by the other teachers and a few of his friends. I liked Tommy and got along with him well but even so, I sort of kept an eye out for trouble.
We were loading buses on a Saturday morning for marching contest and it had already been a trying morning. The equipment van was late causing the load up to be disorganized, the high school band was loading up around the corner waiting on us and there was the normal “mad dash” for the best seats at the back of the bus when a shouting match erupted on one of the buses.
I was first approached by Tommy’s girlfriend who was pleading with me to help Tommy. “He just blew up over nothing and it’s really not that big of a deal. I don’t know how to help him.” I could see in her face she was really scared. Then came Tommy. He was red-faced mad and shaking; stomping as he approached and blathering something about not being respected.
So there we stood, toe to toe, both of us red-faced mad and shaking all over. To this day I don’t know where the words came from. “Tommy,” I said, “Life doesn’t always have to be this way. You cannot demand respect from others, you have to earn it. If you will just pay attention and LISTEN to me, I will teach you how to do that!” There was a long pause while we both stood there shaking. Then I was surprised to see Tommy’s eyes water, he reached out and hugged me. I hugged him back and held on as his anger came out in sobs. I looked at his girlfriend who was also crying through a smile as she mouthed to me, “Thank you”. It was actually over in seconds.
Tommy was the most helpful student on that trip and I never had another moments trouble with him all year. I left after that year for graduate school and have always wondered what happened to Tommy. Did he find another mentor? Did he learn about respect? Did he graduate? I hope I find out someday. I’d like to hug him again.
The most important aspect of teaching is love. We forget about love because we are so wrapped up in the “stuff” of today’s education: standards, curriculum, assessments, team meetings, classroom walk-throughs, TESS and a million other things that take up our time and cloud our vision.
Love your students as individuals, love music and show that love every day in your own life. And they will learn by your example.