NJ Teachers’ Lounge is excited to continue its Teachers of New Jersey series in 2017. Due to the overwhelming popularity of the series, it now comes out twice a month. This editorial series is curated by photojournalist, Gregory Andrus, creator of the social media series, Portraits of the Jersey Shore. These stories highlight the joys, struggles, and personal reflections that surround being a teacher.
Teachers of NJ: 40 Years of Music Education Leads to Lifetime of Connections
“I am a retired public school music and band teacher. It was scary thinking about retirement, to be perfectly honest. Because as busy as I am, it still felt like walking into the void. 40 years is a long time for a vocation. It took some adjusting. I am still adjusting, but starting to get okay with it. I can remember as a teacher, when I was teaching, you had to have 15 years before you could have your pension vested. Then it was 25 years before you got your medical benefits. Then there were other watermarks after that. And I can remember quite strongly hitting about 25 years in, and working all the mathematics in and thinking to myself, ‘Wow, if I can ever work for 40 years, that would be incredible. I don’t know if I can make it that far, but that would be neat.’ And then literally when my wife started talking to me about retirement, I was like, ‘Wow, I have been teaching for 40 years? Wow!’”
“The joys you have with teaching are incredible. The students you get to work with as a band director and music teacher, I get to see these same students every day for four years. So I really get to know these students, and that is such a gift. You see them 45 minutes a day five days a week. I get to spend a lot of time with these students, and watch them grow at a critical time in their lives. It’s funny because while you are teaching you think that your highlights that you will look back on will be winning some award, or playing at a special festival or concert.”
“But once you retire and reflect back, you see that it’s those moments with your students that you really connect with that matters the most. It could be simply seeing a student walking into the classroom and you see that they are distraught, so you keep them after class and just talk with them, and help them in some way, maybe simply by listening. They are tough moments, but there is a beauty in that, that someone trusted you enough to share a really deep personal struggle they are experiencing. And that is a great, and in a sense, wonderful responsibility. I always tell them, ‘I’m here for you, and we will get through this.'”
“I am still so close with many of them over the years. Facebook has been such a blessing to me. I have students literally from all over the world, and because of Facebook and email, I can talk to them pretty much just like you and I are talking here.”
“I always encourage students to make music a part of their lives, for their entire lives. I am not even saying to be a music teacher or professional musician, but just for the joy of having that gift of playing music always in their lives. I am so happy that so many have continued playing, whether ensembles in their communities, or houses of worship, or simply in their homes. Obviously for me to make a choice of music as a profession, there was a point where music was a very strong influence on me.”
“You will hear people talk about expressing things through music that cannot be expressed any other way, and there is a great deal of truth to that. Music can speak and touch people in deep and profound ways than you can hardly do any other way—through the spoken word, through the visual, or any other way. You take music away from the most glorious movie, and it’s almost like you have taken the life out of it.”
“One thing I always look for with my students, is always finding the moment when they are sitting there and playing each of their own individual instruments, and all of the sudden they go from a place of looking at a note and blowing into their horn and making a sound, to all of the sudden, they are the sound, they are the music. They have made that profession into the music itself. Anybody who has ever been a part of that will attest that it is an incredible experience.”
“I am teaching the band program at Ramapo College now, and it is really nice, really relaxed. I also am conducting The New Jersey Wind Symphony in Ridgewood, and that is going terrifically well. We have an amazing group, and we have six concerts scheduled throughout the year. My dad (who is going to be 90), and I have run this band camp in East Strasburg, and he can’t do it anymore, so I am running that on my own now. So I have a lot of activities still going on that are conspiring to keep me off of the street.”
“I just want to close by saying, ‘Thank you, to all of the students I have had the privilege to meet and work with and teach and get to know. Each one of you, I don’t think you know how much you have contributed to my life, and I appreciate that and appreciate you a lot.’”
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