Tomorrow is the first day of school. For all practical purposes, summer is gone. No longer the option of sleeping late, playing five games of morning solitaire, napping, beaching. Back to the workaday world with 275 energetic, enthusiastic, needy, whiny, adorable, naughty, surprising, quirky, loud, unpredictable, too-predictable kids from three years old to 14, all of whom want your attention and need something from you that they often don’t know how to put into words. Each age with their pet problems and you have to navigate down the expert ski slope of each without crashing into trees. Not to mention their parents who expect you to solve all the issues they can’t— or worse yet, the issues they helped create. Or the parents who want you to adore their child as much as they do. And yes, they are worthy of it, but don’t forget, there are 274 others.
As the music teacher, you have to deal with releasing energy that is not yet under the child’s full control, get them to express themselves when they’re too shy or timid or stop expressing themselves when they’re over the top with self-love. You have to exhibit the patience of a saint when they insist their recorder is broken when it’s their playing at fault or they can’t remember the line you’ve rehearsed some, oh, 400 times, and by the way, the play is tomorrow. When they break the mallet or guitar string, guess who’s taking the field trip to replace it?
May I mention that the pay is on the medium to low side, the dignity in the culture is on the low to below low side, the appreciation for taking on the charge of shaping the future of the human experiment is dubious, though occasionally breathtaking from the child or the alum or the parent who understands that the six hours you spent sewing their costume the night before or planning a joyful lesson was to give them a bit of happiness in a world often in short supply.
And to top it off, tomorrow is the beginning of my 40th year doing this in the same school. The time when any reasonable human being would be burnt out, often to a charred nub, and be counting the days to retirement and golf.
And yet. I’m as giddy as a teenager in love, happy in anticipation of our always stirring opening ceremony and the Singing Time when all the teachers dance in front of the kids and my first class with 4th grade. Looking forward to that first 8th grade jazz class and playing games around the world with 6th graders and joy of joys, the weekly Preschool Singing Time. Should I feel guilty that all of this gives me so much pleasure? That I can almost imagine another 40 years of this? (Yeah, I know the numbers don’t quite add up, but they did for my Zen teacher who taught until he was 103.)
I’m not trying to gloat here, as I’m well aware that most work doesn’t bring so much constant pleasure for such a long period of time. But I hope that’s not true. I’d like to think much of it does for the people it chose and even if the work was okay instead of extraordinary, perhaps the paycheck helped compensate and the weekend hobbies picked up the slack.
Meanwhile, let the record stand. I’m going back to school tomorrow to begin my 40th year and I can’t think of a happier thing to do.
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