Other Stuff, Teaching

The First Nineteen Years…

The end of the school year is one of the most stressful times in a teacher’s life. We reflect on all that our classes were able to accomplish over the year, and all that we got wrong. We create lists and make promises to ourselves about how we will change things for the next year. We try to sleep, but our minds have a running monologue of all we need to do. End of the year concerts need to be conducted, finals need to be graded, classrooms need to be prepped for summer scrub, and diplomas need to be handed out. It’s actually a miracle that we make it to the end without exploding!

But, the end of the year also makes me feel rather nostalgic, reflective, and melancholy. I spend a lot of time thinking about the students that have come in and out of my classroom over the years. I picture specific faces and remember deep conversations that we have had. I remember with fondness the adventures we have taken together and the shenanigans we laughed about. I can hear the beautiful musical moments we created together. I take the plastic tub of notes, cards, and pictures I have collected through the past nineteen years… and I wonder… years later, what do they remember about Mrs. Nafziger’s music class?

I have known what I wanted to be when I grow up since I was in elementary school. While many people cycle through majors, jump between jobs, and take years to figure things out, my path has stayed solid in my mind. Sure, I said I wanted to be a singer, or a movie star, or the things every kid wants to be… but more than anything, I have always known I wanted to be a music educator.

As a teacher, I am not well-connected. I don’t teach anywhere near where I grew up, or went to college, so making connections is hard. I teach in a small, rural school that faces many disadvantages when it comes to size and financial support. I am not the greatest piano player in the world… in fact, I am terrible, but I try, and I can sing well. My choirs perform all their songs in a gym with old sound equipment and terrible lighting. We aren’t highly awarded or well-known. Despite all of that… I still love being a music teacher, and feel like what I am doing makes a difference.

My greatest passion as a teacher is not to win accolades, or put on shows that people talk about forever, or even that my students become the next big thing in music. It has never been about that. As part of my class, I want my students to develop a lifelong love for appreciating many genres of music. I want them to see music as an outlet for expressing emotion and escaping stress in a positive way. Years after leaving my room, I want them to hear a song on the radio and sing along in harmony, participate in an open mic night at a coffee shop, or confidently stand up and sing karaoke at the local bar. And more than anything, I want to provide a space for my students that is safe… a place where they are seen and fiercely loved for exactly who they are.

I have the privilege of getting to know my students better than many teachers do. As a middle and high school teacher in the arts, I have the same students for six years. In that time, I get to know a lot about them and develop a sense of family between the members of the choir. I see their beautiful faces, hear their growing voices, and know their hearts during some of the most difficult years of their young lives. The student’s quirks, their hopes and fears, their best ideas and their biggest weaknesses are beautiful to me.

I don’t always get it right… in fact, sometimes, it’s a big miss. Not every student buys into what I am selling, and some students walk away at the end rather jaded. Those are the moments that hurt the most. Loving fiercely requires great risk, and sometimes does not feel very rewarding. If one student’s life is made stronger, or better, from the things they have learned in my class, it will have been worth it. On the last day that my students ever sit in my class, I remind them that they will ALWAYS  have a home in my classroom. I hope each of them knows that is 100% true.

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