I often look back on my own path and think about why those of us who teach continue to do what we do year after year. One thing I think we must all have in common is that at some point in our academic career we had a teacher that inspired us or changed us in some way. Some teachers knew early on that they wanted a career educating children, but some of us got here in a more roundabout way. For me it was a love of music that brought me into education, but I was shaped by much more than that.
One of the earliest teachers I can remember making a strong impression on me is Mr. West in 5th grade. I didn’t realize it until later, but Mr. West was a preacher at a small country church in addition to teaching 5th grade. Mr. West was HARD, in regards to both discipline and academics. As a 5th grader, I would rather be anywhere other than Mr. West’s class. But looking back, I grew a lot that year because of his guidance. He cared deeply for his students and made sure we were learning.
I remember Mr. Schine, my sophomore Chemistry teacher. His passion for Chemistry was evident to his students and anyone who knew him. Some might have remembered him for his trademark ill-fitting clothes, dorky ties, and a bright yellow truck, but I remember that he loved his students. Earning an A on one of Mr. Schine’s tests was not an easy task and accomplishing that was a memorable event. Lab days were special in Mr. Schine’s class- a 15-year-old Mr. Pollard (they didn’t call me that back then) thought it was super cool that he played Pink Floyd while we were working on our lab assignments.
I remember Mrs. Brown-Smith, my senior Calculus teacher. I’ve never known anyone else that had so many math sweaters. We were a small class of seniors and the shenanigans were frequent. She had one sweater with a slice of pie on the front with as many digits of pi printed as could fit. My classmates and I would compete to see how many digits we could read out loud before she got annoyed. “3.1415926….” “Cut it out!” (Zack Bannister always won). Mrs. Brown-Smith had a love for math and a patient love for her students that reminds me of our own Mrs. Graessle. She endured the shenanigans and made sure that we not only learned Calculus, but that we knew she cared for us as people.
Of course I remember my band directors, Mr. Lawson and Mr. Lutz. Mr. Lawson was soft spoken and introverted, but fiery when necessary. Despite staying very busy as a band director, he played the clarinet professionally and I aspired to be as good a musician as he was. He taught me a passion for playing the saxophone and not settling for good enough. My high school band went on a trip to New York my freshman year. Mr. Lawson took me on a side trip to a local New York City music store, where I picked out my first professional saxophone. I still remember every detail of the train ride and cab ride to the store and treasured that time with my teacher. Mr. Lutz was an encourager. He taught me to love to perform and that music can be a lifelong pursuit. I’ll never forget the pep talks before band contests, as he gathered us up into a huddle and got us focused and excited for our performance. It meant a lot to me to serve with Mr. Lutz (also Sergeant Lutz) in the Nashville Army Band for two years.
I remember very fondly my band director and conducting teacher at Tennessee Tech, Mr. Hermann. I had been gone from Tech for 14 years when Mr. Hermann retired. There are not many things that would have brought me back to Cookeville, TN, but when I heard Mr. Hermann was ending his long career I booked a flight to Nashville and made sure I was there for his retirement concert. Mr. Hermann taught me to find joy in playing music at a high level. He taught me to not settle for anything less than my best. I recall showing up to a conducting lesson unprepared. It only happened once. Mr. Hermann had earned my respect and his disappointment at that lesson cut deep. It was under Mr. Hermann that I learned what it was to be a professional.
I think many of us who go into teaching don’t start out wanting to be teachers, or perhaps we don’t realize right away that it’s our calling. I majored in music education because I loved band and I loved playing the saxophone. Many wind up teaching because they have a love for math or theater or physics and education is an easy choice when you’re deciding on a college major. But something you learn about teaching (eventually, I think) is that the subject you teach isn’t what’s really important. The lessons you impart to your students that they will take with them aren’t the ones you have in your plan books or on RenWeb. I’ll never forget Mr. Schine- I’ll always remember laughing at his bad jokes (I might be guilty of telling a few myself…), listening to Pink Floyd during labs, and learning to love science. But don’t ask me for help with your Chemistry homework. I’ll never forget Mrs. Brown-Smith- I’ll remember ridiculous sweaters, the struggles and revelations of learning new Calculus concepts, and seeing her at every band concert. But don’t ask me to help you study for a Calculus test. Of course I’ll remember my band directors- they’re a huge part of why I ended up here. But the real lessons that I’ve kept with me all these years aren’t really about music- they are about camaraderie, hard work, friendship, and the deeper lessons we learn when we work as a group towards a common goal.
I see so many of our teachers and coaches at BCS creating experiences for our students that will play a huge role in shaping them into the adults they will become. I pray that our BCS students (including my own children) can make those connections with their teachers that create lifelong memories, and that every BCS student can find a place here at school- a class, a team, a club- that feels like a family to them.
Band Director & Fine Arts Chair