One of my favorite questions to ask veteran teachers is “What do you consider to be your golden era of teaching?” In other words, what point in your career is your favorite? I always enjoy hearing the varied responses.
My dad, a retired drafting teacher, considers his golden era to be the years before computers entered his classroom. He taught in a spacious room filled with large drafting tables which were adorned with oversized paper, t-squares, fancy pencils, and eraser crumbs. The air usually had the aroma of blueprint chemicals. His clothes were frequently covered in chalk dust, and he actually wore a pocket protector because he had stained so many shirt pockets with ink pens. That all changed when drafting went the way of the computer.
In the years following, he spent his time troubleshooting hardware, deleting inappropriate material from the hard drives, and negotiating licenses with software manufacturers. He was forced to develop cumbersome systems for managing who used what computers, so that when (not if) students loaded unauthorized software, the students in following classes could report it without being blamed. In short, he went from being a drafting teacher to being a cop/computer repairman.
A few years ago, I helped a retiring colleague clean out his office. As we sorted through his numerous music files and scores, I kept seeing music which is generally too challenging for the students in our district these days. I finally had to ask him, “Did your groups actually play this music?” He was very proud to tell me they had.
He spoke of the bygone days when parents made their children practice their instruments and when students listened to their teachers. “Classroom teachers used to be required to teach music as part of their weekly curriculum. Kindergarten teachers even had to take a piano proficiency test in their job interviews!” (He also spoke of smoke-filled teachers’ lounges and students getting smacked on the knuckles with rulers.) “Those were the days.”
Hearing conversations like that often make me wonder when the golden era of my career will be? Or am I already experiencing it? It’s not hard to forsee a day when music programs will be scaled back due to budget constraints or stiffer “accountability.”
To be optimistic, however, it’s possible that the years ahead will be brighter than ever. We can all be encouraged by factors such as new technologies, the sharing of information among educational professionals, the improved teaching materials, and increased music advocacy.
To those of you who have been teaching for a while, what do you consider to be your golden years of teaching, and why? Do you see dark clouds ahead, or brighter days? What encouragement or advice can you give to those of us who will be in the trenches for a while longer?