Today I began my twenty-ninth year of teaching, my fourteenth at UAB. How can that be? I still remember so clearly my first day of teaching at Pasco Junior High in Florida. I wore a red dress, a bad perm, and- fresh out of college- a mix of excitement and nerves. Leaving the cocoon of my undergrad study and entering the real world of a rural Florida school was quite the culture shock. I was in for a wild ride, one that would change my life in ways I never could imagine. After all these years, I still feel the butterflies of excitement as a new school year begins, still feel the excitement of meeting new students and seeing my returning students light up when they see me. I am nothing but grateful- this is my Dharma, what I was meant to do, I have absolutely no doubt.
What is different on this twenty-ninth year? I have more wrinkles, more gray hair…but I also have more confidence, more knowledge and perspective to share with my students. Being a clarinet teacher, I work with students throughout their degree program, and really come to know and love them. I still have students write to me who I taught in middle school band, students who I held as they cried over the death of a loved one or a bad breakup. Students who I have done my best to lovingly push to be their best. I can only hope that they leave my studio feeling changed, special, having learned not only about the clarinet and music, but also about themselves. It’s funny how the study of an instrument can lead to such a personal journey of growth. It certainly has done that for me.
When I was in junior high, I wanted to be a veterinarian- I rescued any creature I could and tried to help it. That dream ended abruptly when we had to put our family dog down…I knew that I couldn’t do that as part of a career- my heart was too soft. Something else happened at that time, too…I joined band, playing a plastic clarinet that Mom traded an antique necklace for in her usual wheeler-dealer style. It served me well in the beginning. How lucky I was to have grown up in such an amazing band and orchestra program. Watching my middle and high school directors teach with complete dedication and passion- they changed my life, and I felt the calling to try to do the same for others.
There have been ups and downs, days where I have cried in frustration and days where I have cried in joy over a student who made a breakthrough. There has never been a day when I wished I had done something else. Teaching is not a job for me, it is a career, a passion, a love. As I met with my studio for the first time in masterclass today, I felt the joy and the challenge well up in me. Another new group of students alongside returning students who I have seen make such progress. Each with their own personalities and strengths. It is like an intricate puzzle for me to work with them individually to find what makes them tick and discover what they need to grow and improve, as well as creating a cohesive section that will perform together in my clarinet choir, as well as in the concert and marching bands. The challenge of it all, along with their never ending energy, helps to keep me young at heart. What a gift.
Here’s to another year of learning, changing, and growing…not just for the students, but for me as well. I learn more from them than I could ever teach them. These amazing young people are our future, and the future is bright.