Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The Ones You Remember and the Ones You Should

It has been a lot of years since I last taught music. Every once in a while someone will ask if I miss it. Truthfully I don't all that much, although there are certain times I get the urge to step onto the podium. Last week we talked about the hundreds of students a teacher impacts over the course of a career. Hopefully those moments in time shape who our students are and help them become productive members of society. 

When I decided to pursue a career as a music teacher I did so because I wanted to have the same kind of impact on my students that my high school music teachers had on me. As we discussed last week, teachers often don't have the chance or opportunity to see the end result of that work. That is too bad, because I think teachers would feel a great deal of satisfaction in knowing the impact they had. Fortunately, over the course of the last couple of months I have had the pleasure of reconnecting with several former students. But, unfortunately I don't always remember them.

One interaction happened a little like this: I was at a teacher leadership conference in Des Moines about a month ago when a grown woman approached me. "You are Mr. Voss, aren't you?" she asked. (I'll tell you what, when a 'stranger' approaches you and asks who you are, there is a thought that crosses your mind like, 'Oh great, what's this going to turn into?')

Nevertheless, I responded, "Yes, I am."

"I thought so," she said. "I've seen you on TV a few times and every time I remind my husband that you were my 7th grade music teacher! Do you remember me?"

I frantically began searching the files in my head to try and figure out who this lady was. After all, how many kids in how many different schools had I taught 7th grade music to over the years? Some people will try to bluff their way through a conversation like this, but I just couldn't. So I said, "I am so sorry, I really don't. Could you please refresh my memory?"

"Sure thing," she says. "My name is Jessica. You were my 7th grade music teacher at St. Columbkille in Dubuque. Remember? I was your student director for the musical!"

Then it all started to come rushing back. Boy, not only was it a long time ago, but it was a REALLY long time ago. Now, I don't necessarily remember all the finer details, but I do remember some of the events and activities of that school year. I can remember the musical on the stage in that little gym, and the joy of seeing the students perform for their families and friends. I was very proud of them for sure! I asked Jessica to tell me what she remembered about that year, what she currently does, and about her family.

She recalled the musical we produced in vivid detail. It was called 'Hansel and Gretel'. She also remembered that I took the choir on a field trip to Chicago at the end of the school year, and that we had visited Navy Pier. Jessica went on to tell me after that school year her family moved away. Yet she explained her experience in my music class sparked an interest in music and theater that carried on throughout her high school career. Well, since I saw Jessica at a teacher leadership conference, you can imagine what she now does! She's a teacher leader of course!

That little conversation got me thinking about the students I had in school, and wondering whatever became of them? One former student succeeded me as choir director in a position that I once held. I left when she was in high school, but I can remember her as a student, and from time to time having her accompany one of our choirs--as a freshman and sophomore! Another former student is an English teacher in Cedar Rapids. And on and on....

Some students are easier to remember than others for a variety of reasons. One such student for me was Bobby. I think I remember Bobby because of his love for music, and he expressed an interest in becoming a music teacher pretty early on in high school. Every free moment he had was spent in the choir room where I would often find plunking away at the piano, figuring out parts to the music we were studying, or writing his own original melody. Sometimes I would even find him holding court with a group of students leading a rehearsal! As a sophomore, he played Marius for me in Les Miserables. Truthfully he could have played Jean Valjean, but we were stacked with talent that year (which is why we were able to pull of Les Miserables). Sometime I'll have to share my experience with that musical and my unbelievably talented  cast. I can certainly remember those outstanding musicians and students. They were very good!

Anyway, I reconnected with Bobby a few weeks ago. After exchanging emails I decided that I was going to take a vacation day and visit Bobby in his school. I wanted to see him in action. To see him direct his choirs. And to see the interaction he had with his students. So I made the trek. I met his colleagues and his students, who clearly love and respect him dearly. When his choirs sang and he directed them, I believe in some small way I may have nurtured him in his quest to be a choir director.

At the end of my visit he presented me with a gift. It was a song that he had arranged and his select Men's Chorus was scheduled to perform it at state contest. What was so special about this gift was the dedication. I won't share that with you, but it is now hanging in my office.

The point I'm trying to make is that in education, sometimes you know you are having an impact, and sometimes you are having an impact and don't even know it. I knew that Bobby was going to go on to be a successful music teacher. He had that natural ability, drive, and determination. What I didn't know was the impact that I would have and the memories that I would create for Jessica, or countless other students that I had the great honor of teaching.

Many people I had the privilege of teaching so long ago have gone on to have successful lives, families, and careers. Jessica and Bobby each had a different experience with me as a teacher and brought different gifts and talents to my classroom, as all of our students do. And both....well they are both very special to me and the reason why I went into education. Recalling memories like that is when I miss the classroom.


  1. Thissm was absolutely lovely. So glad you are still connected to so many! <3

    1. You are another one, Becky! How could I ever forget your talent! Great memories! Hope all is well with you!

    2. Haha, I'm sure there are so many of us, it's amazing you can keep us all straight! Hope I'll run into you soon!