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Blue Collar Salutes Teachers!
By Mick Polich - 05/23/2008 - 07:47 AM EDT

Teachers – it would be a sorry world without the good ones, and less stories to bring up at your class reunion about the BAD ones!!!

There are teachers all through our lives – not just in school, obviously either – but we have teachers from birth ‘til death……

Teachers can be profound, or stuble, but always memorable! Having taught music lessons myself since 1977, I draw on a lot of my own experiences with teachers – good and bad. In fact, I will go back to KINDERGARTEN to pick up a few pointers (thusly, the mantra of the famous Robert Fulghrum book about learning everything you needed to know about life at that point….).

I’ve had a few people make an impact on my life as teachers over brief to long periods of my life. In prepping for this article, I talked one of those said instructors, guitarist/electric pick-up guru/ fellow Marx Brothers enthusiast from good ol’ Des Moines, Ia., Doug Miers. I’ve know Doug for many a moon, and, per his way, he gave a few words ala’ philosophy, via the late jazz guitarist Howard Roberts, who has said in effect that people learn what they want to learn when they’re ready to learn it. That I can go with, brothers and sisters! The second quote (via Mr. Dougie’s own personal vision) is that people learn in ‘small bites’, so to speak – a little at a time. Again, yeah – life isn’t constantly cramming for mid-term finals, so that’s another groovy way to look at it. I’m finding there are more ‘small bites’ as I get older – seems you never can quite fit it all in (but you sure as blazes can try….).

I think I’ve mentioned on this site that I’ve been teaching music since 1977. I’ve got a handful of students now, could always use more, but there’s some outside forces at hand that always chew into your meal: new area, more music teachers with studios in a condensed space, I’m older (and that’s one that’s more complex then what’s issued on the surface….), plus, I’ve got more responsibilities at this point in life (the usual amount for a haus-dude with a kid, a missis, and two dogs, but there’s some other stuff – might tell you about it someday….).

I love to teach, no two ways about it, and I’m hoping I haven’t run out my ‘statute of limitations’ as far as being a music teacher goes. Over the years, I have the greatest respect for anyone who loves to teach - any field, any arena. Some days, it’s a thankless profession – you have no idea if you’re getting through to students, or teaching seems like a glorified babysitting position.

Then, boom, it’s magical – the days where students GET IT (and you feel so dang PROUD): it’s an amazing feeling of accomplishment, gratitude, and achievement. As teachers, we try to give back to the world daily! That goal can be tough in itself because many times, the world doesn’t usually give back – it can be an unforgiving gig.

As you pass thru life, your ‘awareness level’ on who has been a teacher in your life expands. My dad, my wife, my Aunt Boots – these are some of the people that qualify for teachers in my life that didn’t necessarily have the teacher moniker place upon themselves. The best teachers aren’t always the obvious…..

There is an art to teaching because it involves learning – the great ones truly re-invent themselves. For example, Pat Summit, Tennessee basketball coach – the woman has been coaching since the mid – 1970’s, and has more wins and championships than most of her more well-known male counterparts in college basketball – has been part of eight championship women’s basketball teams. I bet there are a few common threads in her methods – that emotional demeanor (the famous ‘stare’ – oooh, don’t wanna get on your bad side, Pat!), and her intelligence towards the details of the game. But I would also wager that she is a coach that constantly looks to new methods, ideas, and motivational tactics to get her teams ready.

I change – up my methods and program due to moves from town to town, budget, and  space requirements – I’m currently working on my own CD’s and books to teach from and sell from my record label. It’s challenging, but fun, but SCARY – you know, you’re a pebble in a pond of professional products and teachers with a shifting market and tastes: trying to make it happen as a home-based business and philosophy is trying, because I’m looking for a certain look and feel to the style, products, and teaching methods – of course, stuff that I produce and create on my own. A lot of people would say you need a website (that would help), a My Space page (maybe), and some You Tube teaching videos (hmmmm –no, really intriguing, but I dunno…).

As a teacher, you need a philosophy to base yourself from  - a Hippocratic oath, so to speak. Mine is such that the fundamental approach doesn’t change – to teach the material to the student the best way possible at the time – but the technique and mechanics change over time. Teachers should be open to all possible means to use material and teach – proper use of the Internet, You Tube, My Space, and Wikipedia can enhance and inspire us teachers to greater realms.

My own outlook is such that I never stop learning - if you do, you might as well pack up your tent and head home, because there’s so much out there – not just in music, but in life, too!! I’ve known plenty of teachers, artists, and musicians that think they’ve got everything summed up for knowledge and experience when really, they’re only beginning.

I’ve run into a few folks that are presenting the ‘tortured, self-absorbed artist’ thing when they attempt to teach  - please, folks, do us,and yourselves a favor and get over yourselves! I can gather from experience that there are plenty of creative teachers  - artists, musicians, filmmakers, and all sorts in-between – that manage to be responsible people that help others and get the job done. Believe me, I’ve been through a similar period – myself, as well as other associates of that ilk – it’s wasted energy and time. Move forward, and help teach others the same!

Unfortunately, as much as we hold high regard for teachers, somehow, our respect to them doesn’t equal that of a NASCAR driver, pop star, or pro sports athlete. As far as I can see, this won’t change – people dig the bells and whistles of stardom far more than the daily grind, triumphs and heartaches of teaching. Again, teachers hold an honored place in society, far more compensated by the knowledge of helping others learn rather than the monetary gain (although the great ones need to be makin’ that jing by my standards….).

If you do make teaching you life and business, then you understand the kid of personal commitment that it takes to make the whole thing happen. PATIENCE is a key word here – very, very much so. As a teacher, I think the balance is critical that you’re patience enough to get the students some leeway, but have the fortitude to push them to get ‘em going when it’s needed. Communication – yep, another important channel, BUT surprisingly, there are plenty of teachers that think they’ve got the communication thing down, but not so. Important stuff, for sure!

You have to continue to work on these skills as a teacher – if you feel you’ve got the bull by the horns and don’t feel the need to hone or re-invent your skills, well, baby, wake up and smell the cow manure, ‘cause it ain’t so, Jo Jo!

BIT O’ HISTORY DEPT.: I remember my first music student – Keith McCauley, Saydel High – I had just graduated high school in May of 1977. Keith was a few grades behind me, HUGE Led Zeppelin fan – actually, pretty much anything hard rock from that era (AC/DC, Aerosmith, you know, standard issue for the rural ‘suburbs’…). Can’t remember what my rates where back then, but I did drive to his house (he lived 3 miles away from my folks’ farm) for guitar lessons. I actually ended playing the Saydel talent show again (first time in the show, actually the year before, was a school-induced music group, “Nightfire” – dig THAT name, er, what the hell where we THINKING?) with Keith, playing guitar, then switching to bass for “Stairway To Heaven”(switching DURING “Stairway” – I know, I know, long story…).

I’ve been teaching music ever since that time – a pretty good gig. Keeps you on your toes, forces you into expanding your musical universe, and, of course, the extra income tain’t bad, either. Thing is, and I’m talking in general terms, teachers need and demand more societal respect. I could B and M about the sports departments in many schools getting first dibs on dough for funding (and most of the attention, in general – heavens to Merdel The Turtle, an ol’ ex-jock saying THAT??!!), while the music department scrapes by on bake sales and the kindness of strangers and parents, but I won’t. But remember, when something is gone, sometimes you won’t feel it until it’s gone for good.

Respect music, life, and teaching – add those things to your self-improvement list, and see what a world of difference those flowers, if let bloom, can make in your daily life!

(Given it’s my year anniversary writing for the Muses Muse, I decided to give a few more articles than usual this month. Many thanks to Jodi Krangle for having me on board, Jerry Flattum for swapping ideas, musical thoughts, and life stories, and the rest of the websites’ contributors – I’m fortunate to be in with a talented crowd!)




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