It’s strange finding myself to be an Actual Grown Up. As an AGU, I’m expected to do all sorts of things and know all sorts of things. In one of her Little House books, Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote about how her ma—about how she just KNEW how to handle every situation. Someday, I hope my children are impressed by my competence. I think I’m pretty good at a lot of things and am useful in most crises—my track record at handling adversity is not too shabby.
I take no credit for any of this. God has placed amazing people in my life who have paved the way for me. Another favorite author of mine, Lois McMaster Bujold, had a character who reflected on people who do great things. The gist is that if the people who do those great things are ordinary, flawed people and I am an ordinary, flawed person, then I have no reasonable inhibitions keeping me from also doing great things.
When I look at the people in my family who have come before me, I see a lot of great things.
In my job as a music teacher, a lot of competence in the field of being an AGU is required. Like many people, the skills I learned that enabled me to be good at my job were not learned in pursuit of my college education. Unlike most people, many of my job skills were learned in elementary school or in afterschool classes. I have to know how to sing, dance, play instruments, act, run sound equipment, make costumes, build sets, paint backdrops and manage props in addition to knowing theory, music history, world history and cultures, math and music, science and music, art and music--it's a crazy range of skills involved. I think it’s why I’m insistent that my children learn piano, dance and theatre—to me, it is simply part of being a well-rounded, educated person.
Three of my great teachers passed away in 2012. It left me feeling that the torch was left in my hands. Mrs. Kasinger, Mrs. Ricks and Ms. Pender were no longer around to teach the next generations of actors, singers, musicians—it’s my job now. While I joke that I am paid by the Great State of Texas to sing The Itsy Bitsy Spider and dance the Hokey Pokey, there’s a lot more to what I do. And if I don’t do it, no one else will. As the campus music specialist for a Title One school, I’m the only music education many of these students will get. Upper- and middle-class children will have violin lessons and ballet recitals. They will go to a children’s museum on vacation and go see a play with their family on a weekend. When they enter upper grades, they will be encouraged by their families to learn an instrument or sing in chorus at school or at church. They will spend a summer at theatre camp.
For most of the 500 kids who revolve through my door on any given day, I’m it and I’m it for six years. It’s daunting, knowing that I’m likely the only person who will ever play Beethoven for them and put an instrument in their hands. When I get them on the risers on the cafetorium stage once a year, that’s the only chance they may have to show an audience what they are capable of. Since people fear public speaking more than death, I think it is a life skill to have them know that they have a voice that is valuable in the world. If they speak, someone will listen. If they perform, someone will applaud. As an individual and as a group, they have a light to shine in the world.
Mrs. Ricks taught me how to stand up and speak. In the after-school theatre program she ran from her living room, she taught me about projecting, cues, costumes, stage right and all things dramatic. She taught me how to dig down deep and find what I didn’t know was there. In the plays we presented on the library stage, I learned how to be someone else for a little while and, in doing so, how to be a little better at being me.
Mrs. Kasinger was my beloved and adored elementary music teacher. While I may be the only student who went through her classroom who still uses riser choreography, I'm not the only one who sees the world through different eyes because of how she taught us to see it. I still use the games we played with my students. I remember her patience and creativity, as well as her smile.
Martha Pender was more than my voice teacher. I learned to swim in her back yard years before I learned to sing in her studio. She spent many holidays with our family and left me the gift that keeps on giving—two beastly cats who can’t die soon enough. Her words echo in my head from time to time.
No college music education class could compare to what they taught me. I can only hope that what I teach to my students can compare—that I teach them to love and enjoy as well as act and play and sing. That I teach them to be the person they are as well as the character they are pretending to be. That, when they become AGUs, they can do great things, too.
It is my hope that I help them find their voice in this world. I am so thankful these women helped me find mine.