Teacher Appreciation Week starts on Monday and it’s made me think a lot about all of the many different teachers over the years who have guided and shaped me into the person that I am today.
For example, my kindergarten teacher, Ms. Fragé, taught me not to stand on top of tables during quiet time (a lesson reinforced by my parents with a little solitary confinement when I got home).
And at the other end, I learned from Dr. Barringer in my last grad school class how much fun entrepreneurship can be, which I think really influenced me to become an authorpreneur of sorts.
But of all of the many teachers I’ve had throughout the years, my favorite was Mr. Schmaus.
Schmaus was our high school band director. And he put up with a lot from us kids. For example, my best friend used to sneak into his office all of the time, lock the door, and Xerox his derriere.
Then he’d sporradically insert copies into Schmaus’s sheet music when he wasn’t looking and we’d all try to maintain our composure and continue to play whatever music we were practicing for the 937th time, and watch his reaction with both horror and delight as our fearless leader would turn the page he was conducting from, realize that he was being pranked, and try to stay focused.
On another occasion, Schmaus was the victim of a more serious prank, one that could have been deadly. A student had set a pipe bomb in the bathroom one Friday afternoon. Schmaus walked in after a concert, found the string on the floor, and thinking it was trash (???) triggered the tripwire, causing the commode to explode, and sending water and white, ceramic powder everywhere.
That was stupid. Someone could have been seriously hurt — or killed. The student was expelled. And Schmaus added one more tale to his repertoire to recount with his fellow educators.
So, to say that teachers put up with a lot from their students would be a HUGE understatement. But what teachers do best is — well — teach. And sometimes their lessons are less obvious.
Because what my high school band director really taught me wasn’t music…
In middle school, I played trombone. And I sucked — BIG TIME. Years later, I found out that I was coerced into playing trombone “because I had the lips of a trombone player” which wasn’t true. The reality was, the band director just had too many trumpets. But in my heart, I wasn’t a trombone player. I was a trumpet player. So the summer between grades 9 and 10, I bought a trumpet.
And after spending my freshman year as a trombone player, I showed up to band class with a trumpet and sat at the end of a very (VERY) long row of trumpet players our first day back.
Schmaus could have loaned me a trombone (we had plenty… they were in the back storage room… musty and smelly and moldy and used, I guessed, by the countless kids from years past… those whose class pictures lined the hallowed halls of Lyman High School’s band room entrance.)
Schmaus could have said he had too many trumpet players and insisted that I sit out until I agreed that I was a trombone player and sentenced me to go and photocopy reams of sheet music for his top band class, or jazz band, or marching band, and maybe asked me to do one final check for him to make sure no photocopies of human anatomy were hidden anywhere, awaiting his discovery.
Schmaus could have sent me outside to “prepare the marching band practice field” (i.e. pick up trash and put the cones down all over the massive parking lot).
But he didn’t.
Instead, when I sat before my band director, declaring my new brass instrument of choice, Schmaus simply smiled, nodded knowingly, and said, “Okay, Ken. You’re a trumpet player.”
Over the next three school years, I got in top band. I joined jazz band. Schmaus put me in charge of the detail crew. Then he made me section leader. And I won the annual march-off my last year.
Not because I was good, because I wasn’t. I tried hard because Mr. Schmaus believed in me.
Good teachers don’t tell you who you’re supposed to be. They listen to you. They work with you. They don’t treat you like the person you are. They treat you like the person they know you can be.
So this next week, please do something for the many teachers in your lives.
Tell them “thank you.”
Because what my band director taught me wasn’t music. He taught me that it’s okay to take risks… he taught me how to be a leader… and he taught me that I’m capable of more than I think I am.
If you don’t know why you’re thanking them today, thank them anyway. You’ll understand one day.
Thank you, Mr. Schmaus.