Kids Today!

August 22, 2022

Today is the first day of my 20th year of teaching at Indiana University. IU is a great place to work. I have terrific colleagues and terrific students. Being here this long should make me feel really old, but this just occurred to me: of the 11 brass department members here 5 were hired before me, and 5 have been hired since I’ve been here. At the beginning of the school year it’s fairly common to hear teachers discussing how much students have changed, and students talking about how teachers don’t understand them. While part of that is certainly true, it’s important to remember what stays the same. So here are 3 ideas about what I’ve found to be constants in a world that teachers and students agree is changing faster and faster.

1. There Are No Shortcuts

The people that succeed are the people that do the work. I’m not saying that doing the work will guarantee you success. I am saying that doing the work is a vital part of having a chance at success. Doing the work can mean a lot of different things. Today we’re talking about school, so that means: going to class, doing your homework, practicing, meeting new people, and many other things.

It is way too easy to focus on other people and what you think they are, or aren’t, doing. Here’s a little secret: it doesn’t matter, and you’re probably wrong. While you should engage with other people- make friends, put together groups, build connections, etc.- what your perception of what those people are doing can only take away from you doing something productive. When it’s time to get to work: homework, practice, listening…whatever it is that you’re doing, your focus needs to be singularly directed on yourself. This is time in your life when being selfish is good.

2. The Teacher/Student Relationship is Important

It’s natural for students to complain. Students: guess what? Teachers complain too. And sometimes we complain about students. So while everyone should be able to blow off steam on a regular basis, it’s important to remember that teachers are there to help. And students are there to learn.

Students- it’s too easy to write off any teacher you haven’t connected with as “out of touch” or “not understanding you.” Remember this: every teacher was once in your position. I remember being a 17-year-old college freshman walking in to my first ear training class. The teacher walked in and said “good morning class, sing me an ‘A’.” While I started laughing at the prospect of anyone being able to sing a pitch randomly called, the rest of the class sang an ‘A’. At that moment I thought “oh holy crap, what have I done?” Your teachers have worked and struggled to get where they are. While everyone is different, it’s important to remember that teachers are real people, and not what is standing between you and happiness.

Teachers- it’s too easy to look at the next class of students as “different” and “not getting it.” While each generation of students grows up in some fundamentally different ways (I thought a walkie-talkie was amazing technology in middle school), students are looking for the same thing you were: great information and instruction. The best part of my job is that I get to teach one-on-one. This allows me to try and do what I believe all teachers should be doing: meet the student where they are and help them grow from there. Every student has a different set of strengths and weaknesses. It’s up to us as teachers to figure those out and help those students learn, grow, and know how to continue to learn and grow once they’re out of school. No matter how different you think your students are, it’s vital to form a connection with them so that the two of you can get to work.

3. College is Important

No one has to go to college. Maybe, as a college teacher, I’m not supposed to say that, but it’s true. So why is college important? I’m glad I asked. I’ll give you 3 reasons:

A. As a transition to professional life

Throughout high school, a student’s choices are fairly limited. Students are in their schools all day long, with much of their curriculum specified for them. Once a student graduates college, suddenly they are responsible for…well…everything they do. College can be a great way to make that transition. College students have more say with their time and with their coursework. And they, hopefully, are finding a major that will lead them to something they will want to do, whether directly related to their major or not, once they graduate.

B. As a time to focus your study

If a student knows what they want to do, college can be a great time to dive in and really get going on it. When I was in high school I played in my school’s marching band, concert band, jazz band, while also playing in the city’s youth orchestra. That’s all that was available to me, and I thought it was a lot, and I got a lot out of it. Once I got to college I was in concert band, orchestra, jazz band, brass quintet, brass choir, as well as playing in other students’ projects which included recordings, recitals, and new compositions. So while I was doing everything I could before, once I got to college I was able to really pursue what I wanted to do as a professional.

C. As a way to meet other people like you

Unless you’re at a performing arts high school, most of the people you’re sitting next to in band, orchestra, and choir aren’t thinking about majoring in music. You might be wondering why you seem to care more than others. It’s likely because you do! Where can you find a large group of people that cares as much as you do? In college, majoring in music. Not only can you find people like you, you can make friends and connections that will last a lifetime.

Happy 1st day back.

I hope you have a great school year.


One comment

  1. As always, spot on. Thank you for finding the words to say what many of us think. Have a great year, Joey.

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