“Hey, Mr. Light!” I heard a voice yelling in the distance.
I was waiting for a traffic light at a busy intersection. My car window was down. It was a gorgeous day.
The voice came from somewhere off to my left. I scanned the streetscape for several seconds before I saw him.
It was Jake! He was standing in front of a pizza joint, wearing a uniform, about to jump in his car to make a delivery.
I waved and yelled back.
Jake had been in my group piano class at University of Louisville a few years before. I don’t think I’d seen him since that semester ended. A guitarist, he was one of the large group of students who had to pass piano proficiency by the end of sophomore year. (Mine was not a class students took by choice.)
Jake was always a good sport about my relentless posture reminders. His default posture at the piano was so bad, I once took pictures of him and posted them on a class “wall of shame.”
It was always good-natured teasing though, and students understood that. I think my students typically know that I like them and enjoy working with them.
But Jake wasn’t someone I got to interact with outside of class. Unlike the students I collaborated with for juries and other performances, I really had minimal contact with him; so his boisterous greeting surprised me and brightened my day. It also reminded me that we never really know how our behavior and demeanor are impacting others. Even when our contact with students is minimal, they sense if we care about them. Surely, a big part of our job is caring.
As we often hear, students might not remember what we try to teach them, but they will remember how we made them feel.
It’s always worthwhile to be patient.
It’s always worthwhile to be kind.
It’s always worthwhile to be encouraging.
And, perhaps, a little good-natured teasing doesn’t hurt.
P.S. I’m happy to report that Jake has graduated from the world of pizza delivery to a full-time music industry job.
“I’m struggling to inspire your son to practice,” I confided in the father at our end-of-year parent conference.
I was putting a lot of time and effort into finding music the student would like, but practice was minimal and progress was limited.
“Do we plow ahead, or is it time to make a change?” I asked.
“He likes you, and he likes playing the piano,” the dad said. “Lets keep working at it.”
Tonight, nearly two years later, that student’s fantastic playing gave me goose bumps and made me a little teary-eyed. And it wasn’t even a piece I had assigned. His school choir conductor asked him to accompany Morten Lauridsen’s Sure on this Shining Night, and the glory of that gorgeous music seemed to light a fire in his soul. He’s put in the work to make the piano accompaniment stunningly beautiful.
Thank you, Mr. Cook, for inviting Dylan to play. I suspect he’ll remember this opportunity as a milestone in his life.
I’m a grown man who just drove to Kroger for the sole purpose of buying . . . gummy bears.
Drove to Kroger.
Two blocks away.
Didn’t even walk.
(There might be hooligans!)
I blame my friend, Chris, whose social media post from earlier in the evening had said, “I hope that when I inevitably choke to death on gummy bears, people will just say I was killed by bears, and leave it at that.”
So the craving for gummy bears was planted, and it nagged at my brain until I gave in and drove to Kroger. After midnight. On a Monday.
In my defense, I had taught 9 hours of piano lessons, and hadn’t had enough food. My healthy-eating resolve was weak.
But there was a problem at Kroger. The gummy bears were blocked by a giant stocking cart. Normally, I would just move the cart and get what I want; but this time, a Kroger employee was actively stocking shelves from the cart.
“Excuse me sir, could you move your giant cart so I can reach the gummy bears?”
Nope. Grown man. Can’t say that.
When I buy gummy bears, I do it on the sly, hiding them under the hamburger meat, or the charcoal–anything manly. Then I go through the self-checkout line and hope no one is watching when I run them over the scanner.
Determined not to have made a post-midnight trip to Kroger in vain, I pushed my cart around the store a few times, contemplating what I might say.
“Pardon me, sir, I was told to buy gummy bears. I don’t dare go home without them. Can you move your cart, please?”
Nope. Not gonna fly. Even I laughed at that one.
“Maybe he’ll soon move down the aisle a little,” I thought, circling the store a few more times.
But Mr. Candy Aisle Stocker was in no hurry. His cart was going nowhere fast.
I couldn’t think of a single thing to say to that man that wouldn’t prompt him to think, “Grown man. Gray hair. Gummy bears. After midnight. SMH!”
So I got in my car, empty-handed, and went home.
If I Google “Twelve-step program for gummy bear addiction,” will those skinny-jeans-wearing hipster children who work at Google post it on their Top-Ten-Stupid-Searches-of-the-Day list?
I’m not giving them the pleasure. Brats. Get off my lawn!
The day after I posted this ridiculous (but true) tale on Facebook, some pretty awesome students brought me a stash of gummy bears.
Not what I meant.