Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The Buses Come, the Buses Go

The first principal for whom I worked would often say "The buses come, the buses go." Usually he did this in response to someone agonizing over an issue that while pressing at the moment would soon become rather trivial. He didn't mean for the saying to imply that our jobs and actions were fleeting, but that we shouldn't fixate on the crisis-of-the-moment in an environment that worked on a regular schedule over 180 days. We should keep perspective, and be fresh to meet and work with our kids when the buses came the next morning.

I have thought about this phrase a lot over the last three weeks as I watched the passing of a great man and retired educator, Steve Frederick. I invite you to check out what my band's website has to say about our co-founder, who lost a battle to cancer late in July.

My admiration of Steve and our co-director Chuck comes from what I see as a profoundly meaningful application of my first principal's philosophy. Steve worked in public education for decades, first as a band director and then as an administrator. In those roles, he taught, mentored, led, supervised, and directed hundreds of students. If he did his work in a fashion that was ordinary, he would have kept his job and passed time with those kids and colleagues. Instead, he realized that those days in which the buses brought and took away the students afforded opportunities to reach them and push them to do something that lasts longer than the dismissal bell. Legions of former band kids swear as to the impact he had.

And then as he neared the end of his career, Steve worked with a peer to establish a band that has been in existence now for nearly 20 years. That band has come to mean a lot to me. It's something of a weekly sanctuary, allowing me at least once a week to be a part of something that isn't defined by exam performance, educational jargon, or the stresses of being a teacher and parent. Once a week I am part of the creation of art. And it's art well done as well: Steve and Chuck constantly select repertoire that challenges us as musicians. As a result, we create performances that have the ability to entertain or even stir one's emotions.

Speaking personally, it gives me a meaningful refuge like what band in college did. Is the concert band of which I'm now a part the musical peer of my college ensembles? No, but it's not as far off that mark as one might assume a volunteer ensemble would be. In my college years, the band was a chance for me to escape from the unreasonable pressures I was putting on myself to achieve, and in those hours spent rehearsing and performing, I was not just escaping the two-dimensional obsession that academic excellence can be, but I was creating art.

Directors like Steve or Buzz Jones (at my college) lead and create institutions that don't have to exist. Lansdale and Gettysburg would be just fine without those ensembles. But the communities are so much richer when such groups exist, and such groups only exist when leaders compel people to volunteer to be part of something bigger than the everyday.

As I mourn the loss of a man who I knew for a small number of years but who I came to respect a lot, I contemplate the challenge he offers to me. How can I inspire and build despite the Groundhog Day elements of this profession I am in? What can I do to stir the emotions and artistic impulse of the kids who arrive at my school and leave it 184 days a year? What can I do to build something people in my school or community can cherish and support after I am gone? Of course I don't have answers to these questions, but I hope I can figure out some in the next decade or so. After all, Steve was about ten years older than I am now when he talked a friend into cofounding a band with him, a band that would end up meaning a great deal to some kid who moved into the area in 2002 and who felt the itch to be part of something musical again in 2009.

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