TEACHING IS NOT A JOB; IT’S A CALLING!

 SKGRADI write this at a time when funding for public education has reached an all-time low, a general lack of respect for what I do grows, and I seriously ponder a question that would have been unthinkable to me twenty years ago, “Who would want to be a teacher”?  When I think of the word “vocation,” I think of the religious who take a vow to endure hardship, persecution, and even death for a cause greater than themselves.  
One decides on a certain occupation because research indicates that the prospects for employment are good, advancement fast, or the salary exceptional.  

A vocation, on the other hand, is chosen because it is right, honorable, of ultimate importance, or salvific.  A job is a reasonable choice. 
A vocation is something you must do, you are driven to do. 
  I am proud to say that I chose teaching as my vocation.

Teachers Cultivate
Stephen Covey, a leadership guru, tells of a lesson he learned in college.  He related learning to farming. His lesson:  You can’t cram on a farm.  Learning that sticks must be cultivated and teachers are cultivators.  Slowly and deliberately, I go about my rehearsals assessing each student, diagnosing the proper cultivation technique.  Each voice is different…unique.  Each voice is important to the collective sound and some require pruning, water, weeding, re-planting, and/or fertilizer.  Cultivation is slow work requiring much patience. Cultivation is sometimes painful or uncomfortable but always requires genuine loving care.

Foremost, I am a cultivator of people.  Although I strive for an excellent product, I believe the journey is most important.  Each choir member comes to rehearsal with different levels of ability and skill.  All students, regardless of aptitude, can benefit from being part of a choir.  A mentor teacher of mine espoused the notion that music shapes the complete human being; Dr. Armstrong’s mantra was, “We sing with the Body, Mind, Spirit, and Voice.”  As a choir director, I teach from the belief that the literature I select (with meaningful texts that speak to our spirit), the genuine care for each student’s well-being, the awareness of the connection between thought, physical energy, and human emotion, influences not only quality singing, but cultivates better human beings.  I want my students to leave my classroom changed!  My hope is that they will be better parents, friends, community members, leaders, volunteers, employees, and employers.  The greatest reward for me is to see that each individual student has moved a step closer in discovering the potential in himself, that “I am important!” One statement I make frequently to students before a performance, usually at a solo contest, is to “go in, be yourself, and then go get some ice cream.” I want them to know that they are unique and that their voice is important. No one else can be “you.” Hopefully, thinking of getting ice cream after the performance simply helps them to relax.  In choral performance, I have observed that when the individual choir member realizes that their voice matters, they are ready to move to the next level of understanding the choral experience.  The next level consists of their understanding that their contribution matters and that what they are part of is something greater than themselves.  They move from a “me” focus to a “we” realization that the choir sound is not the same without their individual best contribution.  I have learned that the journey from point A to point B, that is, what happens in each rehearsal, defines successful teaching.

Teachers Plan for Success
This brings me to one of my mantras:  You perform the way you rehearse.  When each rehearsal is approached as if it were a performance, with each member giving 110% to the tasks at hand, the performance is guaranteed to be successful.  Sloppy attention in rehearsal equals sloppy performances.  As conductor, one of my most vital jobs is to analyze the piece of music, understand the skills required to perform it well, chunk the material into sequential steps, and assess each step being mastered along the rehearsal journey.  The culminating performance, the applause, and pride on my kids’ faces solidify the lessons learned.   Success is the result of hard work, commitment, and team work; when all of these elements are in place, something amazing takes place. The student moves from extrinsic to intrinsic motivation and their life will be forever changed.

Teachers Dream
Teachers dream big dreams for their students.  I provide “stretch opportunities” for my students. Opportunities such as performing at Carnegie Hall, premiering a new composition, and auditioning for National Honor Choirs are all opportunities that will make a difference in who they are becoming.

Several years ago my wife attended a workshop session at a state choral convention with me.  It was not a “nuts-and-bolts session,” but the clinician was a veteran educator sharing his passion for music education.  His passion was received with huge spontaneous bursts of applause throughout his presentation.  Afterwards she said, “Wow, I felt like I was at a church revival.  You guys really do think you can change the world through music.” My response . . . absolutely! I believe that what I do daily matters in the large scheme of life.

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Johnny Matlock 217 West 24th Street Hays, Kansas 67601 Phone: 785-623-1412 Email: matlockjc@gmail.com