We are a profession, so let’s be professional.

A friend from a distant school emailed me the other day asking my (along with several others) for some input about a scheduling/curriculum issue.  I read through the email, and decided to give it some thought during my 44 minute red light of study hall duty.  Later that night I returned to my email to find another colleague had responded to my friend and the other dozen or so of us he contacted…

It was nice this colleague took the time to email.  It was so dissapointing he was so flippant and sarcastic.  Before anyone puts fingers to keyboard, yes I am perfectly guilty of sarcasm from time to time.  But as the only response to a colleague in need of some input? As I approach the midpoint of my career I am becoming less and less tolerant of unprofessionals.  Those among us who do what we do, but see no greater good in sharing their thoughts and experiences.  Perhaps they feel that if they share, they will somehow elevate someone else’s program instead of their own.  Maybe they do not teach in a good situation, and don’t feel compelled to help anyone else succeed because it will only make them feel worse.  Whatever the case – it has to stop.

Competition is healthy. I will not disagree with that as it raises the quality of the musical product.  But when it comes to a point where competition is our motivation to tear someone else down professionally, something is definitely wrong and it isn’t the judges score on interpretation.  Are we still focused on building an empire? Is our strive to compete so strong that we do not feel we can share and communicate with each other? The one thing I have enjoyed over the past few years is the other directors in my county and our honest and sincerity.  When one of us has a great show on the night of the county band festival, he or she hears about it.  There is mutual respect and support.  I know that if I called any one of them right now with a question, I would get answers that could help.  We do have an official county association, but our membership supports each other because it is the right thing to do.

Since taking over as an executive officer for our four county music association, it has been very rewarding to begin connecting with music teachers in different situations, teaching levels, and ensembles.  I am thankful to guys like Corky, Sal, Jim, Tom, Jamie, Gary, Steve, and Chris who were good enought to take me under their wing at various times and teach me how to be a professional, and what it would take to be an effective leader.  They played by the rules.  They encouraged their students to work hard, and be the best.  They acted in the best interest of all students.  They showed respect to their colleagues. I am the leader I am partially because of the advice they gave me.  They never jerked a colleague around or didn’t play by the rules.  Fair was fair. Right was right. Wrong was wrong. 

Hanging on my wall is a picture of Nolan Ryan with a young Robin Ventura in a head lock delivering a healthy haymaker.  This is a daily reminder to always be mindful, always listen, and don’t fly off the handle with something to prove.  I will not forget watching that baseball game as a youth and seeing a young, hot-headed star dashing out to the mound to teach one of the greatest pitchers of all time a lesson about throwing inside.  What happened afterwards will always remind me to repsect my elders – they have been there, they have done that.  Ignore what they are trying to tell you, and you might get famous for being part of a famous “beat-down” of the musical kind. 

I am many things to many people this year.  The one thing that I am trying to maintain is pretty simple: I am a man of my word, not a man of many words.  That means being up front and being honest with all of my colleagues.  It means not short changing them because I don’t want them to succeed.  Or I don’t feel like getting my forms in on time.  Or returning their call.  Or responding to their email.  Like Tom and Jamie always told me, if they pick up the phone to call you and you don’t call back- you are the one with a problem.

Do we not have a responsibility to leave our ego out of professional matters?  Don’t we have a responsibility to each other on some level to provide input or advice? Don’t we have a responsibility to be…er…just be responsible? Be courteous? Be supportive?  I think we are in a day and age where we must start getting out of this “me-monkey” mindset, and get to a point where real communication and collaboration can start occuring.  A situation where real competition can make us all better educators, and our students aware of the true value of competition (hint: it isn’t trophies on the wall). My advice to anyone reading this post who has taught less than 14 years – if you want to go out and prove yourself, prove that you are a sincere, dedicated, respectful, and responsible educator.

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  1. Thanks for a great post Travis. I very much agree with you about professionalism. I am continually working at these same qualities as an educator. Each year of teaching brings a greater understanding and opportunity for growth as a professional. Thanks again for your thoughts and reminding me of some things I have on my “to do” list.

  2. Thanks for stopping by Varden. You are definitely one in our profession that sees the big picture, and I appreciate your insight and support. Best of luck as your year continues to roll on!

  3. There has been a lot of talk recently about the pointlessness of sarcasm. It’s rude at best and destructive at its worst, and intolerable when coming from a teacher and directed at a student. (I’m not sure if this was one of your main beefs, but it is one a lot of people share.)

    One thing that has always amazed me about musicians and music teachers is how willing they are to share their knowledge. I remember once when I was probably about jr. high age wondering why my teacher was giving me so much great information. Wasn’t he afraid that someday I would grow up and be a better saxophone player than him?!? My teachers’ openness and willingness to teach was one of the qualities that attracted me to the profession. Travis, you never know what encouragement you might give to a student that will have an impact lasting longer than you might imagine.

  4. Thanks for stopping by. I could not agree more with your final statements. I have spoke with colleagues in the profession who specifically talk about they don’t want their kids studying with a “rival” director. I do not fear my students getting out and studying with someone else – I encourage it. So many times they return to our rehearsals with a new perspective, new ideas, and even new appreciation for how our program works. Different students have come back and offered warm-up suggestions, articulation exercises, or perspectives on pieces we are rehearsing. It has really served to make our program stronger because we now have a new lens to analyze strengths and weaknesses of our program. When we demonstrate that open attitude to our students, it basically tells all of them “This music that we make and study is bigger than all of us. We must find the best way to do it. Not you, not me – we must find the best way.” Well said Steve!


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