by Christopher Le
I’ll admit right away that I don’t know much about the intricacies of jazz.
Growing up, my exposure to the genre came mostly from late nights driving home from soccer practice with my dad in his dusty Toyota MR2. At the time, I thought he loved jazz and so I loved it too.
It wasn’t until years later that I learned my dad simply never switched the radio channel over after NPR’s daily news went off the air. I had come to love a genre of music through a thoughtless error, a missed click of the dial.
Mistake or not, jazz music became part of the soundtrack of my life. As I think back on my brief decade of teaching, it is jazz that I go back to. Those cool, drifting melodies that never sound quite the same upon consecutive listens seem to be the perfect analogy for my experiences in the classroom.
If you’re not quite sure what all the fuss is about, maybe let Ryan Gosling explain it to you. In La La Land, Sebastian (Gosling) is telling Mia (Emma Stone) why jazz is so fascinating to him. His descriptions of it match how I view teaching.
“See what’s at stake. I mean, look at this sax player—he just hijacked this song, he’s on his own trip. Every one of these guys is composing, they’re re-arranging, they’re writing, and they’re playing the melody…and so, it’s conflict, and it’s compromise, and it’s just—it’s new! Every time. It’s brand new every night. It’s very, very exciting.”
I mean, c’mon. Tell me that isn’t teaching. You step into the room and you’re trying to teach the competencies, y’know…follow the melody. But as you do, you’re changing and modifying and adapting and making every learning experience different for the students in your classroom. When you’re doing it right, when you’re moving and grooving, no two performances are the same. That’s jazz. That’s teaching.
One jazz standard stands out as my favorite: “All of Me.”
Countless music legends have moseyed through this song—Frank Sinatra, Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Michael Bublé,—uh, Willie Nelson? Yeah, even Willie Nelson took a stab at the enduring melody.
“All of me, why not take all of me? Can’t you see? I’m no good without you.”
Now, the song itself is about a lover giving themselves over entirely. For me, that idea definitely resonates when I consider how I approach my job. I’ve given everything to this career. For the most part, that’s been a beautiful thing. With teaching, you really do get out what you put in. Putting in everything I have to this job has given me countless memories accompanied by easy smiles.
But, of course, any singular pursuit can lead to a little bit of heartache.
“You took the part that once was my heart. So why not take all of me?”
When I’m on the stage in the classroom, I’m playing so many different roles for my students. It’s enough to leave anyone feeling drained. Sometimes, when I come home and I’ve left all of me in the classroom, there isn’t enough left for my family. We work a brutal job. It takes everything you’ve got to be a good teacher. But it’s hard not to love it when you see the fruits of your labor.
“So why not take all of me?”