Memoirs of an Alleged Educator


Bill Tune

The good news is that as a retired educator of 32 years, I have enjoyed many, many amusing moments.  The bad news, of course, is that I can remember so few of them!  I’ll attempt to jog the old memory banks and see what falls out.

I began my career in education as a small school band director.  Being the distinguished Director of Music in a small school entailed directing the High School Band at football games, concerts, and competitions.  I also taught a six-seventh-grade band and a beginner fifth-grade band.  Of course, that wasn’t enough to keep a full-time educator busy, so I also taught basic music reading to a fourth-grade recorder class plus I taught Elementary Music to all of the fourth, fifth, and sixth graders.  To round out my day, I also presided over a high school study hall and drove a school bus.  I was busy enough.

One December I was teaching Elementary Music to fifth graders, and we were learning some of the Hanukkah songs celebrated by our Jewish friends.  I soon realized that these rural kids had little concept of what a “Jew” was, so I decided to broaden their horizons by briefly sharing the past 6,000 years of Jewish history.  I started with Abraham and continued with Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph.  I mentioned King David, the long history of the prophets up to New Testament times and the most famous Jew of all time: Jesus.  I explained that the Jews who never accepted Jesus continued in their Jewish ways even today and that there were many Jews living in nearby Austin.  A boy’s hand went up, and by the expression on his face I could tell he had a serious question. “You mean, Abraham Lincoln was a Jew?!”

Kids often miss the crux of a teacher’s impassioned plea.  A friend of mine at the same school shared her efforts to inspire her students to greater productivity by pointing out how quickly the time was passing.  It must have gone something like this:  “Boys and girls, you’ve got to keep working!  Thanksgiving is just around the corner, and before you know it, Christmas will be here soon followed by Easter, Memorial Day, and the end of school.”  Up shoots a hand, “Miss, are we skipping Valentine’s Day this year??”

Another favorite memory of that era involved a frustrated cornet player in one of the younger bands.  Anyone who’s participated in a school band program remembers how larger sections are divided
into subsections like 1st Cornet, 2nd Cornet and 3rd Cornet.  The 1st parts usually play the higher notes, and most often the melody or feature parts.  The other parts add harmony.  One of the primary motivational techniques of any program is competition, so tryouts were held regularly with the better players earning the top positions.  The before-mentioned cornet player was not a strong player, and, try as he may, he consistently placed in the lower part of the section, assigned to 3rd Cornet.  Then one day he made his impassioned plea and presented this “logical” argument:  he had inherited his instrument from his uncle, who told him it was a 1st Bb Cornet; therefore, he should be playing the 1st Cornet part!  Sadly for him, this argument was as ineffective as his performance.

Speaking of tryouts, these students also had rules for challenges whereby one could improve his seating by challenging (and beating) the person immediately ahead of him.  The procedure involved writing the name of the person being challenged on a piece of paper, turning it in, then after an appropriate amount of time, I would listen to the playoff.  One day I was accepting the challenges and one boy turned in a piece of paper that contained a single word: Kotex.  When he saw the puzzled expression on my face, his own face took on a look of panic, and he quickly took it back and handed me another paper with a student’s name on it.  I did not make an issue of it----then or later-----but I’m guessing  that he accidentally gave me his Mom’s grocery list for after school.  Poor kid.

Each class of students has its own collective personality.  Some classes have more personality than others.  I fondly remember one such class in my early years of teaching.  The girls especially were bright, imaginative, and eager to tackle any new idea.  In fact, they carried this a bit too far one time.  As the school’s band director, it fell on me to direct the children’s chorus when the 4th-6th Grade building performed a program.  This was WAY back in the day before the pressures of excessive testing, so the different buildings of this small school took turns preparing elaborate programs for different seasons.  One of the teachers for this group was an excellent pianist, so we ultimately did several programs together.  The girls in the afore-mentioned class thought we made a perfect couple and almost insisted that we get married!  We tried to discourage such talk by pointing out that we were BOTH already married, so the girls decided that our respective spouses could also marry, making everyone happy!

This same group was in the 7th grade when my son was born, prematurely, weighing just 2 lb. 13 oz.  The entire school rallied behind my family during the difficult days and rejoiced with me at each ounce of weight-gain!  The 7th Grade Band wanted to do something special, so they collected money and presented me with a Teddy Bear for my son.  I was deeply touched by the act, and somewhat amused at the presentation.  The young woman in charge handed me the bear and said, “Mr. Tune this is
from everyone in the 7th Grade band except John Doe*.”  (*The name has been changed to protect the guilty.  “John” and I had experienced some disciplinary run-ins recently, and he chose not to participate.  The presenter wanted to make sure that only the deserving got credit for this generous act.)

After burning out as a band director, I returned to education as a math teacher.  My favorite subject in the mathematical arena was Geometry, where I taught that congruence was a concept of equality between two shapes or objects.  One morning a very disinterested senior, whom I had placed on the front row to “increase his chances for success,” stared down at my feet and said, “Mr. Tune, your socks are not congruent!”  He was correct.  I had donned one blue and one black sock that morning.

Now I am old.  In my defense, by starting out as a high school band director meant that some of my first students were not much younger than I.  I spent 32 of the past 38 years in education.  My knowledge of these facts did not prepare me for what has become my penultimate “Bill is old” moment.  It happened
nearly a year ago when I had the honor of speaking at the Band Banquet of my first job.  I taught there for 8 years and had been gone for 29 years.  Pretty much everything was different, but I got to see some

people that I knew, and I heard stories about – and met – some of the kids of people that I taught.  They seemed to enjoy my stories of how things used to be, and I felt good about the overall experience. When we were saying our good-byes at the end, one lady who claims I taught her mother gushed praise upon me then motioned for her children to join us, one of whom was a current member of the high school band.  She asked me to pose for a picture with her kids, and I was happy to oblige.  Then it happened.  (Is it too late to be scarred for life at 61?)  As she was snapping the picture, she said, “Smile, kids!  Mr. Tune taught your grandma!”  My smile was somewhat forced.

I guess there are worse things than getting old, besides the obvious.  I have been blessed with many fond memories over my 6-plus decades.  I just wish I could remember more of them.


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