This I Believe

Clifford - Fresno, California
Entered on November 30, 2006

I believe in the power and potential of middle-school students to change our world.

I am privileged to teach at Reyburn Intermediate School in Clovis, California. What do I teach? I teach people. And they teach me. The people I teach are adolescents, 7th and 8th graders. We study music, specifically choir. I may have more experience and more expertise in the choral field than they, but they are able to teach me much as we are challenged to learn together.

I enjoy watching them change from gawky little post-elementary children when they first arrive on our campus – ears too big, stumbling over braces, somewhat clumsy in their bodies and socially reluctant – to young men and women as they leave our campus and begin high school. I like observing their changing thought patterns, and noticing the “eureka!” moments as they learn significant things about themselves and their world.

If students “buy in” to the idea of choir, they will stop at nothing to achieve all they can. Their energy becomes intense, and I swear I can see sparks bounce around Choirland. They develop as learners, teammates, and artists, coaching and teaching one another as we go. Students with a lesser love for music are often swept along with this enthusiasm, and before they know it, they are singing as well. Maybe even enjoying it!

Students teach me all types of little things throughout the day. Recently I learned how to spell my name in Cyrillic. I can count backwards from 5 to 1 in Hmong. They help me solve my frequent computer inadequacies. And they teach me to ALWAYS listen to my wife in matters of clothing; they can tell when I’ve dressed myself!

The big life lessons I learn from my students are many. They teach me to have fun! It took me forty years to just “get stupid.” And it took a choir making me SKIP to the buses on a choir trip to get me there.

My students help me take myself less seriously. Choir is not a matter of life and death! It should be enjoyable. By rejecting the role of Almighty Conductor Guy, I have become a more reasonable human being, and a better model for my students. As an old teacher once said, “in music there is no place for the ego.”

Students show me the strength in belonging. Every choir student belongs to a group, to something bigger than self. And Reyburn Choirland is designed to be a safe, welcoming place for every student, regardless of status, talent, or a host of other factors. I too belong in Choirland; we make music together.

In the five years I’ve taught at Reyburn, my students have helped form and guide me as much as I have them. They have power to change the people around them, those who are open to change. One of my goals is to inspire their creativity, their ingenuity, and their industry to make changes in themselves and influence the world in a positive way. They have the power!