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“Thank you” is Not Enough: When a Teacher is So Much More

By Mir Kamin

There’s this teacher. Wait; no. That’s not where I need to start.

There’s my kids. My wonderful, complicated kids with special needs, and a sea of teachers over the years who get them—or don’t—to varying degrees. Lord knows I’m not shy with my criticism when I feel that a teacher hasn’t done right by one of my children. (See also: Exhibit A; Exhibit B.) But I am also ready to praise a teacher from the rooftops when one of them goes above and beyond, which is why my very first column for Alpha Mom, years ago, was inspired by one of the best teachers my kids have ever had. (Not coincidentally, that’s probably why that post was very popular, too.)

So there’s my kids, and there’s their band director.

I tell people my daughter’s difficult journey never would’ve brought her back to us without her involvement in marching band, and—more specifically—the help of this band director. To say that he went above and beyond only begins to capture what he’s done for her, and for our family. My daughter joined marching band as a rising eighth grader, which means that now, as a senior, she is in her fifth year with this teacher. He has seen it all with her. He has given her slack when she needed it and called her on the carpet when she needed that. He has checked in with her and with us parents and asked, countless times, “What can I do? What does she need?” He mourned with us when she chose to move away as a freshman and welcomed her back with open arms when she returned a few months later. He never judged her through her struggles, never stopped believing she would triumph, and has celebrated with us as she’s blossomed into a confident young woman and musician. My daughter refers to this teacher as her “third dad.”

When it came time to transition my son from homeschooling back to public school, I approached the band director with an apologetic, “I don’t really know that he’s very musical, but—” He never even let me finish. Of course we would put him into the band program. He would be happy to have him, and what instrument did I think would work best for him? While my daughter has always loved music (that love sometimes finding interference from her other issues…), my son wasn’t so sure about band. And whoa, he wasn’t so sure about marching band, either. His first year in band camp was rough. (“Why am I even here? I hate this!”) The band director was patient and kind but also unyielding in his expectations, and over time, my son came to love everything about band. Unlike his sister, he won’t be going into a music-related career. In fact, I’d be surprised if he ever plays again, after graduation, but that doesn’t matter. He found a home in the band program. He found a role model in our band director.

Our family has been fortunate beyond measure to have this incredible teacher in our lives for the past five years. An educator like this is rare under the best of circumstances, and to be lucky enough to see your kids grow with one year after year seems almost too good to be true.

There’s this teacher, and he’s amazing. And he’s leaving our school at the end of this year.

The thing is, my daughter is graduating from high school. The thing is, my son only has one year left. The thing is, there’s incredible support staff in this program, too, and they’re staying, and a lot of things won’t change. The thing is, it’s a great move for him and his family. The thing is, we know how lucky we’ve been to have him for this long.

The thing is, our hearts are breaking. It’s selfish. But there it is.

My kids will be okay. The school will be okay. The band program will be okay. And truly, I am excited for him to be embarking on a new adventure, and I am hopeful that our incredible assistant director will be moved into his position and continue doing great things at our school. But oh, we are going to miss him so much. I am going to miss him.

He broke the news to the kids this morning, and my daughter is a mess, and even more of a mess because, “I don’t know what’s wrong with me, it’s not like I was going to be here next year, anyway.” (Oh, I don’t know… how about change is hard or you were looking forward to seeing him when you came home to visit or simply he matters to you and you don’t want him to leave?) My son is being very stoic—he reported to me via text that lots of kids were crying, but it was clearly already very difficult for the band director and he didn’t want to make him sadder.

Life brings us different people and different situations and some people, I hear, thrive on change. In my family, we thrive on routine. We thrive on knowing who and what will make up our days, and we are especially comforted by having trusted allies in our corner. Whether consciously or unconsciously, we all assumed This Is How It Will Be Forever, and… it’s not. It’s also a perfectly normal—if hard—part of life, so we’ll do our darnedest to frame this as best we can. This is not the first time someone important moves on from our immediate sphere, and it won’t be the last. Isn’t it great we were together for so long? It’s okay to be sad, but let’s also try to be grateful. And let’s make the most of the time we have left together. Finally: We’re going to be okay. (The “we’re going to be okay” part may seem trite and obvious, but let me just gently point out that if anyone involved has any sort of loss/abandonment issues, simple though it may be, this phrase can be a balm and an empowering mantra.)

There’s this teacher to whom we will always owe a debt of gratitude. Some people go through their entire education without ever having a teacher like this, much less having a teacher like this for years. We’ve been lucky. How will I ever thank this man enough for what he’s done for my family? Maybe I’ll just try to write about it—badly, because words cannot do justice to the difference he has made in my kids’ lives—and keep telling people to put their teens in marching band. And I’ll just keep saying it: thank you, thank you, thank you.

Photo source: Photodune.net

Mir Kamin
About the Author

Mir Kamin

Mir Kamin began writing about her life online over a decade ago, back when she was a divorced mom trying to raise two regular little kids and figure out what she wanted to be when she grew up. Now ...

Mir Kamin began writing about her life online over a decade ago, back when she was a divorced mom trying to raise two regular little kids and figure out what she wanted to be when she grew up. Now her life looks very different than it did back then: Those little kids turned into anything-but-regular teenagers, she is remarried, and somehow she’s become one of those people who talks to her dogs in a high-pitched baby voice. Along the way she’s continued chronicling the everyday at Woulda Coulda Shoulda, plus she’s bringing you daily bargain therapy at Want Not. The good news is that Mir grew up and became a writer and she still really likes hanging out with her kids; the bad news is that her hair is a lot grayer than it used to be.

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Comments

  • Jodie

    Does he read your blog? I know he knows so much of Chickie’s and Monkey’s journeys, but your words were so profound and poignant in discussing their journey. I honestly believe I wonderful way to thank him would be to make a boom of some of those hard blog posts, the ones where they were clearly coming out of the woods and those that show they are thriving along with photos of the kids and him.

    As a former educator, what you describe is exactly why you become a teacher. Immortalizing that would be cherished. And maybe a nice bottle of scotch 🙂

    • I honestly don’t know if he reads me. I might send him this post. 🙂

      • ANN

        I was thinking the same thing! You just wrote about it & send this to him!!

  • Allison

    I also had an amazing band director. Band directors are a special kind of crazy and I’m so grateful for all of the ones that inspire and encourage growth in teens.

  • Pingback: Some things just suck | Woulda Coulda Shoulda()

  • Brenda

    Because I live in the same city where I attended college, I’ve continued to attend choir concerts in the years since I left. When it was announced that my choir professor (whom I had every single semester I was there, including the one semester he allowed me to participate unofficially due to a scheduling conflict), I felt so sad. Good-byes are always hard, and additional change feels like another kind of loss. Holding onto the grateful parts is hard, but good.

    • Debra

      Yes! I think this would be a lovely farewell gift and then you exchange holiday cards every year for the rest of your life.

  • Aw. Sweetie, I’m sorry. It’s a loss, and loss is hard. {{{hugs}}}

  • Melissa

    Crying, thank you. You should definitely send this to him.

  • Jan

    Well thank goodness.  I read your lead-up and came from the Woulda Coulda blog and once you starting talking about him, I was pretty sure this essay was going to end with CANCER.

    I had a choir director that I’m pretty sure is the reason I made it through college. They had a reunion weekend just before he retired and so many people came and there wasn’t a dry eye in the place at the end of the concert.  Some people just are who we need them to be.

    I had a therapist tell me once that the “goal” (if there is one) of grieving is to get to a place where thoughts of the person you’ve lost bring mostly happy memories instead of feelings of loss.  So that’s what I hope for for you and your kids.

  • MaryFran

    Surely he knows, but do send him this, so he knows that we all know, you know?

    Our grade school band teacher is retiring after 25+ years this year.  He has been the first music teacher to every band kid in this town.  There’s something very special about a man who can take 85 10 year olds in October and have them play their first concert in March (TONIGHT!).  He gives lessons before and after school and holds band practice before school every week.

    I begged him to stay just one more year, for the last year my youngest would have him.  I offered weekly baked treats.  Alas, his wife retired this year and gave him just one more year.

    So thankful for these teachers.  I do hope you’re able to stay in touch with him!

  • MR

    Yes, definitely let him know!
    I can relate. My youngest is only in preschool/daycare, and doesn’t have any extra needs from that of most preschoolers, but she will be starting Kindergarten in the fall – at a different school. She has been at this preschool for 3 years. This school is so amazing. They truly love my kid, and she truly loves them. One of her teachers recently left to take another job. It was one of those things – she had been there for over 20 years and just was ready for a change, and it is a great thing for her, but man it is hard on us. My daughter had me tape up her class picture next to her bed so she can look at her teacher each night as she goes to bed. It isn’t the same without her. And now we are at about 10 weeks left before my daughter switches schools. I am freaking out. I am going to miss these folks. I am going to miss their friendly smiles, the love and care they show for my kid, the community I feel when I walk through the doors there. She is going to go to a great school, will finally be at the same place with her big sis (MUCH easier for me, and closer to my work), but we will miss this school. And it is so hard to put into words how grateful I am to them for the love and care they have shown our whole family.

  • beth s

    Yes, he knows. And he will be missed, but he will still be around. And you can always connect again. I had an awesome marching band teacher myself and when we found out he was sick last year (nearly 30 years since high school), the outpouring of love and support from his years and years of students was amazing. He is doing well now and the number of people who were drawn back into music from the man is huge. He teaches at a local community college and has a community band that is comprised of soo many of his former students (that gave up their own time and just made it work because he needed us now like we needed him in high school.)

    • Oh, this made me teary. Thank you for sharing that.

  • TC

    Ours is the head(s) of the drama department, a married couple. It was almost EXACTLY this story: Did SO MUCH for my daughter, literally changing the course of her life, and then when it was time for my son to go to high school and I was worried about him and said, “He’s not really into theater…” they said, “Oh, he’ll thrive in the program; here’s what we’ll do.” And they did it, and he’s thriving among the theater kids, even if he will never EVER step on a stage in front of an audience.

    Hooray for the life-chaging effect of teachers!