August 10

What to watch on yet another day of being in the house? At this point, I’m certain we are all sick of Netflix and Amazon and Hulu and whatever other options are on the screen in front of us—they’ve been our constant companions since March and even now, when more and more people are venturing out—they still are for many, the “highlight” of the day. And so, what to watch on this stormy Tuesday with the rain pouring down in buckets and the trees blowing fiercely? I don’t know about you, but lately, nothing comes to mind when I turn on the TV. I literally cannot think of a thing to watch. Thank goodness these trusty channels will “recommend” something.

Because you watched Jaws…and literally every movie Richard Dreyfuss movie is contained within the recommended movie scroll. Oh..well…Mr. Holland’s Opus…I remember that one. I saw it first when I was 18 years old- fresh out of high school, heading to college and still perhaps a bit unsure of what I would do with the rest of my life. And so, I press play and sit back on the couch for 143 minutes of what Amazon terms: a wonderful, ‘feel-good’ story about a young man who wants to compose music… but takes a job teaching music in a school to provide a reliable income. … But the years roll by, and he finds himself more and more drawn into the life of the school, making an incredible difference to many of the students.

I remember liking it when I saw it. And I remember watching it early on in my teaching career and thinking–wow–thirty years of teaching; look at how many lives he touched; that’s amazing.  And today, I realized, I’ve only been teaching 9 fewer years than he taught in the movie. Quite the impact that thought had–am I almost as old as Mr. Holland?! Well no, he started teaching a bit later than I did, but still- thirty years of being in education doesn’t seem quite so impossible to this educator anymore. It seems like a wonderful way to spend a life. 

These past weeks, with the “road to reopening” a hot topic among parents, teachers, school district leaders, politicians and well, pretty much anyone else who wants to weigh in on social media outlets, have been tense to say the least. In March, teachers were hailed as heroes; parents singing their praises after just a week or two of having to teach their own children. That tune seems to have changed, at least somewhat, in recent days. Teachers who are hesitant to go back into the classroom are being criticized and critiqued and called cowards, at times by the very same people who praised them in March. I’m not going to wade into the politics of it- each of us is entitled to our own personal feelings on the subject. 

However as I wept my way through the movie and boy did I, a line at the end of the film had the tears flowing harder than before. Without spoiling the movie for those who have not ever had the pleasure of watching it, suffice to say our hero, Mr. Holland, a music teacher, has “retired” after 30 years. He says to his closest friend, also a life long teacher–

You work for 30 years because you think that what you do makes a difference, you think it matters to people, but then you wake up one morning and find out, well no, you’ve made a little error there, you’re expendable.

And I wondered, how many teachers, right now across America feel the exact same way? And, if any of us, by a comment on social media or a half thought out comment about “getting back to work” has caused someone who has given their entire adult life to the service of education to feel expendable. I’d like to think that as an educator myself, I’ve never given any other educator cause to feel that way, but in the event that I ever have, I deeply apologize. 

I could go on and on, the movie perfectly captures what it means to be a teacher- the late nights, the stacks of papers, the giving of yourself when you almost have no more to give, the constant tug for those teachers who are parents “the school kids need me” and “my child needs me” at the same time…the students who light up your classroom for years and then, suddenly grow up and are gone. And the teacher is left to wonder–did I have any effect on them at all? Did I do anything meaningful with my life?  As I said, I could go on and on, but I won’t. I’ll do this instead.

Anyone reading this, whether you are one of my “faithful” weekly readers or reading for the first time, whether you’re on my faculty or on a faculty elsewhere, whether you have a child at SDA or a child in another school, or are just reading because it popped up in your news feed–I challenge you to do the following.

Take the 143 minute run time and the $3.99 cost to rent the film on Amazon Prime. Grab a box of tissues and settle back against the couch cushions. When you watch, picture not only the superb teacher that Richard Dreyfuss portrays as Mr. Holland, but the teacher that had an impact on you- be it in kindergarten or at the end of your educational career. Watch it, thinking of all that teacher must have sacrificed to be there for you, and for all the other students under his/her care each day and then…if you’re going to weigh in on the current debate about reopening- do it with that teacher’s memory in your mind.

Choose your words carefully, should you post anywhere and let’s remember, whether school is open fully, open in a hybrid model or open remotely, our teachers are our heroes and they deserve the support of everyone in the community. Look at where we all are today–each of us as a teacher to thank for that. So I say thank you, to the fictional Mr. Holland for reminding me of what I needed to recollect–

Teaching is a work of the heart. 

May God bless the teachers of SDA now and in years past and teachers the world over. Thank you all, for all you’ve done.

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