Today I watched a master teacher. He'd met his students for the first time this morning and spent the day with them; the result of their collective work was perfect. As I watched those students, everything in me wanted to freeze the moment, hang onto it, and squeeze the last drop of meaning and awareness for them. It's not that the students weren't enjoying the moment; they were, with every fiber of their beings. It's that they will soon be adults; their lives will accelerate, some will go to war (in fact, the only student I knew in the group is in the midst of ROTC interviews) and, in the words of T.S. Eliot, they may have "had the experience but missed the meaning." And I was humbled thinking about the beauty of the teaching moment.
When Don Bailey took the stage to conduct 20 senior high school musicians in the All-Region Jazz Band, he brought his heart and soul--his passion--and electrified the students, the stage, and the entire high school auditorium. His ability to ignite the passion of the students and fan the flames of the collective talent was magical and time stood still in that auditorium for me today.
Don has been teaching at his current location for 25 years, bringing 10 years of prior teaching experience with him. When he calls roll at the beginning of the semester, Don says he asks students two things--their name and their passion. And to the students who ask how to know their passion, Don's response is profoundly simple. Your passion, he says, is what you must do...when asked why you do whatever it is, the only response you can make is "because I have to."
It's important to have a marketable skill and to be productive members of society. But far too often, I think, it comes at the cost of the passion that sustains us. Though I didn't intend to spend part of my afternoon watching a senior high jazz band, it may be the most perfect moment I've witnessed lately.