That’s My Orchestra Teacher

I was driving and stopped to get gas and a drink at a local store when I heard a loud exclamation…

“ Hey everybody – that’s my orchestra teacher.”

I didn’t recognize the young lady the exclamation came from, but upon further inquiry, I found out she was a student of mine from 4-5 years back. She had been in orchestra for one year with me and then switched schools. Her playing ability was somewhere in the middle of the pack. She didn’t stand out behaviorally, was one of those students who did what she needed to – not more – not less. If you had asked me at the end of my year with her had I had any impact, I probably would have answered in the negative. 

I don’t know why I would answered that way. Maybe it’s because as educators, we often have a hard time realizing the potential impact we have on students, on their families, or in general on those around us. I have found that those who care the most often are the last ones to realize their impact. Young teens often don’t express their appreciation. Wouldn’t you be shocked if you were met by any of these statements?

“ I sure do appreciate all the time you put in to call my parents about my grade. It motivated me to get things done and now I have an A in your class.”

“ Thanks for pointing out my rude behavior towards my fellow students. I have made the correction, wrote letters of apology to those I cussed out, and have assigned myself three hours of community service cleaning the elementary school lunchroom as penance. It’s all thanks to you for reporting me to the principal.”

We don’t hear responses like that. Instead, we sometimes hear words of anger. 

“I hate you.” 

“ You suck as a teacher.”

Even “You purposely gave my daughter sunflower seeds to try and kill her.” (true story; this was from a parent; we had pizza at an event, the store I bought the pizza from placed sunflower seeds on it; the daughter had an allergy; I had no idea about the allergy OR the seeds – who puts seeds on a pizza; but in no case was it intentional or planned).

The young lady at the convenience store – in the few minutes we had together – expressed to me just how much the orchestra class had meant to her and what an impact it had made on her life. I got into my car afterwards and the tears started flowing. Isn’t this what we want as a teacher? To make an impact on young lives? I silently said a prayer of thanks to God for the opportunity to be a part of this girl’s life. 

I have always hated the maxim, “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.” Sure, there are some people who teach because they are not good at “doing”, but in my experience the majority of teachers choose to be a teacher because that’s what they are called to do.

I once had a student tell me, “Mr. Divine, you’re not just teaching us about music. You’re teaching us about life.”

You are important. You are influential. You impact lives.

Now go out there and be an influence, because…Those who can, teach!

***James has been a teacher for 25 years. He just retired from full time teaching but has taken a half time position at a charter school to start a band program. He has author of I Cannoli Imagine: My Italian Life and 5 other books and is available for speaking events and for teacher coaching. Find out more at