How to become the coolest teacher, ever

My first job, fresh out of college, was a preschool teacher. I didn’t last a month. The class started at 7 a.m. and we had to sing the same nursery songs every day and dance the same Barney and Friends choreography.

Whatever mood or state I was in, I had to pretend I was gleeful and gay and that the world was a wonderful wonderful amazing place where everything was out of the ordinary. It was close, as I imagine, to being the only sane person in a mental asylum. It didn’t help that I had a hangover most of the time.

A lot of the kids there were annoying rich brats. Some were even accompanied by two nannies because one was simply not enough to pacify a neurotic toddler. Most, if not all of them, had ADD. All the classrooms had a big picture window so that the parents could observe us as if we were inside an aquarium and were some kind of social science experiment. They made funny gooey faces which were very distracting. It was a sickening sight that I would say bordered to exploitation: the kids, put there to entertain, and I, their lion tamer, their zookeeper.

I took that job because I thought I could learn a lot from kids. You know, from their disarming insights and perception and awe and imagination and all that. Instead, what I experienced was a babysitting nightmare. And so, I was reluctant when I was offered this weekend job teaching guitar to 10-year old kids. But then I thought they couldn’t be as bad as preschoolers high on sugar. And I sure could use some beer money.

I do have a selfish reason. I thought it would be a good investment in self-development, particularly in communicating more effectively and influencing people (kids these days are harder to BS; sometimes they scare me with how smart they are and that they’ll somehow expose me as a fraud, making them a good starting ground for honing public speaking and people skills). Anyway, it has always been my dream to become a college professor someday, so might as well start small now.

On my first day, I came unprepared. I thought I’d ask them what kind of music they liked, what songs they wanted to learn, how good they wanted to get, who they idolized, and so on. I was thinking a DIY kind of thing, imagining myself as Jack Black in The School of Rock. I was just going to wing it. My plan was to mold them into the punk rock philosophy, and they would be the coolest kids in school (thanks to me), and they would say to their friends that I was the coolest teacher, ever. And that when they grow up to be rock stars, they’ll cite me as one of their major influences. A student then handed me these music sheets which they wanted me to teach, and that’s when I froze. I can hardly read notes! Alas, from the very beginning, they would have exposed me as a fraud.

As I fumbled, exposing my inadequacy, I saw them secretly snickering. I felt my cheeks grow red and I thought to myself how embarrassing it was to be embarrassed in front of a couple of 10-year olds. Finally, I gave up and put the sheets down. I thought about Jack Black and his ridiculous persistence, how he stuck to it until the end because he believed in the music.

And that’s what I told myself. I was there for the music. I got the guitar and played one of the first songs I ever composed in my life (composed mostly of power chords). The kids started smiling, actually seeming to enjoy my playing. I started to relax. They all clapped after the song and I was thrilled. I started rambling to them about how I got into playing the guitar and discovering power chords and punk rock.

I told them that the notes in the musical sheets were a foreign language to me, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t teach them how to play a decent song. This was an entirely new revelation to them. I told them that they can make their own songs with just three simple chords, and that we could compose one by the end of the class. This amazed them and got them over-excited. Apparently, they were under the impression that one had to go through several levels of guitar lessons until one was worthy enough to compose a song. By the end of the class, we were able to make a 20-second song out of a modest three-chord progression (D-A-E), which we played again and again and didn’t get tired of. That day, we all went home gleeful and gay.

Even if it doesn’t pay that well and my commute going to and from the place slashes almost 30 percent off my pay for the day, there are still a lot of reasons why I would want to keep this weekend job. For one, I can’t explain enough how priceless it is to see light bulbs flash in my students’ heads when they realise something complex can be quite simple. As for the other, more selfish, reason, teaching guitar to kids constantly disarms and renews me, allowing me to be my 10-year old self–enthusiastic and impressionable.

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