“What you do for yourself dies with you when you leave this world, what you do for others lives on forever.”
― Ken Robinson, The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything
The other day, I was driving to school eating a piece of buttered wheat toast and drinking some green tea. As I made my daily 7-minute commute, a song by my favorite rock band U2 began to play. Bono’s voice pierced through the speakers and perfectly blended with that distinct, echo U2 guitar sound from The Edge. I was jamming to this monster of a song, and I got to thinking about why I love my job. And, it’s simple really.
Teachers are rock stars.
Don’t deny it. We are performers who put on a show for spectators. Every day educators try to engage and entertain our audience; just as rock stars command the attention of those in the crowd. Each audience member has been waiting months to see this show, and anticipation is high. Similarly,t teachers must command the attention of our own arena. Yet our audience is a group 25 kids who are legally bound to be there. For some of them, the biggest concern is whether it’s indoor or outdoor recess.
I have been to many concerts in my life. U2, Coldplay, Dave Matthews Band, Zac Brown Band, Justin Timberlake, Kings of Leon, Jack Johnson, Janet Jackson, and MC Hammer (don’t judge those last few) have been some of the more memorable ones. Each concert was mind blowing in its own unique way. There is nothing like the thrill of when the lights shut off and the arena is blanketed with the thrill of blackness. When the performer steps onto that stage, a palpable wave of joy and screaming spreads over the crowd.
Like rock stars, our entire reason for doing our jobs is to give our audience a life-changing experience. A rock star knows the audience all adore him, which surely feeds him the energy he needs to put on a performance they will never forget. Rock stars do their job for people who spend their hard-earned cash to attend one of their shows. They travel from city to city and play to 20,000 people under the blistering hot lights. Most of the time, they don’t even see the faces of the people for whom they are performing. They sing the same songs every night, so they are constantly perfecting each concert. After a few weeks on the road, their set list is unchanged, and they know their routine by heart. Man, I can do that. If rock stars don’t keep their audience entertained, they leave and think, “Well, Bono just wasn’t having a good night. I bet he’ll be better next time.”
Now, teachers must perform for fans that are forced to attend a show every day, which makes me consider a simple truth. Teachers have the tougher job! Teachers have their audience for six hours a day, five days a week. Good teachers develop their set list in advance; yet, they know that the set list may need to change each day. It should even change mid-performance if that’s what our crowd needs. We have to anticipate what will work and what won’t, what our audience likes and dislikes. Most importantly, we have to use what each crowd member needs to create an individual concert experience for them.
A good performer has to know what will work and what won’t work. Some nights, Bono might look out into the crowd and want to change their set list because the vibe is different than the night before. Think about it, teachers have to “entertain” 25 kids all with different needs and learning styles. Good teachers must do this on a daily basis as well. We must look out into the faces of our audience and sense that we must change up our plans to keep them entertained. Anyone can teach how to subtract fractions, but it takes a great teacher to know when to play Pride (In The Name Of Love) instead of With or Without You, if you catch my drift.
I argue that teachers are rock stars for another reason—accountability. These young, impressionable audience members pay admission to our performance arenas. (Well, they have parents who pay admission, in the form of thousands of dollars in taxes each year, to support our performances.) As a rock star, I have paying customers in my arena, so I must always bring my A-game. As teachers, we are not only accountable to our audience, but their parents as well. We work together to ensure our audience is getting what they need. If teachers don’t keep their audience’s needs in mine, it could result in feedback from students or their parents. Can you imagine Bono getting angry calls and emails from the parents of his fans because they don’t understand why they only played one song from the album, Achtung Baby?
I’m sure there are many more ways that I could show how teachers and rock stars do the same job. In a nutshell, rock stars and teachers are responsible to their audience. We must connect with our audience and do it with enough bravado to keep them engaged. And hopefully, just like attending a U2 concert, they will walk away having learned something.
As all educators know, our profession is full of joy, change, success, frustration, stress and failure. And that’s just before lunchtime. But one thing that hasn’t changed for me in the thirteen years I’ve spent as an educator; I still love my job. It reminds me of the book, The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything, in which Ken Robinson explains how “the element” is the point at which natural talent meets personal passion. When people arrive at “the Element,” they feel most themselves and most inspired and achieve at their highest levels. I have heard many rock stars and performers state how they feel most comfortable performing on-stage.
True rock stars persist at their career because they have found their element. I feel I have found mine.