Gentle readers, most of you have only heard one song by one of my favorite bands. You probably heard that song over and over in 1997 and if you were to hear the opening guitar lick right now, I’d bet that many of you would be able to place it right away. That song was everywhere.
“Zoot Suit Riot.” Cherry Poppin’ Daddies.
Wait! Don’t go!
CPD is a brilliant band with one of the broadest, most genre-defying discographies I’ve encountered. Certainly, they know their way around swing and rockabilly, and therefore relatedly ska and honky-tonk, but also funk, glitter rock, sorrowful ballads, and hard-driving, shouting rants. Sometimes they blend all their influences into one horn-laden musical milkshake and all you want is a thicker straw so you can enjoy more of it all at once.
They’re so much more than a one-hit wonder.
I discovered Cherry Poppin’ Daddies because I heard them on the radio. I was hooked by that hit, but then I dug deeper. I sought out their albums and went to shows. “Zoot Suit Riot” is far from my favorite song, but I wouldn’t know “Hi and Lo” or “Bust Out/Arrancate” without it.
As a teacher, I wouldn’t have learned so much about gamification and how I feel about it if I hadn’t dug into an interesting idea. I wouldn’t be able to know what works for my students from particular methodologies if I had just taken what was given to me and implemented it “with fidelity.” I can’t even imagine how many of the cool things I do in my classroom wouldn’t exist if I’d embraced what is usually expected of an elementary school music teacher rather than gathering ideas from everywhere and exploring the influences of colleagues I trust.
It’s simply not enough to do what is expected of you. It’s essential to find what you love, and what works for you and your classes, deep in the catalog of whatever you’re confronted with.
And consider the legions of fans that confront you daily – your students. You owe it to them to be more than the one thing they surmise. I’m a better teacher because I share my passions with students – I allow myself the freedom to include what brings me joy in my teaching. As an example of the obscure, the deep cut, I give my students the opportunity to see adults, and teachers specifically, as human beings. When students see a teacher’s personality and passions aren’t hidden away, only trotted out after 4:00 and on weekends, they reciprocate. That trust takes us everywhere.
Come with me: It’s the first time for me to see the Daddies in concert. I’m a fan – I’m confident I know what to expect. Picture a genteel summer festival in a field next to a yacht club. Lead singer Steve Perry incites the crowd, saying, “This is a song about snakes,” and launching into a familiar-to-all song.
“And this is a song about spiders,” he says. The band plays “God is a Spider.” It does anything but swing. Perry stalks the stage, snarling into the mic. Most of the crowd leaves. The rest of us are treated to an amazing show, complete with split pants and monitors held in with a do-rag.
There are people – students, parents, administrators, peers – who want you to do one thing well. It’s comfortable for them if you do what is expected and correct. They won’t understand experimenting and broadening your interests until they feel the impact of it for themselves. They’ll leave your concert in the middle and tell people that you only have a few good songs. But for everyone who’s confused by your brilliant mess and has no idea where to shelve you, there will be just as many who fervently sing your praises and work hard to make sure people discover your work.
Be grateful to your fans but true to your art. Teaching is a sublime privilege. We all know it’s more than delivering content. We can choose how to reach kids and share the things we love with them. We get to guide students as they form themselves. I dare you to surprise your audience and see what happens. Share more broadly. Let your students dig deeper. Release your entire catalog.
Sarah Windisch is a music teacher in Post Falls, Idaho. When she’s not, you know, teaching, she’s running in the woods or running with scissors. She’s also known for running off at the mouth. Her aim is to be as hilarious as her students some day. Find her on Twitter @slwindisch.