Yesterday, I was visited by a spectre from my past. With your indulgence, I will tell the story from the beginning.
I began teaching at my current school 7 years ago. When I arrived, they had been without a music teacher for 2 years, and the previous music teacher had long since given up actually TEACHING anything resembling music, it seemed.
So, when I arrived, I was faced with a group of children who believed that music class was a period for completing word searches and watching movies and, as long as they behaved appropriately, they would be given a passing grade. Imagine my shock and dismay when I gave my grade 10 classes a music placement test, based on the grade 1 curriculum, and only 4 students were able to identify a quarter note. The majority of students left the test completely blank.
The first month was rough. All the school had at the time was a class set of old, beat-up keyboards. The students were resistant to the idea that they would actually be accountable for learning how to play a musical instrument and read music in my course. But gradually, they learned that the hard work was a reward in itself, and the majority of them learned to play the piano ...
One of these grade 10 students was named Justin. Justin played basketball. He looked like a fullback for a pro football team. Justin had hands the size of Thanksgiving turkeys. And he struggled daily with the mere task of getting his meaty fingers to fit onto one piano key at a time. After a couple of months, in despair, I picked up a guitar at a flea market for $10.00 and gave it to him. Justin dwarfed the poor, battered thing, but he learned to play. Finally, success!
Justin was a student of mine for 4 long years. There were moments I felt like throwing my hands up and giving up. There were days I'm sure he felt the same way. But Justin had something special going for him. Justin NEVER gave up. Every year, he would appear in my classroom, lugging that poor, forsaken guitar. I think I was as proud at his graduation as he was. Justin received a basketball scholarship to college, and eventually earned a diploma in computer programming. He was hired directly out of college by a reputable local firm, and his future looked bright. With his first pay cheque, he bought himself a new guitar.
Justin is one of those former students who visits me regularly 2 or 3 times a year and stays in touch otherwise through frequent emails. Since our earliest associations, we have developped a relationship of mutual liking and respect. So, it wasn't a surprise to look up from my desk yesterday to see him step through the door. However, I was immediately aware that something was different.
Justin had a fresh haircut, and was neatly dressed in shirt and tie. But it wasn't that. There was something else. He had come to tell me goodbye. Justin joined the Armed Services yesterday. He had come directly from signing his contract. He leaves for training in Alberta next week. He wanted to reassure me that he would be back to visit me when he could, and that he would stay in touch through email.
Tears come to my eyes as I relay this information. Currently, I have 7 former students serving in Afghanistan. Each one is forever engraved in my heart. Justin is there, too. I am proud, so proud of the strong, principled young man who stood in my classroom yesterday, but I am afraid for him, too. He has become one more name to listen for when the news from overseas is not good, one more prayer at night.
I know Justin will work hard and become the best that he can be. He has never done less than his best. As we embraced fondly yesterday, we both shed some tears. The next time I see Justin, he will be in uniform. He will have completed his officer's training. He will be forever changed by his experiences. I will miss the old Justin with all my heart, but I will embrace the new with all the joy and affection that he has come to expect from me.