The Hilarity of Teaching

As the door closes on the craziest school year I’ve ever experienced, I’ve been thinking a lot about my job, and I have a confession to make: One of the primary reasons I became a teacher is because I find children, and young people in general, utterly hilarious. Regardless of whether they’re in kindergarten, primary, middle, or high school — my students (as well as my own children) have all made me crack up at some point. They say what’s on their mind and can be brutally honest — but rarely have I encountered a child who was intentionally mean. I have been blessed with students who, by and large, have all been incredibly sweet.

My first real teaching job was over 30 years ago at a local Montessori pre-school. I was a freshman in college and was taking a year off from school. My mother had just passed away, and I needed some time to process what had just happened to me and my family. Teaching music to young children wasn’t just a long term career goal of mine, but seemed like a way to help me work through the difficult time.

I went into my first day with a detailed lesson plan and an objective. Mind you, I’d never taught a roomful of children in my life. I was barely nineteen years old and somewhat clueless. Regardless, I was very proud of the plan I’d created and went in feeling very good about myself. That morning I was greeted with a gaggle of adorable preschoolers sitting on the floor, legs crossed awaiting the start of music class. I sat down at the piano and began playing an original composition — a song about a big ‘ol bear — that I believed would grab their attention. Around sixteen beats in, a little girl yelled out “I don’t know this song…and it’s boring!”

Perhaps the craziest thing about this year has been the shift in my private lessons. With the pandemic, all lessons have taken place through technology with my students at home. This past week I was giving a Zoom piano lesson to a middle school student of mine. I should tell you this young man is a bit of a character. He’d been struggling with a piece for a few weeks, but about two measures in, it became apparent that not only had he been practicing, but also managed to breakthrough. He was playing the piece really well! He was also smiling — which meant he was enjoying and feeling it! I, too, was feeling it and was beyond excited and proud. Suddenly, with about five measures to go, his playing abruptly stopped. I thought maybe he, like me, was just overcome by the great job he was doing and needed to pause. Before I could say anything, he looked into his computer and said to me “My DiGiorno pizza’s ready. I’ll be right back.”

Having a look into people’s homes, and suddenly entering their private lives, has been one of the funniest things about giving tech based music lessons. One week I was giving a student his guitar lesson and I could hear his dad who was not only in the same room, but on a business call. As we were trying to run through my student’s lesson material his dad was yelling in the background “I KNOW…I KNOW! I DON’T UNDERSTAND WHY YOU CAN’T HEAR ME!” My student, shaking his head, and without looking away from his computer, casually said “Try un-muting yourself.” I heard the dad sheepishly say “Oh…yeah.”

Teaching also provides beautiful eye opening moments. One of the highlights of my career was teaching at a public school in Newark, New Jersey. This was an inner-city school, and I was one of three white people, and the only white male, in the building. I learned so much about myself during this time, and also learned a lot from my students and fellow teachers. One thing I enjoyed during my time in Newark was sitting on the floor in a circle with my youngest students and doing chants and/or songs together. One day, while working with a class of second graders, one of my students was staring at me across the circle. At the end of the song, he raised his hand and I pointed to him. He walked over and looked at my eyes What color are your eyes? Before I could answer, he got even closer, leaned into my face and asked Do you see colors the same way we do? His question struck me because of its pure innocence and also profoundness. It’s something I will never forget.

Being out of the classroom has been pretty depressing. I miss seeing my students at school and interacting with them. Last Friday I played at one of my school’s virtual graduations, and while being wonderful, it was also sad. I’d been teaching some of the students since they were little kids. When we left in March, we didn’t know it would be the last time we physically saw each other. I feel as if we never got a chance to truly say goodbye. This moment has proven to me, more than ever, how emotional of a job teaching is. We’re not supposed to, but we teachers get attached to students. We hear their stories, share their laughs, and even share tears sometimes. Not having that these last 3 months has been tough.

My all-time favorite teacher once told me that my students would bring gifts to class every day. I have been lucky to receive many from my students. Sometimes they were inadvertent, tough — but honest — criticism (The song about the bear 30 years ago never made it past that first class. Upon further examination, it was, in fact, pretty boring). Sometimes the gifts were awakenings to things I’d never thought about. Most of the time though, the gifts are hilarious lines and observations. And while they’ve been able to keep coming via the Internet, I hope that I’m back to receiving them live sooner than later.


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Patrick Cerria

Husband-Father-Musician-Educator-Dalcroze Eurhythmics Teacher-Author-Yoga Practitioner-Crohn’s Warrior-Teaches Disabled & At-Risk Children-Believes In Humanity.