By: Travis Naughton
As of today, 31 states have cancelled in-person classes for the remainder of the school year. Although it came as no surprise to me when Governor Parson made the difficult decision to do so here in Missouri, I was nevertheless devastated by the news. Having worked as a substitute teacher for seven years, I was delighted to be offered a one-year contract as Southern Boone County Primary School’s music teacher when a last-minute vacancy left the district in a bind. My dear friend, Principal Brandy Clark, knew that I loved subbing in music class whenever I got the chance, so she asked me if I would be willing to sub for a full year on an emergency teaching certificate. I accepted without hesitation. I knew this was the opportunity of a lifetime. I first dreamt of becoming a music teacher over 30 years ago, when I was a high school student. I played the trombone and baritone horn, and I played them pretty well. I was a member of Hannibal High School’s highly competitive Studio Jazz Ensemble, concert band, and marching band. During my senior year, I became co-drum major of the Pirate Pride Marching Band and received the John Philip Sousa Outstanding Musician Award. My musical future looked very bright. Inexplicably, I turned down music scholarship offers from two well-respected colleges and opted instead to kill as many brain cells as I could at the University of Missouri while paying full tuition. I eventually graduated—with a degree in philosophy—but my cumulative grade point average was abysmal. In fact, it was bad enough that the only way I could become a certified music teacher now would be to go back to school and earn a whole new degree, which would take several years. After exploring all of my options and taking a few online classes, I was forced to admit to myself that despite how badly I want to continue teaching music after this year, I am not willing to put myself through the stress of trying to be a dedicated teacher, the best husband and father I can be, AND a diligent college student while simultaneously maintaining my sobriety and managing my anxiety. During Christmas break, after a lot of sleepless nights, I made the difficult decision not to pursue a teaching degree. Since then, I’ve been focused on enjoying every single minute of this school year. I am happy to report that I love teaching music even more than I thought I would. The 2019-2020 school year has been the most rewarding professional experience of my life. When we were told that spring break was going to last an extra two weeks while the novel coronavirus situation played itself out, I knew that we would not finish the school year. I wanted to remain upbeat and optimistic for the sake of the children, so I told them, “I’ll see you soon.” After school, I sat in my car and stared at the building through tears in my eyes. The reason I say I was devastated by the governor’s announcement is because I never got to say a proper goodbye to my students. Although I plan on subbing at the Primary School every chance I get next year, my second graders will be moving on to the elementary school in the fall. The way I see it, I missed out on about 150 goodbye hugs from those kids. That’s a real gut punch. An even bigger punch in the gut is knowing that my career as a music teacher has ended just as suddenly and unexpectedly as it began. I spent three months as a second grade teacher and four months as an art teacher while covering maternity leaves in previous years. I thoroughly enjoyed both of those experiences, but I can’t imagine that anything will ever top my seven months as a music teacher. Obviously, I love working with kids, but I also love the grown-ups I work with at the Primary School. The teachers, aides, cooks, administrators, counselors, therapists, nurse, paraprofessionals, secretary, and custodians in that building are not just my co-workers or friends, they are my family. I have missed them terribly in the weeks since schools were shuttered. As easy as it is to sit around feeling sorry for myself, I feel even worse for one particular friend and co-worker. Crystal Branch, a coach and physical education teacher in our district for more years than she would like for me to reveal, is retiring at the end of this school year. Crystal is one of the finest educators and human beings I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. She has made a positive impact on the lives of thousands of people, young and old. Her generosity knows no bounds. This community could never repay what she has given. Coach Branch doesn’t deserve for her career to end this way. Crystal was assigned to be my mentor when I was hired in August. For putting up with me, and for having such an amazing career, she deserves to have a parade in her honor or maybe even a state holiday named after her. But for now, she’ll have to settle for this: Thank you for everything, Coach. I love you, and I miss you already. We all do.