Travis Naughton

When I accepted an invitation to be the temporary music teacher at Southern Boone County Primary School to begin the new school year, I was overjoyed. Being a music teacher had been a childhood dream of mine, and despite knowing that the gig would end whenever a certified music teacher could be hired on a permanent basis, nothing could dampen my enthusiasm.

I had taught music many times over the previous seven years as a substitute. The teachers I filled in for were gracious enough to allow me to come up with my own lesson plans, which gave me the confidence to take on a long-term assignment.

As the start of the school year drew nearer, it became apparent that everyone with a license to teach music already had a job. You can imagine how honored I was when school officials asked me if I would consider signing a one-year contract to teach music at the primary school for the entire 2019-2020 school year.

I am a music teacher. I teach Music. And I love it.

Immediately after accepting the offer, I set out to find a way to make the gig permanent. Following several communications with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), it became painfully clear that my sub-par undergraduate grade point average stands in the way of earning a teaching certificate in the state of Missouri. Despite possessing a bachelor’s degree and teaching experience, (requirements for alternative certification), my GPA is simply too low.

I then reached out to Western Governors University, a non-profit and fully-accredited online college based in Utah. I explained my situation at length to a very patient admissions advisor who asked if I had ever considered earning a master’s degree. My undergraduate GPA isn’t good enough to teach, but it is apparently good enough to be accepted into a Master of Teaching in Elementary Education program with a path to licensure.

The downside is that WGU does not offer a music education program, so I would not be able to keep my current gig after this year. However, my long-term subbing experiences of teaching second graders has me convinced that I would love having my own second grade classroom almost as much as my own music room. Therefore, I have decided to pursue a master’s degree through WGU. My first test will take place this Thursday!

The first two weeks of school have been two of the most satisfying weeks of my life. I truly love teaching music, and if there were any way to keep this job forever, I would do it. I’m treating this school year as a precious gift, because that’s exactly what it is.

Had I realized back in the early 1990s that every school year (and every single day) is a precious gift, I wouldn’t have squandered the opportunities I had when I was a young man. The grades I received then were a direct result of my self-destructive actions and negative attitude. I can only hope that the grades I receive in my master’s program will reflect my desire to improve myself while making a difference in the lives of children.

Last week in class, I played a video of a small jazz ensemble for my students. Before showing them the clip, I explained that when I was a kid not much older than them, I met a boy named Matt Kane. Matt and I played video games and rode bikes together and were on the same Little League team. When we got a little older, we were in the same jazz band in high school.

“Everybody in our band was pretty good,” I told the kids. “But Matt was really good. We all knew that he would become a professional drummer someday. Sure enough, Matt grew up to be a successful musician in New York City. He even owns a school of drumming where he teaches kids like you how to play.” I played the clip of Matt and his band as they performed his original tune “Start of the Change” in a recording studio. The kids were in awe of the music, the musicians, and the recording process. But the smile on Matt’s face as he played along with his friends in the studio made the biggest impression on the kids. “Do you want to know why Matt’s so happy?” I asked my students.

“Because making music is fun. Music makes you feel good. Don’t you think it’s wonderful that Matt makes his living doing something that makes him so happy?” The kids all agreed. Then I asked, “Do you think Matt was that good the first time he tried playing the drums?” Most of the kids said no, and when I asked why not, some of them said it was because you have to practice to be good at something.

“Exactly!” I said. “No matter what you want to do in life, whether it’s music or sports or a job, you have to work hard to become good at it. Then, once you’ve achieved what you worked so hard for, you will enjoy it so much more. Matt’s happy and living his dream because he worked hard to get where he is today. You kids can do that, too.”

I’m starting to think that I can as well. It’s the start of the change—the change I’ve been needing to make for a long, long time.