Because I will miss the final week of summer school while I am on vacation with my family, tomorrow will be my last official day of serving as the music teacher at Southern Boone Primary School.

Travis Naughton

What a long, strange trip it’s been.

In the weeks leading up to the start of the 2019-2020 school year, I had spent quite a bit of time contemplating whether or not I wanted to continue substitute teaching. Truth be told, I was leaning towards dedicating myself to becoming a full-time writer rather than a part-time teacher. I re-organized over 400 of my previously published newspaper columns and began submitting them to literary journals and magazines. I submitted an entry to the committee that selects the Pulitzer prize in commentary and editorial writing. And I began writing The Great American Novel.

Then principal Brandy Clark, a dear friend, called to offer me a temporary assignment as the music teacher at SoBoCo Primary. The person who had been hired to replace the previous teacher had suddenly resigned just a few weeks before the new school year was scheduled to begin. The gig would last until someone else with a music education certificate could be hired on a permanent basis, Brandy explained. Without hesitation, I agreed.

Thirty years prior, when I was a band geek at Hannibal High School, I had given serious consideration to becoming a music teacher. I was a pretty good trombone and baritone player in the school’s jazz and concert bands, and I was co-drum major of our award-winning marching band. My musical future looked bright. Unfortunately, after killing as many brain cells as possible at the University of Missouri, my musical dreams became as obliterated as my short-term memory. 

Decades later, I finally started getting my act together. I began substitute teaching, eventually earning the trust of the teachers and administrators I worked with and the love of the students I taught. I got sober, too. 

After seven years of dabbling in both teaching and writing, I decided to get serious about becoming a writer. Just as I was ready to turn the page, literally, on my career as an educator, Brandy called to offer me my dream job.

A few days after accepting her offer, Brandy informed me that the district agreed to give me a full one-year contract rather than pay me as a sub. I was floored. I thanked her and everyone else involved in the decision and promised that they wouldn’t regret it. Then, I poured everything I had into making it the best experience possible for my students.

The kids and I went on a musical journey together. We learned about various genres of music ranging from tribal drums to classical, jazz, blues, rock, soul, funk, disco, bluegrass, and country. We learned about the icons of each form of music including Beethoven, Robert Johnson, Dolly Parton, Jimi Hendrix, Johnny Cash, Miles Davis, Chuck Berry, the Beetles, and even Parliament Funkadelic. By the way, kindergarteners LOVE P-Funk!

I even managed to teach my students a thing or two about the technical side of music including concepts such as tempo, rhythm, dynamics, pitch, time signatures, and composition. We learned how to make homemade musical instruments. We got to see, hear, hold, and play instruments such as the fiddle, piano, mandolin, guitar, banjo, xylophone, trombone, trumpet, electric guitar, bass guitar, and a full drum set. We also staged six live musical performances over the course of the year. We sang, we danced, we learned, and we laughed. 

We had the time of our lives. At least I know I did.

And then it all ended, just as unexpectedly and suddenly as it began. When the coronavirus pandemic forced schools to close down in March, my dream job ground to a jarring halt. I was devastated. There was so much more I wanted to share with my students—including heart-felt thank yous and goodbyes to the second graders who would be moving on to the elementary school next year. The wound to my heart was grievous. 

I sank into a severe depression over the next few weeks. I missed my students and co-workers terribly. Time spent at home with my beloved family could not drag me out of the funk I was in. Eventually, my lovely wife Bethany encouraged me to seek professional help, and I’m so glad she did. Diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I was finally able to receive treatment for the unnamed condition I had been battling against for most of my adult life. 

And then Assistant Principal Lucas Karr asked me if I would be interested in teaching summer school. As an asthmatic, I was a little worried about being in a building full of potential carriers of the novel coronavirus, but I was also excited to have an opportunity to end my career as a music teacher on a more satisfying note. After thinking it over for a day or two, I said yes.

These last few weeks have given me a second chance to put the finishing touches on my teaching masterpiece. My return to the classroom has been everything I had hoped it would be, and now I can walk away from this crazy school year with a feeling of accomplishment and contentment.

I’ll probably shed a tear or two as I wave goodbye to my students at the end of the school day tomorrow. It wouldn’t be the first, second, or third time I’ve cried at the primary school. I doubt it will be my last either. I sure hope not.