‘At first it didn’t occur to me that I was impacting lives. I wasn’t looking to be a mentor, but I was doing it without realizing it.’
“I suddenly found myself trying to figure out how to teach. When I was 16, I gave drum lessons to third graders over the summer to prepare them for the fourth-grade band. I would teach my experience and exposure to things and say to the kids, ‘You tell me what you want to learn and I will teach it to you; in exchange, you have to be willing to learn what I want to teach you because you know what you want, and I know what you need.’ I wanted them to feel like young adults and that their opinion counted. Ever since then, I taught privately.
“My father used to drive me to local gigs with wedding bands, top 40 bands and bar bands. I chose not to go to college and work professionally. At 27, I got a call from my old chorus teacher, now the district’s director of music and fine arts, asking for help with the 27 drummers in the high school band. It was supposed to be for two months, and it turned into years of me being the percussion advisor. Five years later, I got another call from Long Island High School for the Arts (LIHSA). They were looking for a percussion teacher. I started at LIHSA for a few hours each week.
I may never be a millionaire, but I’m very blessed because I get to share my passion for performing and teaching.
“My connection to teaching got stronger and it became a lot of fun. When students said they loved my class, at first it didn’t occur to me that I was impacting lives. I wasn’t looking to be a mentor, but I was doing it without realizing it. The turning point for me was when a former student sent me a note: ‘I’m going to be an education major because one day I want to be somebody else’s Jerry.’ I had the wind taken from me.
“Now, I am the production coordinator at LIHSA. I stage and direct the performances and do a lot of behind-the-scenes work. Students tell me that when they were uncomfortable, I made them feel comfortable. The first time a kid is going to go on stage, I ask if they are nervous. They say, ‘Yeah,’ and I say, ‘If it makes you feel better, I’m not in the least bit nervous.’ They laugh and it breaks the tension. They never forget that. It’s so valuable.
“I wake up every day so grateful that I get to do what I love to do. I may never be a millionaire, but I’m very blessed because I get to share my passion for performing and teaching.”