There, I admitted it. The day is finally here when I stop talking about wanting to be a teacher and actually become one. And it has me shaking in my boots.
And I’ve kind of been a mess the past few weeks. I’ve had unexpected moments where I’ve asked myself if I can really do this. Even after an amazing practicum experience, the nerves had settled in and reached the places I didn’t think they could.
So when I found myself down the road from the cemetary where he is buried a few weeks ago, I knew I had to pay my respects and remind myself of the man who still inspires me to do this. The last time I visited, it was a cold and crisp winter’s day, light snowflakes floating from the sky. I took the drive out there after having just met what was to become one of my first classes for student teaching, one of the first groups I was to be responsible for, and I knew I needed to visit to remind myself of why I ever wanted to do this in the first place.
Let me explain…
Dennis Wrenn. Teacher. Musician. Life-changer. For four years I sat as one of hundreds to walk through the doors of his band room. I am far from a gifted musician, but music has breathed inspiration and love into my life, and Mr. Wrenn was a part of that. Beyond instilling within all of his students a love of music, he also showed what it means to be a teacher. He never stopped believing in his students, and took the time to get to know them, even when during any given class period there could be over one hundred students in front of him, all with varying levels of interest. Some were there because they hoped to pursue careers in music one day, others because they were cultivating a hobby, and the last group because their parents wanted them to be in band. But regardless of why they were there, I don’t think a single student could have left a year of rehearsals with Mr. Wrenn and not feel cared for.
When I was a junior in a high school, I took a pretty big risk for me and volunteered to play second piccolo for one song. While flute, which I had been playing for six years at that point, and piccolo have the same fingerings, it’s a challenge. You have to focus the air flow a certain way and it’s hard to create a pure sound. But someone needed to do it, and no one else volunteered, so I figured I would. In hindsight, it really wasn’t all that terrifying, but to the timid 17-year-old who was full of self-doubt who I was at the time, it was a surprise that I would ever take such a risk. By the time the concert rolled around, I was so nervous. I didn’t want to mess up (it’s hard to not hear a piccolo after all), and I was afraid I would fall off the stage when I changed seats from the second row of flutes to the first row. But at each rehearsal, Mr. Wrenn never lost faith in me. He encouraged me and rejoiced at every improvement, never betraying any sense of doubt or regret that he had let me fill the role. That faith continued until the night of the concert, and when it was all over, he congratulated me on a job well-done. I confessed how nervous I had been, but Mr. Wrenn just brushed it off, giving me the impression that he had known I could do it all along and that he had never doubted me.
Mr. Wrenn passed away very unexpectedly while on tour with the high school jazz band in Greece when I was in my freshman year of college. I will never forget the shock and sense of loss I felt when I heard the news from a friend who called me. I had been walking down a path with a friend and practically collapsed on the ground in horror, unsure of how to react. Mr. Wrenn wasn’t just a teacher to those who knew him, he was a mentor, a friend, and a father-figure, so his loss was the worst emotional pain I had felt at that point in my life. A facebook group was created where over two thousand mourners came together to share over two decades worth of stories of a teacher who made a difference in their lives. Countless people shared stories of how this man had seemed to remember every detail about them that they had ever shared with Mr. Wrenn, even though, as the size of the group proved, he had thousands of acquaintances. All expressed extreme grief over the loss of a man who in one way or another had changed their lives, inspiring them to take a risk and pursue their dreams.
So when I gazed at his grave a few weeks ago, focusing on my insecruties about teaching, it dawned on me: Mr. Wrenn wouldn’t have let me doubt myself for one instant. I can almost hear the way he would have brushed off any remnant of self-doubt and how he would have encouraged me to the very end. And if he would have believed in me, then I have to, too. And with that realization I experienced a renewed purpose of why I do want to teach. I want to touch the lives of students like this man did for so many others. I want to give them the courage to take risks and try something new. I want to share a passion with those with whom I work, fellow teachers and students alike. So in the days when I don’t think I can do it anymore, I will remind myself of these goals and do all that I can make Mr. Wrenn proud.
Two of my high school friends and I with Mr. Wrenn at our Senior Year POPS Night, June 2008.