Teachers change lives every day

Thank you, Mr. White

Author: Johanna Coffin (newly Morris)
Teacher's name: Darren White
Teacher's school: G. C. Rowe Junior High

It’s kind of hard to know where to start with Mr. White. I will say that I was very surprised to see that he hadn’t made this page yet. He’s special as a teacher, right off the bat, because if you enjoyed band in grade seven and decided to continue on with it for junior high and high school, it was a guarantee that you would have the same teacher for six years. That’s not something that happens very often in the school system, particularly where I went to school. To be honest, I can’t think of many people that I grew up with or people in the generation surrounding me who didn’t have him as a teacher at least once.

To say that he has a difficult job is an understatement. He takes a classroom full of teenagers and somehow, SOMEHOW, manages to get them interested in concert band music. It starts with picking the right instrument. You might get the scattered student who wanted to wreak havoc on the snare drum and ended up with the clarinet (no offense, clarinetists), but for the most part, everyone got on board with the instrument they were given. And usually, it was a really good fit.

There would be kids from all walks of life, those who were well educated in music and started lessons when they were five to those who had never touched a key on a piano and would never be able to identify a treble clef. Sounds maybe a little bit impossible to bring them together to perform university level concert band music, but he did it. How do you even achieve that? Where do you start? Maybe the wonderment for me is founded in not having an education degree or understanding how to direct a band. However, I think it extends beyond that. His bands were and never will be just your average junior or high school band.

Mr. White is unique for a number of reasons. First of all, he commands respect. Not in an “I’m the boss and you have to listen to me” kind of way, but you have to respect him for his knowledge and ability to connect with young teenagers, and what seems to be a natural leadership. That takes me to my next point and his way of getting his students to listen. I don’t think it’s totally out there to acknowledge how insanely difficult it must be to get a room full of 100+ teenagers who overall are mildly educated (and interested) in classical, jazz and concert band music to sit still and listen. I think it could be equated to trying to herd cats. You would definitely have more uninterested than those who are.

But I remember one year when we were preparing for the Atlantic Band Festival and we had practiced this one especially hard piece a lot, constantly it seemed, but it was necessary because it was a high level of difficulty. It was called “Havendance” and I can guarantee anyone reading this who played it can recall it perfectly. Anyways, we had played it so much that at one point, he left the room (while we were still playing), and walked down the hallway so he could hear it from a different perspective. Time signatures were changing left right and centre, but we carried on perfectly. If you knew the calibre of music and the calibre at which we played it, you would understand the feat. We went on to own the Atlantic Band Fest that spring.

I also acknowledge that it wasn’t just during my time as a band student that these types of accomplishments were achieved. He’s been doing them for years and will continue to until retirement. I am one of the aforementioned students who started music lessons at five years old, but I can tell you that he gave every last band member a sense of accomplishment. The things that have been done under his direction and leadership are rare. And it’s not just winning first place at a festival, but being able to bring together a group of teenagers from every walk of life and showing them what they’re capable of, and making every last one feel like “Wow, I had a part in that”. He could connect with any student and knew how to have a good time and a laugh while maintaining the “teacher” status.

Obviously, I’m writing this because Mr. White means something to me on a personal level as well. I was fortunate enough to have him as a teacher for six years and over the course of time you get to know each other fairly well. I like to think that he knew early on that my personality is compromised largely of being quiet and toeing the line. Due to that nature, high school especially was a scary sea of students for me. It would’ve been very easy for me to be swallowed up, but he made me feel important and like I made a difference by being there. I was still quiet and minded my own business, but I also knew that high school was a place that I belonged, and that if nothing else, I was integral to the music coming out of the band room.

This past weekend he attended my wedding and told me that he was proud of me. It’s natural for that to mean more coming from certain people in your life, like your parents/guardians or a close friend. For me, it meant so much and I’m still glowing with the joy of having heard that from him.

I think I’ve made it clear that I could go on for a long time. But at this point I just want to acknowledge Mr. White, for him to know (just in case he doesn’t) how important he is and how important he has been to so many people’s lives. So many people loved him as a teacher and the impressions that he has made are lifelong.

I’m a big believer in giving credit where credit is due, especially since I’ve graduated high school and university and started working as professional myself, and this is one case where I especially can’t let it go unnoticed.

Cheers to you, Mr. White!

Did you enjoy this story? Share it with your friends: