When I taught school, I was pretty brazen. If I wanted something, I was not afraid to ask for it. If the answer was “No”, I was not afraid to ask again…and again…and again, until the person usually just said “Yes” to shut me up. (I didn’t realize how annoying this trait was until I had children.)
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I spent some of my student teaching at J. W. Seabrook Elementary School in Fayetteville, NC. This school was special to me because it’s where I attended elementary school. My supervising teacher in the spring of 1984 was the great Frances Piland. I learned so much from her and my teaching style mimics hers. She knew how to get to a student by any means necessary — even if it meant paying for a child’s field trip or making sure a child ate breakfast in the mornings at school because she knew that there had been nothing for supper at his house the night before. That is a teacher who is worth more than her weight in gold.
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After I had taught at Eastover-Central Elementary School for the first five years of my career, I got a chance to come “home” to Seabrook. It was my first experience teaching sixth grade, but I found that I loved it. Although my degree was elementary education, we had music in my classroom every single day. In fact, it became the greatest disciplinary tool in my arsenal: misbehave during the day = no music for you. I rarely had disciplinary problems and I attribute a lot of this rare phenomenon to music.
During the 1989-90 school year, I had an exceptionally musical class. Around Thanksgiving of 1989, one of my most animated students, Duane Tabb said, “Mrs. Rosser, you ever thought about doing some Michael Jackson?” Until that moment, I hadn’t, but if I could hook some students with MJ and if I could find the right song, I thought I’d give it a try.
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One day after the Christmas holidays, I stopped for gas at the convenience store. Low and behold, there was a MJ cassette tape on sale in a little rack beside the cash register. It was $1.99 and I bought it. On that tape was Man in the Mirror. As I listened to it, I knew that this song would be the song to teach my kids. Kristian Johnson, another student, brought me a tape of From a Distance by Bette Midler. Both were wonderful songs with messages that taught Christian concepts.
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These kids learned the songs with such expertise. They added dance moves and sign language. It was amazing. One day, our principal stopped by and listened to us. Mr. Strickland was so impressed he asked us to sing at the final PTA meeting in May.
In 1990, the choice of karaoke tapes was very slim. I couldn’t find MJ or Bette. So, I thought about who I could get to play this on the piano so the kids could sing without words on a tape. I had met the choral teacher at Stedman Junior High School just once, but his piano talent was widely known in our neck of the woods. That was when I decide to ask Joe, choral teacher and pianist extraordinaire, to come and be our accompanist for the evening.
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I called him after school one day in late March and asked him if he’d consider doing this for me. Without a single second of hesitation, this man who didn’t really know me from Adam, said “When is the performance? I’d be glad to.” (I was SHOCKED! It was a big favor for a casual acquaintance.) But as it happened, our final PTA meeting fell on the same day as his spring choral concert. (My heart fell.) Then Joe said, “If you’ll send me the sheet music by the school courier, I’ll make you a tape.” (Again, I was simply without words for the generosity of this man, and for those of you who know me, I’m NEVER without words.)
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He did this huge favor for me (and even provided a better cassette tape than I sent him because he knew that tape quality affected the sound of the music). He barely knew me. But he did it. I have always been touched that he would take time out of his day (and money out of his pocket for the cassette tape) to play two songs for a brazen teacher and her sixth graders.
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Joe is now the organist at Pleasant Grove UMC in Durham, NC. He has touched hundred of students in his teaching career. He’s still the same amazing person and a superb musician…and he’s fighting pancreatic cancer. He has good days and bad days. But he’s a fighter. You can follow him on his blog, The Big C, Not Middle C.
Jesus answered, “The most important command is this: ‘Listen, people of Israel! The Lord our God is the only Lord. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ The second command is this: ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself.’ There are no commands more important than these.” Mark 12:31-32 (New Century Version)
Joe’s act of kindness is the essence of what Christ teaches, and I’m so glad that Joe is my brother in Christ. He recognized me as his neighbor and then did what Jesus would have done. I mentioned this memory to him the other day and he exclaimed, “I’d forgotten about that!” I never have. And I never will.
Joe Lupton (photo credit: his)
I want to ask you to pray from my friend, Joe. Cancer is tough, but God is tougher.
And Joe, I just want to say, “Thank you. You made a difference in my life.”