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Teachers of Note

Glebe, Carlin Springs elementary school teachers have formed faculty bands to play alongside students.

In the middle of a jaunty rendition last week of "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star," Dru Burns stopped playing her clarinet and starred at her sheet music, a little befuddled.

The Glebe Elementary School Kindergarten assistant leaned closer to her music stand, shaking her head.

"This was easier to do 20 years ago when I didn't have reading glasses," Burns said.

The six-person band started the children's classic from the top, but after a few measures Eve Rutzen dropped her flute into her lap.

"I shouldn't wear so much lipstick when I play," said a laughing Rutzen, who teaches fourth and fifth graders.

The two are members of a nascent faculty band at Glebe, which was practicing last week as an ensemble for only the second time in preparation for the school's upcoming winter holiday concert.

The half-hour session got off to a bit of a rocky start, as a run through of "Jolly Old St. Nick" turned into a cacophony of squeals and squeaks. But by the time the band attempted its third and final piece, "Hot Cross Buns," the members found their rhythm and played the piece flawlessly.

"That was much, much better," said Diane Bok, the school's instrumental music teacher, who has also formed a faculty ensemble at Carlin Springs Elementary School.

The students beamed with pride.

AT THE BEGINNING of the school year, Bok was looking for a way to solve the conundrum all music teachers face: how to get her students to practice more often. Arlington elementary school students receive 30 minutes a week of musical instruction, and Bok was worried that some weren't getting enough encouragement from their parents to practice at home.

"I wanted to get the kids more involved in music," Bok said. "When they leave the classroom, they don't think about it very much."

Bok decided to enlist the help of the school's other teachers, reasoning that they have as much influence over students as parents do. She persuaded nine teachers at Glebe and more than a dozen at Carlin Springs to pick up musical instruments and begin individual sessions with her.

"I figured that if teachers took beginner lessons it would open up a dialogue about practicing and learning music between the teachers and their students," she said.

After several weeks of one-on-one sessions, Bok pulled together the teachers in each school into an ensemble and set about choosing songs they could play in the schools' winter concerts.

Some of the more advanced teachers will play along with student bands, while the faculty ensembles plan to belt out a few songs of their own. Glebe held their concert on Dec. 14, while Carlin Springs is on Dec. 20 at 8:40 a.m. in the school auditorium. Bok hopes to hold a more formal faculty recital this spring at a local performance hall.

Some of the teachers hadn't played an instrument since grade school, while others were trying one for the first time.

Greg Taylor, who teaches fifth grade at Glebe, has always been a jazz aficionado, going so far as to name his son Miles in tribute to the legendary trumpet player. But he had never learned to play the instrument himself.

Taylor's son recently started to take trumpet lessons, and Taylor decided to give it a shot as well so that "the two of us can have something to share." Taylor admits that his son often gets frustrated with him when he isn't playing well, but looks forward to the day the two can share a stage.

STUDENTS HAVE BEEN thrilled by the fact that their teachers are learning to play instruments at the same time as they are, teachers said. Just as Bok anticipated, the students are chatting with their teachers about music and the difficulty of practicing.

"It has completely changed the dynamic of the relationships because we are learning along with them," said Glebe Principal Jamie Borg, who has rediscovered the flute.

For the first time students are recognizing that their teachers are fallible, and prone to error. It has been a valuable lesson for students to watch their teachers struggle at a new activity.

"To students we make no mistakes," Bok said. "It's really comforting for them to see teachers play wrong notes. They begin to realize it's a common thing that happens."

Ingrid Clarke, Glebe's assistant principal and novice clarinet player, says that she has seen previously shy students become effusive once they play music together.

"One student has become like a mentor to me... and its definitely boosted their self-confidence," she added.

The role-reversal has also been beneficial for the teachers, who now are better able to identify with students who are struggling to learn a new task.

"We're putting ourselves back in the position of being learners," Borg said.

The faculty ensemble has sparked a larger interest in the arts in Glebe, teachers said. Taylor now devotes the last 15 minutes of class every Friday to letting students perform a skit, sing a song or play a piece of music.

As the practice session concluded last week, the teachers admitted that there is a healthy amount of competition between the group. Like all students performing in public for the first time, the teachers are a little wary of getting up on stage and playing for the student body and parents.

But no matter what happens during the concerts, Bok said the teachers will win the admiration of the entire school.

"If they mess up the kids will get a kick out of it, and if they play beautifully the kids will love it," she said.