Bixby Teacher of the Year Shares Life Lessons

Contributing Writer

HIGH AWARD: Connie Coleman, third from left, stands in her Bixby High School choir room after being named Bixby’s 2014 District Teacher of the Year with, from left, teacher Drew Ackerman, High School Principal Terry Adams, and teacher Michelle Carter.

Courtesy Bixby Public Schools

Connie Coleman was named Bixby’s 2014 District Teacher of the Year. An apt reward for the Bixby High School teacher who teaches choir and has enjoyed every minute of it, she says.

While preparing for all-state honor choir and a state choir contest a few weeks ago, her classroom door opened. “The High School principal, the secondary curriculum director and the professional development committee came in with flowers, balloons and cameras,” she explains. “I was completely caught unaware. Anyone who knows me knows that I have well-planned rehearsals, and all I could immediately think was how to make up for the lost time. Of course, that fleeting thought vanished when I finally realized what was happening.”

The surprise has been very humbling to Coleman. “To be recognized by my peers and know that I have their support can be a little daunting. This honor really makes me want to step up and be a better teacher.”

As a teacher, her students are the most important part of Coleman’s classroom. Every day, she reaches out to them and teaches them more than just music. “I want to make my students life-long learners. It is important that they leave my classroom with the skills to be successful adults. Any well-educated teacher can teach the material; it takes a special teacher, and there are many teachers in our state, who want to go beyond the book and the classroom.”

She adds, “My door is always open to students to talk about anything: problems at school or with other students, problems at home, the loss of their first love, financial problems and the list goes on. We visit about the best way to deal with their problems and the best person to help them through. Maybe that is why they often call me ‘mom’ or ‘grandma.’”

One such struggle that many students face is finding their “place” in school. “These students come to me as freshmen who are wide-eyed and excited but quickly feel lost in the flow of the high school climate. Choir is a place where they feel comfortable and accepted. In turn, they quickly become leaders in the classroom, as choir officers and as high school leadership.”

One of the most valuable lessons that Coleman imparts to her students is how to develop coping skills. “If a student has a bad day, life goes on. Students must learn how to continue in their ‘job’ as a student while their life is sometimes crumbling. It can be a sense of relief and a sense of accomplishment when a student learns to manage and organize their priorities, immediate and overall.”

Throughout the year, Coleman’s class prepares for a variety of special performances. One is held on the stage at Carnegie Hall. “The excitement of the trip continues to build for the students. The best moment, though, comes when they are on the stage for the first rehearsal, the lights come up, and they see all of the seats that will be filled by the audience. Mouths drop open, the adrenaline rushes, and they realize that their goals have been accomplished. That is a wonderful moment for me as their teacher: the look of joy on their faces.

“Whether or not a student is coming back the next year, I hope they realize that have the skills to be successful in their chosen career path. Music is everywhere in our world: commercials, sound tracks, phones, hospitals, and home. Music can be a career, or it can be a lifelong comforter. My hope is that the students have music at the core of their being and that they share their love of music with everyone they know.”

Every year, students tell Coleman that they will come back to see their teachers long after they graduate. “I always say that they will not,” she says. “They will get away and find that life goes on. For most though, it is after they have realized their dreams that they want to come back. They come back when they are parents and have their own careers to share their wedding plans, etc.”

To allow her former students and others in the community to continue to enjoy music, Coleman started the Bixby Community Choir, “so those who loved music in high school can relive that joy in their adult lives,” Coleman says. “And it is working, because they are coming back… always with laughter and many stories to share.”

Updated 06-19-2014

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