Editor’s Note — This is the second in a five-part series showcasing each of the five Highland County public school districts from a teacher’s perspective as they kick off another school year.
Students come to Michelle Gleim’s class because they want to. Music is an elective at Whiteoak Jr./Sr. HIgh School in Mowrystown, and the band and choir director says that students come to her bandroom more interested in the subject matter than say, math or science.
“Even if they don’t play an instrument, they’ve got the radio on.” she said. “Or they’re listening to Spotify or Pandora on their phones.”
Gleim added that taking a class in the arts, such as music or drama, is different than sitting in a seat and taking endless notes.
“Taking an art class, drama or music allows them to be involved in an activity that satisfies something deep inside,” she said.
Originally from Dayton, Gleim has been at Whiteoak for 20 years and is also a co-athletic director at the school.
The influence of teachers when she was growing up molded her career path.
“I had an interest in music and really good band directors and teachers all the way through school,” she remembered. “And it just appealed to me, working with kids and doing something I love.”
She personifies the old adage that “if you find something to do that you love, you’ll never have to go to work again.”
“I get to see kids go from seventh to 12th grades, watching them grow, progress and get better is one of the neat things I get from this job,” she said.
A great deal of that satisfaction comes from her seeing students that she’s had over the years going on to become band or choir directors, or professional musicians. Gleim said she takes pride in helping them achieve their goals and allowing them to find out where their passion lies.
“You take them as they are when they walk through that door and you want to see them getting closer to what they want to accomplish, especially if they started way back in seventh grade and now they’re seniors,” she said.
Bright Local Schools will have a levy on the ballot for voters to consider this fall, but the music teacher’s main concern lies in the welfare of her students.
“They walk in the door and you’re always reminded that you don’t know what they left,” she said. “When they got up and came to school, you don’t know what their home environment is like.”
When Gleim graduated from high school in 1984, her world as a high school student was different than today.
She related that some students may be homeless, they may be battling substance abuse or their parents may be going through a messy divorce.
“It always tugs at your heart when you wonder what they lived through last night,” she said. “We have kids in this district where most of their meals they receive they get at school.”
The world that her students will inherit when they graduate concerns her as well. In a classroom, her 12- to 18-year-old students are in a controlled environment, but once outside, things can get messy and chaotic. Despite that, the key to making sure her students succeed in school and later in life, in Gleim’s eyes at least, is for parents to work with their child’s teachers.
“Be there, and support your kids in whatever they’re trying to do,” she said. “Give them the chance and the resources to try things, because they’re at an age where they don’t know whether or not they’ll like some activity.”
Gleim said she and her fellow educators live in the real world, too, and realize in many households both parents are working to make ends meet, the student may be living with grandparents, and sometimes it’s a single parent struggling to do it alone.
“Make sure they have what they need,” she said. “You take a kid in junior high that needs something like poster board for a project. He can’t drive to the store, so you as a parent have to get that for him.”
The eternal optimist, Gleim has some advice for her students.
“No matter what happens, remember that there is always a silver lining to every dark cloud,” she said. “There’s always something good that comes out of everything, it just depends on how you choose to look at it. You have to make your own way in life, so you may as well do it your way.”
Reach Tim Colliver at firstname.lastname@example.org.