Teachers help us learn and achieve in the classroom. Their experience and knowledge shape our minds.
Some teachers go the extra mile with their students. They get to know us. They encourage while serving as examples. Their selfless ways help us become more responsible, competent and confident people.
I am fortunate to have had several exceptional teachers and Jerry Gipson was at the top of the list. His influence came at a trying time for me. That experience was Junior High School.
I went to Nallwood Junior High in Overland Park, Kansas for seventh, eighth and ninth grades (today it’s renamed Indian Woods Middle School). While my elementary school was 6 houses down the street from home, Nallwood was a one-and-a-half-mile bus ride. I was young for my grade and a late bloomer to boot.
There was a lot of change. In addition to catching the bus, there were the interactions on the bus (sometimes hilarious). Classes and teachers changed by the hour. Hallways and lockers were an ecosystem to themselves. Choices before and after school included scheduled school activities, who to hang with and decisions about nicotine, alcohol, drugs and fights. The subjects taught mattered and took time to master. Oh and I had diabetes as a daily companion. During one semester, my NPH insulin kicked in well before the scheduled lunch period (*).
Rather than jump in to all that change, I began by observing my surroundings (some called me shy or distant). Only after understanding and trusting the environment, did I feel confident enough to assert myself. Once engaged, I got high marks in most activities. This included school subjects, friendships, debate, sports and music.
Music had been an interest of mine since third grade, when I started learning clarinet. I played well and it provided an avenue into junior high. At the midpoint of my three years, the band teacher resigned to tend to a newborn and a recent college graduate named Jerry Gipson was hired. His specialty was percussion and he played in a local band … man could he play! That made him cool and different to us students.
Jerry taught band to teenagers that were full of curiosity and varying degrees of musical talent. He made us better musicians. This included improving our instrument skills, showing us how to make music together, and opening our minds to new genres. He did it with a slice of fun, although those in the brass and percussion sections seemed to have more of it (they were furthest from the conductor).
Mr. Gipson made time to get to know his students. His standards were high while being encouraging, especially to those of us interested in developing our musical talents. For me, that included a prompt to learn saxophone, as there wasn’t a role for clarinet in high school jazz or pep bands.
Mr. Gipson was the first teacher I told about my diabetes. By myself. My mother had guided these conversations throughout grade school, but I felt comfortable enough with him to open up. Although I felt diabetes might define me as different and a burden, his response was quite the opposite. He said, ok, let’s work with it. You have talent to be a good musician. Let’s turn those notes into music! While our focus was on music, he also checked in regularly on my diabetes, making sure candy was available during long after school practices.
Beyond encouraging and developing my musical skills, Jerry’s larger contribution was boosting my confidence. The esteem I found in music made its way into other areas of school. Due to his extra time and commitment, I came out of Junior High a more competent and confident person that when I entered.
Thank you, Jerry Gipson.
+ Jerry taught instrumental music in middle schools for 42 years in the metro Kansas City public schools. He was named Middle Level Band Teacher of the Year for the 2004-2005 school year and was Oxford Middle School’s nominee for Kansas Teacher of the Year in 2006. He was inducted into the Kansas Musicians Educator Association Hall of Fame in 2018. For more, click here: https://hof.ksmea.org/?id=2018_gipson_gerald
(*) I learned very little in that classroom due to the frequent hypoglycemic episodes that included disorientation, shakes, and sweating through my shirt and underwear before lunch. I prayed the teacher wouldn’t call on me as I had no idea what was being covered. When class was over, I’d fumble my way to the lunchroom where I would snarf my food like it was the last I’d ever see. It was all out survival mode. Requests to change my lunch schedule during that term were unsuccessful.