'Thank a Teacher': Reflections, Advice From One Milwaukee Music Educator

May 9, 2017

This week, schools in Milwaukee across the country are honoring their educators as part of Teacher Appreciation Week.

In Milwaukee Public Schools, close to 10,000 individuals work in the classrooms, including Julio Pabon. He’s a local musician, probably best-known as the percussionist for Latin powerhouse De La Buena. What you might not know is that Pabon also heads the music program at Lancaster, a K-8 community school.

This is Pabon’s first year with MPS, although he’s been teaching since 2001 at private and charter schools.

What’s it like to be in his shoes?

As a music teacher, his classroom is a bit unorthodox – there aren’t traditional rows of desks; the setting is more informal. Class activities tend to be very interactive for students – singing together, poking around with different instruments, using digital music software.

Pabon's music students often tinker with different instruments during class time.
Credit MPS

But that added movement during class time can also be a challenge for the teacher.  

“My classroom feels like it could be a playground, because it’s more open-concept,” Pabon describes. “Volume is usually relatively loud – but it’s creative loudness!”

Lancaster is one of a handful of MPS schools that recently joined former President Barack Obama’s signature arts program, Turnaround Arts. The partnership encourages and gives resources to schools to infuse arts as a strategy to close achievement gaps. For Pabon, that means his subject material makes its way into other classrooms in his building – and vice versa. And he does a lot of coordination with his fellow teachers.

Something else he has in common with his colleagues? Looking up to teachers from their own pasts as inspiration. And some of the most influential figures included instructors who let students express themselves through learning.

“We all had teachers that influenced us, we all have teachers that helped inspire us to be who we are today,” he says. “It’s the relationship where they hear me, they understand me, and they feel safe for me to talk to. They’re willing to go above and beyond.”

"You are asked to manage all of these different ways of thinking and being, while trying to mold the person into an independent, creative, positive thinker and doer."

Like much of the rest of the nation, Wisconsin has experienced a teacher shortage in recent years. Fewer people are entering the teaching profession, and many are leaving the field too.

Pabon says he can understand the concern – many educators express frustration with low pay and low morale. But he advises people considering teaching to really consider what they want out of their job.

“It’s a very difficult profession…you are asked to manage all of these different ways of thinking and being, while trying to mold the person into an independent, creative, positive thinker and doer,” Pabon says. “But it’s also equally most rewarding. And it’s worthwhile – because you are helping shape our future. You will make a difference in someone’s life.”

And his advice for those of us who don't work in a classroom?

"Please thank a teacher!"