On the first day of school I begin my classes with John Coltrane’s “Welcome,” at the closing bars of which a palpable attentiveness comes over my chattering students, proof of what I’ve always believed about the source of Coltrane’s genius and the wellspring within even the dopiest-seeming kid. “This is nice music,” one boy remarks, and no one sneers. As I will do with the other musical introductions I play throughout the year, all chosen to fit the interval between passing bells, I key in my selection on a purse-size CD player, as quaint to the iPod generation as a Victrola is to me. I write the name of each artist and piece on the blackboard, including the date of composition when I can find it, usually a year predating that of my students’ birth (circa 1995).
I wear a jacket and tie almost every day, one of the few adults at school who do. To these I add a pair of well-oiled work boots, an offhand expression of solidarity with the parents of our community but mostly a concession to my falling arches. For the first time in many years I have what can be called a “look”–like me and like the white-collar trade of teaching itself, a strange amalgam. A girl passing in the hall remarks that I always look “spiffy.” I reply that I would have thought I looked old. “Hey, how old are you?” she counters. “Thirty?” I take this as a compliment and beam accordingly, though on reflection I wonder if she is simply trying to agree that I am old.