"He builds an experience together with his audience, not simply for them."
Then, a year after that Turku performance, I spoke with a journalist from NPR (National Public Radio) for a piece about teaching as performance. My thoughts about a rock star being an inspiration in my professional life were private. I hadn’t meant to share them, but lo-and-behold, after an hour’s worth of my musings about teaching, “I want to teach the way Bruce Springsteen performs” was the line that made it onto the airwaves.
There are four practices that Springsteen displays night in and night out that I want to emulate. He cares deeply for people, he is passionate, he creates something like a spiritual connection with his audience, and he builds an experience together with his audience, not simply for them.
I admire that Springsteen deeply cares for the E Street Band. They are a family, they are essential to the making and performing of his music, and it’s evident that he cares for them all. In education, I believe that people - children, their families, and my colleagues - are the most important. The standards, the curriculum, resources we gather, and the pedagogical methods we employ are all important, but like Bruce and his band, I think that the people around me are the most important piece of teaching.
For more than three hours, Bruce gives it everything he’s got. He leaves it all on the stage. Just like that, and just like I used to play hard on the basketball court and soccer field as a kid, I want to teach just as hard. Not just once in awhile, but every single day. I want to be exhausted when the day’s over and the kids go home. By performing with that type of passion, Springsteen sends the message that that moment, that one night with that specific audience, is the most important moment. For me, I want to be in that moment with my students and hopefully my passion will spew out of me and inspire my students to do everything they do with that type of passion.
The Oxford Dictionary defines ‘spirituality’ as “of, relating to, or affecting the human spirit or soul as opposed to material things”. Springsteen creates something like that for me. It’s a spiritual connection. There’s something transcendent happening when I go to Bruce shows. Music can do that and I think Springsteen does it best by creating human-to-human connection with thousands of people at a time. His vulnerability in sharing himself through song allows space for all of us in the audience to do that same type of searching and reflection. I believe that I’m most successful as a teacher not when I pull off the most perfect, pedagogically-sound lesson; it’s when I’ve reached the soul of a kid, something inside, beyond the nuts and bolts of the academic standard.
Just recently one of my colleagues ran into an old student of mine. This young lady is now 16 years old. She told my colleague, “I remember Ms. Siepiola. She taught me about life.” Sure, she learned and mastered all the second grade academic content, but it was that connection I was able to make with her that stuck."I want to be exhausted when the day’s over and the kids go home."
Finally, I want to teach like Bruce Springsteen because of the way he builds community. When I’m at a show it doesn’t feel like he’s necessarily performing for us, but with us. Springsteen makes me feel like I’m essential to the show; I feel included in the experience, as if it wouldn’t be able to happen without all of us in that audience. It feels like we’re building something together. That’s what I want for my classroom community. I, of course, plan the lessons and the prepare all of the activities, but I want my students to feel like we’re in this thing together, and that every single person - tall and small -matter in the classroom, that everyone’s voice is heard and every person’s interests, curiosities, successes, and even struggles are validated and supported.
So, now it’s no longer a secret! And, hopefully, every day feels like a Bruce show for my students.
Do you have a rock legend as your teaching inspiration? Share yours below!