Eclectic New Orleans band Tank and the Bangas didn’t take home the Grammy for best new artist, but there was no shame in losing out to teenage sensation Billie Eilish. So congratulations to them once more for their high profile nomination, and to fellow New Orleanian PJ Morton, whose “Say So” was named best R&B Song.
And while we’re at it, how about a big hand for Mickey Smith Jr.?
Smith’s name doesn’t normally appear in bright lights. But the teacher from Maplewood Middle School in Sulphur, who was recognized by the Recording Academy with this year’s music educator award, has star quality where it counts: In the classroom. Smith’s interview with CBS This Morning, in advance of the network’s prime time awards telecast, amounted to an effusive celebration not just of music, but also of the art of teaching.
Asked why he chose to lead a school band rather than play saxophone professionally, Smith didn’t hesitate.
“Oh, it’s so rewarding,” he said. “Why not teach? Why not teach? I think everyone should have an opportunity to pour into someone else. If you pour your cup empty, I think it comes back twice as full.”
The honor comes with an opportunity to spread that message. During an exuberant red carpet interview, Smith stressed the value of arts education. Following an appearance at Gov. John Bel Edwards’ recent Children’s Cabinet meeting, the governor, who has made finally raising teacher pay in Louisiana to the Southern average a priority, tweeted that Smith’s “talent lights up the room & his enthusiasm for teaching inspires learning every day.”
Smith’s network interview revealed some of his techniques, including a habit of mixing with his students as they play and sometimes sitting among them.
“I always want to be cognizant of, ‘What did it feel like to be 12?’ Because I believe if I am familiar with that, I can connect with them more. And that’s what it’s really all about, connection,” he said.
Smith has definitely connected. In his 15 years at Maplewood, band membership has grown from 28 to 146, nearly half the school. Sixth grader McKenzie Harmon told CBS that Smith “makes things fun, he’s super kind to everyone, he gives us a chance. He showed us something that we didn’t think that we’d be able to do.”
Eighth grader Rayvon Washington, a confessed troublemaker before he joined band, said Smith “made me focus, and made me a better person.”
As for Washington, Smith said that “I loved him just the way he was, but I loved him enough not to leave him just the way he was. And I believe that’s what teaching at its best, and that’s what music, can provide. An opportunity for growth, and an opportunity for trust.”
Forget the big stage. There can be no higher calling than offering a child that.