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Showcasing Tom Hrbacek and "Positive Notes"

"One of the most valuable lessons I've learned is that you never stop learning!" Tom Hrbacek told Education World. "There is always something new and exciting to try."

Hrbacek, whose love of instrumental music took root when he started playing the trumpet in fifth grade, has taught the subject for 37 years, the last thirteen of those at Temecula Valley High School in Temecula, California. He now is responsible for the entire instrumental program -- marching band, concert band, jazz ensemble, orchestra, percussion, and many smaller ensembles. Working in a district with two high schools, five middle schools, thirteen elementary schools, and more buildings to open in the fall, Hrbacek characterizes his teaching situation as "job security!"

"I am very lucky to teach a subject that is really creative and fun," he observed. "The kids are in the class because they want to be in the band. In almost every case, the parents are supportive, and I've been fortunate to work in really good school systems. How many people do you know who get to play with their own band and make great music and art together every day? It's wonderful!"

One technique Hrbacek uses to preserve his motivation in teaching is to maintain a file of all of the positive comments, notes, and evaluations he receives.

"Like all educators, I get numerous little notes from current and former students, parents, other faculty members, school district administrators, school board members, and people in the community," he said. "The positive notes and cards remind me that I am fair and consistent, and that people appreciate the time and effort I have given them."

Hrbacek also delegates much responsibility to his students. They set up the rehearsal room, practice field, music folders, and more. He appoints the best musicians to act as coaches for others, and appoints section leaders to run group sectionals under his guidance.

"In the band world, I try to expose my students to a number of guest clinicians who come in and work with them," Hrbacek explained. "It's nice having someone else say the same things I've been telling the kids. Plus, a new set of ears is good for me too."

Some of the best advice Hrbacek offers new teachers, based on his years of experience, is to find a mentor to go to when they need help or guidance. In the early days of his career, an administrator who had been a very successful high school band director took Hrbacek under his wing.

"To the new educators, I salute you!" Hrbacek said. "You are starting on a great adventure. Always remember that every child is an individual. Children come from many different backgrounds, and you might be the one stable element a great many of them will have in their lives during the year."

"Don't get frustrated, and don't forget to do something for yourself and for your family every week!" is the mantra Hrbacek lives by.

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Article by Cara Bafile
Education World®
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