Teacher Goes The Extra Mile To Help Students Learn

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Just about anyone who is no longer in school can remember that one teacher who made an impression. That teacher who never seemed to judge, who always seemed to be there and who knew just what to say to make it all better.

Payson is blessed with a teacher like that. His name is Mike Buskirk.

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Mike Buskirk, music teacher at Rim Country Middle School, said he will go to any length to help a student succeed. "Failure is an option not open to students in this class."

It sounds a little contrived and possibly maudlin, but the truth is that Buskirk is a rare breed these days.

He shows the kind of enthusiasm that used to be closely associated with academia that now is more and more becoming an anachronism in our schools.

His enthusiasm was apparent upon walking into his class just before the end of the school day Monday.

He said he is preparing the general music class for a reading of the poem, "Jabberwocky," taken from the story, "Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There," by Lewis Carroll.

The class was in the process of choosing who would be a light voice, a medium voice, and a dark voice.

Buskirk was providing examples of each. When he demonstrated a dark voice, it would not be unfair to compare the volume of his larynx to that of a foghorn.

He boomed out some collection of words that most likely no one remembers now because the sheer volume of his voice shook the foundation of the room and its occupants. It was clear, however, what he was looking for in a dark voice.

The same enthusiasm that he approached his demonstration of a dark voice is the way he approaches teaching.

He said, "Failure is an option not open to students in this class."

He will go to any length to try and help a student succeed, even trickery.

Underneath all that glittering benevolence there lurks a dark side willing to use cunning and manipulation to inspire an uncooperative pupil.

"I had one student who came to class and said ‘music stinks' and refused to sing a note," Buskirk said. "Now in a case like that, if a student refuses to follow a reasonable request, a teacher has the option to just refer the student to administration and be done with it, but then he misses everything here and can't get it back."

Instead, Buskirk said he used psychology to persuade the student to want to be in music class and participate.

First, since the student said he didn't want to be part of the class, Buskirk made him sit alone, away from everyone else.

"I said to him, ‘You understand you're choosing to sit alone, you're choosing to fail'," he said. "Sometimes the kids will take off (music classes are electives at Rim Country Middle School), but then other times they realize that they are choosing to fail and they turn around and begin to participate."

After a short while, the student began to interject comments about the music being practiced by other students.

"In a very short period of time, without even being aware of it, the student was fully participating in and enjoying being a member of the class and the group,' Buskirk said.

He said he firmly believes there are multiple ways to teach, and more than one way to get a student to want to participate.

"Take Edison -- people said to him, ‘You've tried a thousand times to make electricity work and you've failed every time,' and Edison said, ‘No I haven't, I've learned a thousand ways not to do it, and eventually I'll find a way to do it,'" Buskirk said.

A similar philosophy can be found in Buskirk's approach to teaching -- keep trying until common ground is found to build a foundation on.

"It makes no difference to me how much a kid knows about music or how much English he knows," he said. "I just wanna find out how much they know, so I can figure out if I need to speak to him/her or show him/her what I am trying to teach them."

Buskirk said he believes music is a universal way of communicating that doesn't necessarily require language to teach.

"It's creating art, and that's exciting for me," he said. "Usually we're only teaching one half of the brain, but with music two and two are not the only two numbers that equal four, I can say one and three make four."

"With music, there's as many answers to the same question as you can come up with, that's why it is so exciting, it makes people think," he added.

Buskirk said that by using multiple methods of teaching, he feels he is forcing students to use both sides of their brain and actually helping them to learn more and better.

Buskirk grew up in Escondido, Calif. and has taught music at Rim Country Middle School for 12 years. He lives on four acres of land with his wife, Deria Mason, and son, Kit, who attends Payson High School.

In the 23 years total he has been teaching, he has taught at three high schools, two junior high schools and three elementary schools.

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