Shaping Wood, Understanding Sound And An Eye For Style
The NPR Ed team is discovering what teachers do when they're not teaching. Artist? Carpenter? Quidditch player? Explore our Secret Lives of Teachers series.
Name: Mike Lindstrom
School: Kyffin Elementary School
City, State: Golden, Colo.
Subject: General Ed
Tell us about your secret life.
I build guitars. When I'm not at school, I spend my time down in the basement making handmade guitars. I mostly make acoustic steel string and classical guitars but have also made ukuleles and some electric guitars. Several years ago, I took some classes at Red Rocks Community College and made my first guitars. Since then, I've been working at home developing my skills, supported by the extraordinarily generous online community of guitar builders. Most of the instruments I have built have been gifts or donations. I'm not opposed to selling them, but I worry about turning it into work and no longer enjoying it.
Which came first? Teaching or making guitars?
I was a teacher for several years before I began making guitars, or woodworking of any sort. I had a mediocre junior high shop class that convinced me I was just not cut out for that sort of thing. As an adult, I always wanted to build things, to create. When I first moved into my home, I bought a saw at the neighbor's garage sale and began woodworking. One thing I love about making guitars is that each project has an endpoint. You can be finished. Teaching is a never-ending process. You never have a finished product. Everything I do is one step on a long journey my students are on. It is so satisfying to put the first strings on a guitar and listening to its voice as they come up to tension. As a teacher, I find it is helpful to keep learning new things. This summer I took a class in making rocking chairs. On the first day of class I had no idea what to do. That nervousness and fear is disconcerting, but it can also be exciting. It helps to be reminded of how that feels, because every day I have kids who are feeling the same way. I need to remember that my kids are also stressed and confused, and how to move them into the excitement of learning. That's another good thing about making guitars. A guitar is such a complex system, I'm always learning and I can't imagine I'll ever get it all figured out.
Do you incorporate your secret life into your teaching? How?
I used to bring in guitars in progress every three or four weeks. The specifics of guitar building are not part of the third-grade curriculum, but parts of it fit. It helps kids to see the progress of a long-term project — I tell them my struggles and my attempts to fix the problems I create. I think it also highlights attention to detail and quality. The class is under so much pressure and my kids are asked to learn so much, so I'm only bringing in the guitars once a year. I haven't been told not to do it, but we're scrambling to get the things done that we have to, so there isn't much time for anything extra that isn't on the test.
Why do you teach?
I teach for a lot of reasons. I like teaching. I like figuring out new ways to think about and explain ideas so someone can understand them. I worry our democracy cannot function without well-educated voters. I love listening to a child describe their excitement when they learn something new and it suddenly clicks and makes sense to them. For most of my career, I have always [woken up] and looked forward to going to work, and I don't know many people who can say that.
Tell us about the Secret Lives of Teachers — maybe your own or a teacher you know. Or post your own Secret Life on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram at #secretteachers. We're on Twitter at @npr_ed. Our Facebook page is here or you can drop us an email at NPREd@npr.org.
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