For Colorado’s 2023 teacher of the year, music education goes far beyond just playing an instrument.
Jimmy Day II, music teacher and band director at East Middle School in Aurora, says his approach to directing band involves discipline — including structure around how his 6th, 7th and 8th grade students come into the classroom and get settled for class.
“Without discipline, there’s no learning.,” said Day, in an interview on CPR News’ “Colorado Matters” program.
Day’s recognition comes from the Colorado Department of Education. Each year, they choose one K-12 teacher that is “exceptionally dedicated, knowledgeable and skilled.” Day was one of seven finalists for the 2023 honor, and he is now also Colorado’s nominee for the National Teacher of the Year competition.
The recognition also comes with professional development opportunities, an invite to a special ceremony with other teachers across the country at The White House and an opportunity to attend NASA’s Space Camp.
East Middle School Interim Principal Jacquelyn Brown said in a district statement that Day stands out because of his drive “to teach music to all students even if they are not initially inclined towards learning an instrument.”
“He knows students need to have something they can be passionate about in their education,” Brown added.
Day’s students have been commending their teacher’s award, too.
“It’s actually an honor since I’ve never had a teacher of the year be my teacher,” eighth-grade saxophonist Abimael Reyes said. “He can be strict about it sometimes, but I know he’s just pushing us to do our best, and for that I thank him.”
“Being a student with Mr. Day is an honor,” eighth-grade clarinetist Tanya Lopez said. “He really helps us grow mentally, and with music he’s taught me a lot of skills and knows that I probably wouldn’t be able to figure it out on my own.”
That guidance from a teacher is something Day himself has personal experience with.
Day had first heard a marching band outside his childhood home in 1980s Detroit.
“They were marching, just had the whole street rumbling, and it hooked me,” Day recounts. “I was like, ‘I got to do this. I don’t know how I got to get into this, but I got to do this.’”
He soon found the opportunity when he was asked to be in the band. He was only in sixth grade. Because his school was across town, his teacher would take him home after band practice.
“She saw me as a good investment in her program, so she invested in me,” Day said. “And I think that’s the same thing that I see when I’m in those shoes too — helping my students.”
A graduate of Tennessee State University, Day began his college career initially as an architecture major. He soon found it wasn’t his forte, transitioning to a fashion merchandising major because he had always liked to draw gym shoe designs as a kid. Finally, in his third year, he became a music major — a choice he says his mom had predicted all along. Day also got his master’s in arts and teaching at Trevecca Nazarene University.
Day said he hopes the Teacher of the Year award will help put a spotlight on the importance of music education.
“It’s not just about us learning notes and learning an instrument — it is way deeper than that,” Day said. “It’s about learning life skills, learning how to work with each other and how to build a good work ethic.”
Now in his 14th year of teaching, five of which have been in Aurora, Day appreciates seeing his students grow from children to young adult musicians.
Eighth-grade clarinetist Malachi Kitchen said Day’s impact goes beyond the classroom and stage.
“It’s been an opportunity to grow and perform better not only in music but also in life,” Kitchen said. “He teaches you life skills. He teaches you discipline. He teaches you more of how to become an adult. He helps you transition into adulthood like not many other teachers do.”
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