Peter Markes, Edmond North High School’s orchestra teacher, was named Edmond Public Schools Teacher of the Year. He was chosen from a field of 24 teachers selected by their faculty to represent each of their schools.
The announcement was made at the Celebration of Excellence April 9 at Santa Fe High School sponsored by the Edmond Public Schools Foundation Inc.
Markes was unable to attend the celebration because he currently is performing with a U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs-sponsored 35-day world tour with the American Voices’ American Music Abroad 2013 program. He is performing with Horseshoe Road, a trio composed of Markes, the University of Central Oklahoma Ambassador in Residence Kyle Dillingham and Brent Saulsbury.
Markes said the greatest influence toward his becoming a teacher was, of all people, another teacher.
“Half my lifetime ago in a classroom in Waukomis, I sat at my science lab table knowing I would be called on for an answer,” Markes said. “Our teacher expected each student to be prepared with a response to his discussion. ‘Think an answer,’” he would prod. “’Put down your hands and think an answer,’ so that’s what we did, all of us. We all had an answer. Speaking for only myself, but likely many, it wasn’t always the correct answer, but it was an answer. I was thinking. That was all he asked.”
Markes said perhaps this teacher made such an impact because, like many master teachers, he taught so many different classes.
“I had him for sixth-grade physical science, 10th-grade biology, 11th-grade anatomy and physiology, and 12th-grade Teacher Cadet. Regardless of the class, the drill was always the same: ‘Think.’ His lessons were more like conversations than boring, pedantic note-taking sessions. He talked to us; We talked to him; We all talked with each other. Then, we wrote, ‘My Seven Intelligences,’ or my favorite, ‘A Day in the Life of a Hamburger.’
“We wrote, he read our essays, and then we talked some more. We thought together. Sometimes I felt like the thinking would ever end, and often it didn’t, because every day after school, it was this same teacher, my dad, driving me home.”
Markes said throughout high school he was keenly interested in both math and music. Math came easily, but for him music was more inviting.
“After my first couple of ‘gigs’ on violin and guitar, I realized it might be my livelihood as well,” Markes said. “My experience with the high school Teacher Cadet program led me to a student-teaching type practicum, and l was fortunate to be placed with my junior high math teacher and Mathcounts coach, Mr. Hart. Through this experience l realized the thrill of teaching, albeit the hard work. Eventually, it made logical sense to teach music, and it was the most natural way to keep this part of my life alive.”
Markes said corning from a family of educators, he never really considered anything else. “I knew I could always achieve gratification through performing, but the real reward was in teaching others what I knew. Since then, I have enjoyed a professional career that has been continually uplifting with regard to satisfaction, opportunities and growth.”
Markes quoted Japanese educator and founder of the Talent Education School, Dr. Shinichi Suzuki, who said: “Teaching music is not my main purpose. I want to make good citizens. If children hear fine music from the day of their birth and learn to play it, they develop sensitivity, discipline and endurance. They get a beautiful heart.”
Markes said one of his greatest pleasures in his profession is mirrored by his students’ ease of ability and loving willingness to share their music with others. This was affirmed at a recent concert featuring the Edmond North Symphony Orchestra at The Midwest Clinic, an accomplishment that equates to playing in the Super Bowl for a high school band or orchestra program.
“Following their highly polished performance, the first guest to approach me with his congratulations was Brian Balmages, one of the composers of a piece we performed. The first words he spoke were, ‘Congratulations, l have never seen a group of high school students play with such enjoyment. I could see that they love to play.’
“I could hear no greater praise. What is most affirming about these unforgettable words is that a respected colleague was able to witness this intangible foundation of my teaching. He was able to see my students’ heart. The language of music rhythms, notes, dynamics and the myriad of other string techniques are all just vehicles toward helping students develop beautiful hearts.”
Markes said when his students graduate, they will become spouses, co-workers, civic and corporate leaders, teachers and most importantly, parents. To do these things well, they must be kind, loving, patient and gentle. “I believe one of my greatest contributions to my profession is drawing more students to this possibility through their opportunity in music,” he said.
Since Markes began working 11 years ago, the number of students involved in the North’s orchestra has more than doubled.
“Through engaging, energetic lessons and interesting, rewarding travel and performance experiences, students are learning to share their gifts; they are developing beautiful hearts,” Markes said.
“When asked what l do, l often think l am so clever to say, ‘l teach kids.’ Of course, the answer they want to know ís what subject I teach. I teach beauty, sensitivity, passion and poise. I teach orchestra.”
Markes will compete for the state’s teacher of the year honor later this year.
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