Lee's Summit R-7 School District

In My Words – Mr. Jazz Rucker (Our Schools Magazine: November 2020)

Mr. Rucker, music teacher at Richardson Elementary, is starting his third year in the Lee’s Summit R-7 School District and his 10th year in education.

I grew up singing in church and school. My sophomore year of high school, I auditioned for a national honors choir. I was fortunate enough to be selected for that honor. When I got there, the guest conductor for the honors group was a Black man. It’s the first time that I’d ever seen a Black male conduct choir that wasn’t a gospel choir at a church. That was kind of an awakening for me, “Wow, this is something that I can turn into a career.”

[On creating a back-to-school music video, lsr7.org/JazzRucker] The inspiration came from our Assistant Principal Katie Whaley. She showed me a clip of some teachers doing a welcome-back video with all the different kinds of COVID-19 measures in place, the extra sanitizing and handwashing. They produced a poster in our halls, “Mask up. Back up. Wash up.” It’s all about keeping us safe. I wanted to merge her inspiration and the poster together so I took that sentiment “We want to welcome you. Here’s what keeps us safe,” and added the musical elements.

What I see that I’m able to do teaching virtually is to connect with students in a more individualized fashion than I have ever had the opportunity before. When students are turning in work, typically that would sound like a whole group of people singing or playing instruments, but now it’s just that specific student’s voice or thoughts I’m hearing. I think I’m really able to connect more with students, as ironic as it may seem, in this virtual format, which makes me even more excited that once students are able to return to the building to already have the ground footing of the relationship built in that way.

I can have an off-the-wall personality and be goofy and funny and be fun and bring students to the content, but I’d rather have the musicmaking be the fun part. If I can get to the point where students are chomping at the bit to get in this room because we make music, then that to me is ultimate success.

What I want people to know about me is my belief that all people are fully capable, fully valued and fully human. That’s what drives me every single day. If I’m having the worst day with the toughest of students, I remember — fully capable, fully valued, fully human.