Tribute to a great teacher

By Observer editorial May 27, 2010 12:18 pm
Jim Howell says he doesn’t hear noise when a student might be practicing in the La Grande High School band room more than a little off key. He hears progress.

The LHS band director is retiring after 23 years on the job. Under Howell’s tutelage, the LHS band has placed in the top five at state in seven of the last 10 years. He led LHS to state titles in 2000 and 2006. But Howell is about much more than just winning state titles. He is about giving students a launching pad into a rich and rewarding life and achieving even more in the future.

Ask students. Other teachers. Parents. All will tell the same story. How Howell built confidence in the students, how he kept motivating them to do a little better. Then a little better yet. To overcome seemingly impossible obstacles. To persevere no matter the odds.

Howell is all about not just the momentary excitement of a state title but the follow through of a lifelong passion for music.

Howell’s enthusiasm for teaching has positively influenced countless students. His band room is a favorite student hangout. He puts the fun in music fundamentals. He deliberately cultivates an electric, welcoming atmosphere in the classroom so that students, whether high achievers or just hanging on, excel.

A modest man, Howell has won the Oregon Music Educators Association outstanding music educator award, and won a School Band and Orchestra Magazine 50 teachers who make a difference nationwide award.

But more important to Howell than awards is how he inspired all sorts of students, especially the Band Kids, to stay in school, to practice, to work hard because, as Howell says, “Talent means nothing without hard work.”

Howell inspired his students to achieve their best and to aspire toward goals that can only be reached through hard work and sacrifice. He has given many students a sense of worth and purpose in life.

While sports get the daily headlines, the band program is mostly overlooked. Howell made sure that the band hit high notes, though, not just at state competition but in everyday life.

The students brought ideas and optimism to the classroom. Howell matched that with his own enthusiasm, and they brought out the best in each other.

A community retirement party for Howell will run from 2 to 5 p.m. Sunday at the Blue Mountain Conference Center. All past students and current Howell students, as well as parents and others teachers, who were inspired by Howell may want to attend and send him out on a high note.