Dave Grohl is raising his hand for teachers. In a new audio episode of his “Dave’s True Stories” series, which debuted on Wednesday (July 22), he offers a nearly 9-minute homage to educators entitled “In Defense of Our Teachers.”
The love note to the teachers — like his mom, Virginia, who taught in public schools in their Ohio hometown for three decades — is the spoken-word version of an essay Grohl penned for The Atlantic on Tuesday. The piece is about his checkered experience in classrooms and the importance of keeping our teachers safe as schools across the country contemplate returning to live instruction next month in the shadow of the raging coronavirus pandemic.
“I hate to break it to you, but I was a terrible student,” Grohl admits at the outset. “Each day, I desperately waited for the final bell to ring so that I could be released from the confines of my stuffy, windowless classroom and run home to my guitar. It was no fault of the Fairfax County Public Schools system, mind you; it did the best it could. I was just stubbornly disengaged, impeded by a raging case of ADD and an insatiable desire to play music. Far from being a model student, I tried my best to maintain focus, but eventually left school halfway through 11th grade to follow my dreams of becoming a professional touring musician. (Not advised.)”
As he laments all the missed opportunities left behind after bailing on school, Grohl describes his recurring nightmares of being back in a crowded school hallways as a 51-year-old man, and the irony of a drop-out being concerned about the heated national debate over whether it is safe to re-open schools. Education Week reported that at least one-third of teachers are at high risk for developing severe illness from COVID-19 because about 29 percent of teachers are 50 or older, and that teachers’ workplaces already rank among the “germiest.”
“My mother was a public-school teacher. As a single mother of two, she tirelessly devoted her life to the service of others, both at home and at work,” Grohl says, recalling how she rose before dawn to make sure he and his sister were ready to go, and graded papers long into the night, with hardly any me-time as she worked multiple jobs to augment her meager teacher’s salary. As dedicated to teaching and mentoring as her son is to rocking your face off, Grohl says his mom was one of those teachers students remember long after they graduate.
“Often bumping into her at the grocery store and erupting into a full recitation of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, like a flash mob in the produce aisle,” he says. “I can’t tell you how many of her former students I’ve met over the years who offer anecdotes from my mother’s classroom. Every kid should be so lucky to have that favorite teacher, the one who changes your life for the better. She helped generations of children learn how to learn, and, like most other teachers, exhibited a selfless concern for others. Though I was never her student, she will forever be my favorite teacher.”
Grohl knows the dedication it takes to tackle that “often-thankless” job — pointing to the other rock-star teacher moms who raised Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine, Adam Levine, Josh Groban, and Haim — and how those educators are now literally facing a life or death choice.
Just like every teacher has a lesson plan, Grohl says they deserve the same from a government asking them to go back into an uncertain situation. “America’s teachers are caught in a trap, set by indecisive and conflicting sectors of failed leadership that have never been in their position and can’t possibly relate to the unique challenges they face,” he says. “I wouldn’t trust the U.S. secretary of percussion to tell me how to play ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ if they had never sat behind a drum set, so why should any teacher trust Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to tell them how to teach, without her ever having sat at the head of a class? (Maybe she should switch to the drums.)”
“Teachers want to teach, not die, and we should support and protect them like the national treasures that they are,” he says. “For without them, where would we be? May we show these tireless altruists a little altruism in return. I would for my favorite teacher. Wouldn’t you?”
Listen to the essay below.