Metal-head educators want their students to learn how to change the world

by | May 2, 2024 | Pop/Life

photo from Indiana Capital Chronicle/Getty

When the news broke last year that heavy metal band, Judas Priest, was coming to town for an April concert I took charge and bought reserved seats up front. When I saw them first in 1984, metal bands didn’t even sell reserved seats, we had to fight for them. That was part of the fun. 

I don’t listen to metal much anymore, but I loudly have for the last month in prep for Sunday night’s show. I’ve been head bangin’ in the gym, making other old people nervous, and sporadically yelling out anthems from my youth that just sound wrong coming from the mouth of someone my age. 

Last week, the school year ended for me and my students. My classes are a lot of work, so there’s plenty to celebrate when we’re through. But I can feel myself missing them even before they’ve left campus for the summer. I’ll recover when “my” kids come back for the fall, and when Indiana University gives me a hundred more. I know I’ll love the newbies, before we’ve even met. 

My favorite high school teacher was Kreg Battles. He taught chemistry, a subject that has occasionally helped me on Jeopardy, and no place else. But I wasn’t really taking chemistry. I was taking Mr. Battles’ class, and he just happened to teach chemistry. He was a metal head, like my crowd was, and that made him one of us.

In 2010, he and I finally got to go to a concert together. That concert? Judas Priest. I asked him that night how he taught that awful subject all those years. Didn’t it get old? He laughed and said, “the students are new every year.”

Now as a new teacher myself, I can attest that the newness is not some little thing. It’s filled with wonder, optimism and excitement. And it’s contagious. 

Closing letters

I teach writing to business students. None of them came to college to take my class. They take it because the school requires it. At the end of each semester, I give them an assignment called “Closing Letters.” It’s an exercise on how to end projects with people while preserving the relationships. They write one to me, and one to each member on their case competition team. 

These letters are priceless.

All of them make me smile. Some make me laugh out loud. Others bring me to tears.

From Nathen:

“I still remember the first day…you didn’t say a word to the class just put your things down and stared across the room. To this day, I don’t think a new professor has made me feel so intimidated on the first day of classes.”

That’s hilarious to us, because we both now know I teach through dialogue, not bullying. 

Then there’s Angela, a true leader among her peers. She skipped class a couple of weeks ago on a beautiful day. In the required, pre-absence email to explain herself, she told a tale of how her doctor ordered her to address a Vitamin D deficiency by absorbing more sunshine. That’s great medical advice. Class dismissed. 

Angela ended her Closing Letter to me with this:

“I hope to stay in touch with you after this semester. Though once I get my study abroad recommendation letter from you, you are dead to me.” 

Of course, she’s my favorite writer of the semester. 

Protests and beyond

The protests about the strife in the Middle East were crowded at IU the past week. Dunn Meadow is a historic place for young people to demonstratively speak to the olds. The rules of assembly there have been in place since 1969, at the end of protesting’s favorite decade. They’ve kept people safe while serving as a beautiful platform for 55 years. There’s no need to change them.

I walked through the protests twice last week and couldn’t keep from smiling every moment I was there. The passion of our youth shines like gold. When they gather to share it, we should do our best to listen. 

April at IU has been memorable this year. But I imagine every April is. 

While banging my head to prepare for Sunday night’s concert, I came across an old favorite from Ozzy Osbourne, a 2024 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, believe it or not. In “Over the Mountain,” he sings:

“I heard them tell me that this land of dreams was now.

I told them I had ridden shooting stars and said I’d show them how.”

That’s what teaching young people on my college campus feels like to me. These special places aren’t as broken as some news reports try to indicate. They are, more accurately, where people can and should learn how to change the world. 

1 Comment

  1. Bill Bailey



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