As a band teacher, Jimmy Day II is passionate about cultivating a love of music in his students.
“My favorite thing is watching them start out not knowing anything about band or instrumental music,” Day said. “They don’t know the back end of their instrument from the front end and then they become budding musicians.”
This commitment to growth is part of what qualified him as a candidate for Colorado’s 2023 Teacher of the Year Award. But his journey in music education began much earlier. He dabbled in music education towards the end of his college career at Tennessee State University before receiving a music degree and time spent in local classrooms opened his eyes to his calling.
“I was fortunate enough to be able to do practicums with band directors who would allow me to work with students one-on-one and be very hands on,” Day said. “My interactions with the students sparked my love of teaching. That was when I realized that this was my purpose, this is what I need to be doing.”
To pursue a career in education, he needed a master’s degree, and for his Master of Arts in teaching he chose Trevecca. The experience was a positive one, shaped by interactive experiences with other students and professors who cared deeply about the subject matter and his success.
“I had good people in my cohort and my professors were great too. They challenged me,” Day said. “They taught me the basics and how to plan as well as the practical tools I was going to need when I stepped in the classroom.”
After graduating in 2008, he began teaching in Memphis and eventually Nashville. After his wife got a job offer in Colorado, they relocated and he took a position as a band teacher at East Middle School in the Aurora School District in 2017.
In 2022, he received a letter from the Colorado Department of Education letting him know he had been nominated for Teacher of the Year. What followed was an intense application process–one that Day almost didn’t complete.
“The funny part is that I almost gave up. I almost didn’t turn in my application because I had to get a signature from the superintendent and it was summertime,” Day said. “But my friend convinced me to try and go to the office and I was able to find him. Sometimes you get frustrated and want to give up, but I am so glad I didn’t.”
He didn’t learn of the results until October when his principal approached him, asking if his band could play at an award ceremony for the school. He was hesitant to participate.
“Originally I said ‘No, it's October, they’re still learning fundamentals.’ I hadn’t even thought about a performance yet,” Day said. “But I agreed and that Friday I had my students on stage getting ready to perform. Then I hear them announce my name as the Teacher of the Year. I was completely shocked. It was probably the best surprise I’ve ever gotten.”
The award has deeply impacted Day and his perspective on teaching. It has encouraged him and given him the drive to continue pushing through the difficulties to impact the lives of students.
“The award put some fire under me and it made me realize people see what I am doing even when teaching feels like a thankless job,” Day said. “We are tasked with taking these children, with all the baggage they bring with them, sometimes with unsupportive parents, and still getting results. It’s hard and people quit. So to get this award is inspiring. It makes me put a little more pressure on myself.”