Guitar playing English instructor strums during Trinidad State classes
Valley Campus / February 26, 2015
Discipline in a high school setting can be challenging, especially in the halls during breaks between classes where chaos can reign. In 1983 English instructor Dale Barron decided to try an experiment and has been at it ever since. He placed a stool in the high school hall, sat down with his guitar and began to strum. He watched the students as he began to sing. He noticed that it seemed to quiet them. “It had a calming effect, not only on them, but on me,” said Barron. “It seemed to relieve my stress level as well as theirs.” Some students recognized the songs because their parents listened to them. Some simply said, “Cool!” Sometimes a student would make a request or once in a while one would come by with a guitar and play along with him. “Playing not only soothed my soul, it seemed to do the same for some of the students as well,” said Barron.
Half-way through his 90 minute high school class periods, Barron allowed the students to choose one song that he would play - providing there were no discipline problems. “The minute the guitar was brought into the classroom,” said Barron, “my discipline problems were cut in half.”
Barron grew up with music. His mother as well as his two sisters played the piano. For six years he sang in the church choir, but it was not until he was an adult that he took up guitar. In the late 60s he enjoyed the rock bands that played at The Goal Post and The Nine Eye, two local bars in Alamosa at that time. One of the band members lived with him for a year and his friends would come over and jam. That was the catalyst that got him going. Besides, he said, “I couldn’t carry a piano around!” He learned from his friends and took a few lessons.
Barron has been teaching for 42 years. He first taught English to Vietnam and Cambodian Officers while in the Army. He then taught four years in Arizona and then came back to Alamosa where he taught at the High School until he retired five years ago. He has been a part-time instructor at Trinidad State since. This semester he’s teaching two composition classes, one speech class and a writing studio class that teaches the basics in writing skills.
Student Michele Gammill said Mr. Barron will use his guitar to demonstrate that it takes practice to be good at something. He will tackle a new song and perform it in class so the students can see that he makes mistakes, too. If you do make a mistake, you must finish anyway. Barron has approximately 30 songs in his repertoire. He said learning to play a guitar was not easy for him.
He will often play his guitar while the next student to present in class is getting ready. Loren Neale who is taking Public Speaking said he is very shy and public speaking is difficult for him. “The guitar playing kind of put us at ease from day one,” he said. Izzy Juarez said, “It gives me peace when I’m testing.”
When asked about her instructor’s guitar playing, another enthusiastic student yelled, “I love it!”
In his poetry class Barron will sing a song as he plays his guitar. The song helps students to focus their attention as they consider who the speaker is, what the occasion is, or what the purpose or theme is. During a recent class he played Jackson Brown’s ‘Ready or Not’ and asked the students to analyze it. “Poetry is difficult,” he said, “and singing a song while I play the guitar can help the students, first, to relax and then to think about what the words mean. It provides a good basis for discussion and helps me connect with them. Music is a language everyone can relate to,” said Barron.
Poetry student Stephanie Trujillo said, “It’s easier for me to understand the poetry when I hear it through music. It’s a break from bookwork and it creates a relaxed atmosphere.”
“The literary techniques make more sense to me when he’s playing his guitar and singing,” said Julio Maldonado while Samantha McClayland said, “I like it. It’s new and different and it makes me pay more attention to the lyrics.”
Samantha Shaw said when she was younger, the principal would come in once a week and play his guitar and sing. She liked it then and she likes it now. This is one of her favorite classes.
Rose Dominguez, said, “The songs he picks are not new age stuff. For me they have meaning. The music helps me understand what is presented in class.” She added with a smile, “I’m pregnant and my daughter moves when Mr. Barron is playing his guitar and singing.”
“I work really well with music. I like the guitar playing,” said Kaitlyn Stephens.
Ernest Abeyta said, “I’ve never had a teacher use music like this in class before, but I enjoy it. I’m a lot more relaxed.”
Enthusiastic about the 64 students he has this semester, Barron said, “These students want to learn and appreciate my help. I love what I do here,” he said about teaching at Trinidad State.