Playing her song: Music teacher bids farewell after 45-year journey

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The walls that were once covered with music notes and faces of composers were bare. Various trophies and accolades collected over the last four and a half decades were boxed. The dry erase board is how students would learn the notes Do, Re and Me, but at the end of this day it was permanently erased.

Betty J. Bush took one last look at her classroom before her last day of her career. Looking back over her empty classroom, tears began to fill her eyes.

“I think I’ll mostly miss the children,” Bush said days into her retirement. A few days before she was a music teacher, a title she held for 45 years.

She began her teaching tenure with Dallas ISD in 1970. After spending her first year out of college teaching in Las Vegas, Bush received the call she had been waiting for.

“In the middle of my first semester teaching,” Bush recalled. “I got a job offer from Dallas ISD, so I accepted.”

The year prior both Dallas and Houston school districts passed on her employment, she notes.

A daughter of Marshall, Texas, Bush graduated from the town’s only black high school. She later went on to receive her bachelor’s degree in music from Wiley College, a historically black college.

With a calm and soft voice, Bush recounts the bulk of her years were spent as a middle school music teacher.

“Middle school was my favorite age level. It’s an age when they can do more with holding their pitch and their voices are developing,” Bush said.

Her love of music began at an early age. Bush’s earliest memories of tapping her fingers against the ivory keys of the piano were played while on top of her dresser. Her parents took notice, and by six-years-old she received her first upright piano.

From there, she received music lessons and perfected her craft as a pianist at her church by accompanying the junior choir at Mt. Zion Spiritual Church in Marshall.

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With Dallas ISD, she began teaching at John B. Hood Middle School in the Pleasant Grove area, and eventually moving to the Kimball feeder pattern as the music teacher at T.W. Browne Middle School. She taught at Browne for 27 years.

Bush says over the years past students have sung her notes of high praise.

“Just this past weekend I ran into one of my former students who introduced me to he young son. He said to him, ‘Son this was my music teacher, and if I was acting up all she had to do was point at me and I would straighten up,” Bush said after softly chuckling.

Flattered by their remarks, she admits it was music to her ears.

While at T.W. Browne, where she spent the bulk of her teaching career, Bush became impressed with the raw talent of her students. Beginner musicians can pose a challenge to learning difficult content, but she taught quite a few advanced in their abilities. During ensembles, those students who had enough fundamental skills found themselves often performing solos, while Bush focused on directing the choir.

“I had an ensemble that traveled to various churches to play and my most outstanding students like Cassandra Miller and Joel McGuire were so skilled, I let them play on their own,” said Bush.

Students like the Dallas gospel-singing duo the Andrew Brothers were among the standouts she taught.

Her days leading songs and traveling around town with music hopefuls hit a low note when she was moved from her once thriving program at T.W. Browne to the primary level.

She spent a brief stint at D.A. Hulcy Middle School. As Hulcy’s enrollment numbers began to fall, Bush’s role was harder to justify. As a result, in 2008 she was moved to Bayles Elementary School in east Dallas.

The kids were younger. Their voices had not yet matured. There were no pianists with the skill she had seen like at T.W. Browne. There was no choir.

In spite of the abrupt move, Bush never lost sight of her passion for music.

“What kept me teaching so long were the students,” Bush said.

Inspired by what they would discover beyond the notes of a song, she believed they in turn would learn to sing and play for others just has she has done for the last 45 years.

With plans to return to the district as a substitute teacher, she has set plans for the coming days.

“Well, at least for the first 30 days all I plan to do is rest,” Bush said.

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