Be The Change – Tom Burkett, Redding

Photos: Firefly Mobile Studios,

Some people seem so clearly made for the work they do that being around them is an inspiration. Redding music teacher Tom Burkett is one of those people. “I love kids, teaching and music. They go together naturally,” he says. “I’m able to share through my music a love of life and a joyful way of approaching the challenges we all face.”

Burkett has been sharing music with students at Redding School of the Arts (RSA) since the school opened its doors in 1999. In the process, he has acquired a sizable fan club of both students and parents.

“He has a sense of energy and excitement about him that really shines through to the kids. He reaches all age levels with his humor,” says RSA mom Wendy Henry, noting that Burkett’s talents include getting parents excited and on board.

Henry recalls the first student concert she attended that was led by Burkett: “It’s amazing to me what he can do with kids in four months. He has such respect for his students, and it shows. They show him respect in return. He gets such beautiful music out of them that I swear you’ll want to buy the album! It’s that good.”

Henry’s daughter Cassie says, “He always tells you to not feel discouraged, and to keep your thoughts positive. He helps you when you feel down, and makes you laugh. He’s very funny. He gets so excited over the music and teaching us, it makes me want to learn the songs.”

While Burkett says that music has been a lifetime interest, he didn’t start out by studying or teaching music. Instead, he majored in elementary education. “When it came to a career choice,” he explains, “I first thought that I would continue my music as a hobby and extra interest. Throughout my teaching years, the presence of music brought extra joy to my classrooms. By the time I was offered a full-time job teaching music at RSA, I realized how much of a passion music had become for me, and how much better I would be teaching the subject that I loved the most.”

Parents like Jula Herzog agree that Burkett’s passion is paying off. “As a parent, I’m very grateful to him for helping my kids feel confident and capable of making music,” she says. She credits Burkett with helping her children notice the components of music pieces, such as lyrics and the use of different instruments and harmonies. She herself has been inspired to have more fun exploring musical scales and instruments with the preschool children she teaches.

Now in her fourth year of working with Burkett, Herzog’s daughter Shanti says, “He’s taught us to appreciate music as an art, not just as a pretty noise, and to listen for all the parts in music. When we are working on a piece, he lets us decide how to put together a musical number. We learn to feel good about ourselves as musicians, and that we are talented.”

During his 13 years at RSA, Burkett has also taught stagecraft, set preparation, puppetry, video/movie making and physical education, and he seems to have enjoyed it all. “As educators we have the unique privilege of seeing the lives of our students transform before our eyes as they grow into confident and accomplished young people.” He notes that the annual RSA spring musical is one of the most exciting times of the year. “The students learn so much about presentation, musical theater, team work and the importance of every last person.”

“Mr. Burkett is one of those teachers who is so smart and talented, but he can relate to us as kids,” explains seventh grade student Micayla. Her mother adds, “It is fabulous to watch him weave his magic. His smile, enthusiasm and excitement for music is contagious.”

Outside of work, Burkett says he loves to read, hike, surf, ski, fish, create videos and spend time with his family, as well as attend concerts, plays and musicals.

Tom Burkett’s belief in the importance of the gift of music for everyone is clear: “The universal message of music is that we belong, we each have a part, and that life, with all its troubles, is still a song worth singing.”

[sws_blue_box box_size=”580″]Our Be the Change column mission is to feature those, especially from the North State, who are actively making a difference in the lives of children and families. If you would like to nominate someone who is making a difference, please write to [/sws_blue_box]

Pamela Llano
About Pamela Llano

Pamela Jorrick is a northern California writer and homeschooling parent.

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