Momentarily sitting down, band and orchestra teacher Renee Fidler exchanges violin for piano during another marathon day of teaching in her 39th year. (photo by Rodney Curtis/School Life Troy)
“I just lost it!”
When Renee Fidler walked off the stage after her last big evening concert with the kids earlier this week, the theater manager played Don’t Walk Away, Renee.
“I lost it. I cried all the way home,” explained the elementary band and orchestra teacher who is retiring after 39 years in the district. “Three of my most favorite bass players from 5th grade are now seniors at the high school. They came out with flowers and I just cried.”
Hired in 1978 to help grow a new string program while also teaching band, Fidler has taught at every elementary school in Troy, explained fellow teacher Matt Tignanelli. “She will be deeply missed!”
“I really didn’t think people noticed what I do. It really just surprised me. I went home feeling the love after the concert,” Fidler said.
People notice, the kids especially.
“I’m gonna miss how nice and kind she is,” said 5th-grader Christian Palushaj.
“She’s always funny; I love how she makes me laugh when I’m feeling down,” added 5th-grader Nate Carrier.
“I like all the bright clothes she wears,” explained 5th-grader Avery Pulford. “She’s really creative. I’m gonna miss her happy tone of voice!”
Why 39 years?
“I wanted to go 40 years, but I surprised them,” Fidler said. “I surprised myself too!”
Up north her parents had health issues. “When my mom got sick and my dad needed me, I think that was it,” she explained. “Working full time and trying to help my parents wasn’t going to work. So that’s what prompted me. Selfishly, I’d like to stay here. I’m not burned out; I’m not sick; I love my job; the kids keep me young. I’m just going to change roles and do something else.”
How are things different now than when she started out?
“Oh my goodness, the schedule’s crazier. The technology didn’t used to exist,” Fidler said. “It was a chalkboard when I started. It’s faster paced now, too, all the way around. But the kids don’t change; they’re still awesome.”
More kids chimed in.
“I think that she’s one of the best teachers I’ve ever had and I really love her,” said 5th-grader Mariam Mandwee. “I’m gonna miss how she always encourages us.”
“She’s very nice and helps me do songs I didn’t learn,” added 5th-grader Dawn Garza.
“She’s a good violinist and helps us out a lot,” said 5th-grader Tayef Mahmood.
Geoff Benes co-teaches with her. “The class sizes got so big, I couldn’t do it by myself,” said Fidler. “He has his own orchestras and I have my own. But on the big ones, we team teach.”
“We share nine of the twelve elementaries,” said Benes. “We met back in 1988. We became friends through that. I think she is very nurturing. She is fun; the kids have a great time with her. She brings that kind of motherly element to the whole thing. I’m gonna miss her — her quirkiness, her passion for teaching, for working with the kids. It’s such an amazing thing about her.”
It gets real busy.
“This is my fourth of five schools today,” Fidler explained. “We do five schools a day, except Wednesday. I do band and orchestra, shifting gears all the time. You gotta be on your toes, fast on your feet, organized. It’s a demanding schedule. I still feel young and energetic though.”
As if to illustrate the point, during class she bounces all around the Wass cafetorium, playing violin, playing piano, sitting, standing, helping out the students.
The kids were playing movie medleys from Transformers, Jaws and Iron Man. Maybe subconsciously — perhaps not — there were 70s favorites too, songs from Black Sabbath and Deep Purple, from back when she began her journey.
“She’s a sweet woman,” said Wass Elementary custodian LaQuana Dinkins, while helping Fidler with the chairs like she does every Wednesday and Friday. “The kids keep her going; she’s very encouraging. She’s always working, very dedicated and loves the students here.”
The students do seem to love her.
“If you’re stuck on something, she helps you get the little parts, the really confusing parts of the song,” explained 5th-grader Noah Desmond. “She’s helped me out a lot with strings and how to play songs.”
“I’m gonna miss how she teaches us about the violin and other instruments,” said 5th-grader Krish Desai.
“Renee truly loves teaching kids. She comes to life,” offered Wass Elementary principal Matt Jansen. “She’s been doing this for 39 years but her passion is like it’s still year one. The kids love her. It’ll be a loss to our instrumental music team. But she leaves a positive legacy of loving kids and teaching them instrumental music. It takes a special person to do that for 39 years, especially at the elementary level!” he concluded.
As the cafetorium emptied out, Renee teared up again. “All I can say is the kids are my life and they’ve really made a difference. It’s been a wonderful 39-year run. I feel like I’m just a 10-year-old and I’ve never grown up. I just come and play every day.”
And then, with the energy and enthusiasm of 39 fifth-graders, she rushed off to her last school of the day and week.
No, Renee didn’t — in fact — walk away.