The Passion for Music and Students

Robert+Olson+conducting+the+choirs+during+rehearsal.

Taylor Sears

Robert Olson conducting the choirs during rehearsal.

Taylor Sears, Staff Writer

When the final bell rings signaling a class’s start, a small sigh usually comes out of most of the students in the classroom. One classroom in particular it is not like that at all. Smiles spread across students’ faces as Round Lake High School teacher Robert Olson comes into the choir room brightly telling everyone,“Happy Monday!” A small discussion about the weekend usually breaks out, and as one student wraps up a story, Olson gets the class back on track. The students join together to sing the songs they have been working on and no one feels compelled to look at the clock.  The bell rings and Olson finishes the class by saying, “Good job today!” All the students leave, feeling proud of the progress they have made.

Only two years into being a choir teacher at Round Lake, Robert Olson has proved himself to be trustworthy, open-minded and different from other teachers in the building. His passion for music and for teaching clearly shows in the classroom and in his interactions with his students. For many students, Olson’s class is a 45-minute escape from the real world, one where they get to hear positive affirmations and entertaining stories with a patient teacher who is ready and willing to listen. Olson said, “I like knowing that students are comfortable with me and that choir is a safe place.” Olson understands how students work, and he uses this understanding to put together a curriculum that keeps his students excited to sing, learn about music, and participate in school activities.

Since the beginning, Olson always knew he wanted to be in the music field. He got his start at Augustana College in Rock Island, Ill. to get his major in music. Once out of college, he got his first job as an elementary school choir teacher and moved to Seattle for four years with his wife. After those four years, they wanted to move back closer to family, which led him to RLHS.

The first thing many people notice about Olson is the positive, friendly vibe he gives off to the students, parents and other teachers. “The reason why I believe being positive is so important is because if I can’t be positive, my class won’t be,” Olson said. He believes that if he isn’t at working at his full potential, then his students won’t be, either. “What motivates me to be the best I can be is the pressure to have a good performance at the concerts, but also having a good music experience for the students,” he said. “Am I having them be their best is a question I ask myself.”

Olson is always using storytelling as a way to connect to his students. At the beginning of class, it is very typical of him to tell a story about the old classes he used to teach or even his experiences in high school choir in order to relate to all the students. Senior Christina Sanderson says, “My favorite story Mr. Olson has told us [was] about playing dodgeball with a class of kindergartners that did not turn out too well. Makes me laugh every time.” As he shares his personal experiences with the class, it makes the class feel more comfortable to share their stories and experiences as well.

“He doesn’t make it hard to be comfortable with him because he is very open about his personal stories and his own life,” Senior Emilia Salgado said about his teaching style. “It makes it easier to talk to him about mine. He just gives off a friendly non-judgmental feel.”

Once work life gets too stressful, Olson is the one to vent to a close friend or even another teacher. “When work is stressful, venting to Mr. West is usually what I do or just having others to talk to,” Olson said. “If I get stressed or knowing that the class seems to be upset, I plan better to make class a better place for all.” By creating a more upbeat class, the students find their moods changing for the better, as does Olson’s. Along with stress from work life, he usually checks with his wife to make sure he is doing everything right as a husband and not leaving her behind. “I try to keep my calendar full of important dates so I don’t forget anything,” he said.

Now that the fine arts wing is in the middle of the school rather than being the outskirts of the school, Olson  believes that it is possible for more students to be interested in joining choir. “Just from the traffic flow alone in the halls we have received about 15 to 17 students wanting and/or questioning to join choir next semester,” he said. The exposure might help the fine arts department grow in size, which will be a  big step up for RLHS students.

By maintaining a positive attitude and not stressing himself out, Olson shows how passionate he is about his job. “Music is less of a hobby for me,” he said. “Watching football and baseball are my favorite things to do on my free time, but music is a passion of mine, I love the people I work with and I really enjoy my job here at Round Lake.”