Had anyone else walked into the Central Park International Magnet School auditorium on Friday, they might have thought they had stumbled onto the set of the unannounced sequel to the 2003 film “School of Rock.”
But for Rob Aronstein, seeing his eighth-grade students rock out to a parody of Steely Dan’s “Reelin’ in the Years” was nothing out of the ordinary — with the exception that they were performing in his honor.
The lyrics to “Teacher of the Year,” written by fellow music teacher Tracy Helf Gelston, paid tribute to everything from Aronstein’s handle-bar mustache to his can-do attitude and were sung with charisma by eighth-graders Maria Beaton and Mary Liebers. The song was the highlight of a surprise celebration honoring Aronstein as Schenectady’s 2014 Teacher of the Year.
“That was great,” said Aronstein, who has taught vocal and general music to the school's sixth- through eighth-graders since 2003 and instrumental band to students in grades four through eight since 2008. “Actually, I would expect nothing less from those students.”
As he entered the room Friday, his students, after trying their best to keep quiet, burst into “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow” as Gelston conducted.
“I’m quite surprised, and shocked, and thank you very much,” he said to the students after accepting the award from Superintendent Laurence Spring. “It’s all because of you guys, right? That’s what it’s all for.”
Spring said Aronstein goes out of his way to make sure kids who want to participate in music have that opportunity, and exemplifies what parents want in a teacher for their kids.
“An excellent teacher is not always what the state is looking for in an excellent teacher,” Spring said. “What you want in a teacher is someone who really likes your kid. You want somebody who makes learning exciting and interesting, and that’s clearly what he does.”
After the ceremony, eighth-grader Lizzy Canavan left her seat behind the drum set and gave Aronstein a hug.
The 14-year-old said Aronstein was very supportive when she wanted to switch to drums in sixth grade after starting on the French horn in fourth grade.
“He’s taught me so much in music, and then he’s always let me come out and do performances with him, and it’s always been really special,” she said. “He’s the best teacher, hands down.”
Aronstein is a pianist, organist, vocalist, recording and sound engineer and producer, and has been performing in the Capital Region for 35 years. He also teaches music technology as an adjunct professor at The College of St. Rose.
Ten years ago, he started a guitar club after school. Each year, about twenty students not only learn to play but perform at an array of local events.
One of those students was Douglas Stefaniak III, who now majors in music performance with a concentration in guitar at The Crane School of Music in Potsdam.
“If there ever were a person who I could accredit to changing my life, it would be my middle school band teacher Mr. Robert Aronstein,” Stefaniak wrote in a nomination letter. “Mr. Aronstein provided me with an opportunity that would influence my life forever.”
Aronstein’s parents, Eleanor and Jesse Aronstein, were both on hand for the celebration.
“Proud doesn’t even touch it,” his mother, Eleanor, said. “We’re delighted for him because he works so hard.”