‘Not home­less. Just a high school teacher.’ West Ada ed­u­ca­tor plays mu­sic for tips to get by

The Idaho Statesman (Sunday) - - EXPLORE - BY KATHER­INE JONES [email protected]­hostates­man.com

Gui­tar case slung over his shoul­der, Tan­ner Faris coasts up the side­walk on his bike. Ey­ing his spot in the busy Sat­ur­day mar­ket, he sets up a mu­sic stand and, with prac­ticed ease, tapes his cor­ru­gated card­board signs against the wind.

Be­cause it’s the signs that stop peo­ple.

“My wife said to me: You’re not go­ing to make any money if you’re just an­other guy with a gui­tar,” Faris says.

The neatly hand-let­tered posters say: “Not home­less. Just a high school teacher.” The signs are the hook; he hopes the mu­sic will keep peo­ple lin­ger­ing — and his gui­tar case is open right be­side, an in­vi­ta­tion for spare change and dol­lar bills.

Faris, 25, is a math teacher in Cen­ten­nial High School’s English as a New Lan­guage de­part­ment. He helps refugee kids, ages 14 to 20 years old, learn math — and English — through im­mer­sion in read­ing, writ­ing, speak­ing and lis­ten­ing.

He and his wife are ac­tu­ally in bet­ter shape fi­nan­cially than they have ever been. But Faris is a brand new teacher, and his salary is at the bot­tom of the pay grade. He isn’t cyn­i­cal about his salary, be­cause he loves what he does, but play­ing for tips cer­tainly helps the bud­get.

“(Busk­ing) has be­come an awe­some source of ex­tra in­come for me. But my heart re­ally is with the kids. I wouldn’t be (busk­ing) if it wasn’t for them,” he says.


Just mar­ried and freshly grad­u­ated from the Uni­ver­sity of Ore­gon, Faris and his wife, MJ, a Boise State Uni­ver­sity stu­dent, set­tled in Boise in 2017 to

start their life to­gether.

Faris got a job as a para­pro­fes­sional in the English as a New Lan­guage pro­gram at Lewis and Clark Mid­dle School, and filled out his work­day in a pizza shop, bring­ing home about $600 a month from each job, work­ing from morn­ing till night.

“We were feel­ing the crunch,” he said. “That’s when we re­ally were watch­ing ev­ery penny.” When they bud­geted fru­gally, they even had money to put into sav­ings and tithe 10 per­cent to their church.

“We were find­ing a way to make that work,” he says.

But part of “mak­ing that work” meant a sum­mer job — and Faris wasn’t ex­cited about work­ing in the pizza shop (in part be­cause he also wanted to do some lon­g­long-dis­tance bike rides, like from his doorstep to Banff Na­tional Park in Canada).

“I thought, well, shoot, I can play the gui­tar,” he says. “I wasn’t sure how suc­cess­ful I was go­ing to be just be­cause it’s a dime-a-dozen guys strum­ming gui­tars on the side­walk.”

He de­cided to give it a shot.

The first time out, he picked what turned out to be a fairly ob­scure place and made just $30 or $40 dol­lars. “But I thought, ‘Wow. I could have sat at home and played gui­tar for two hours and made no money. That’s when I was like: This is a thing. I have to go again.”

He made his sign to stand out, and it was in­stantly suc­cess­ful.

“I was re­ally im­pressed by how gen­er­ous ev­ery­one was and how many grate­ful peo­ple I met who would say, ‘Hey, thanks for be­ing a teacher,’” he says. “Or fel­low teach­ers who would say, ‘We know ex­actly how it is.’ ”

He goes out week­ends and First Thurs­days, and spe­cial oc­ca­sions like the Spirit of Boise’s hot air bal­loon event Nite Glow.

“It’s just been so good to me, and it re­ally did turn a le­git­i­mate sum­mer job,” he says. In fact, in Au­gust, he made more on the street than he did teach­ing as a para­pro­fes­sional.

But teach­ing is his call­ing. Faris be­came a full­time teacher last Jan­uary.

That qual­i­fied him and his wife for health in­sur­ance, so the state’s health in­sur­ance ex­change dropped MJ’S cov­er­age. How­ever, her health in­sur­ance through the school dis­trict cost $600 a month — far, far more than the ex­change.

They’ve solved that in­sur­ance wrin­kle, but for a while, Faris’ busk­ing paid for his wife’s health in­sur­ance.

“That made the side hus­tle even more nec­es­sary,” he says.

And they’re just start­ing their life to­gether: They want a fam­ily; they want to buy a house. They’re con­tribut­ing to­ward a re­tire­ment fund; they’ll need to pay MJ’S tu­ition and school loans. And they want to sup­port their church.

“We joke all the time that we’re poor, but it’s all rel­a­tive,” he says. “We’re mak­ing un­der $40,000 a year be­tween the two of us, but look at it — we’re do­ing fine. Couldn’t be hap­pier right now.

(We’re) just pre­par­ing for what comes next.”

He jokes that his mother stills jabs him ev­ery now and again. “She’s like, yeah, you should have been a doc­tor.” But Faris laughs. “I’m like, oh, you know, I didn’t re­ally en­joy chem­istry.”

He laughs again. “I am where I love to be. And we’ll see where it goes.”


Faris went on a twoyear mis­sion for The Church of Je­sus Christ of Lat­ter-day Saints in 2014, which was piv­otal in his life. He served in Mcallen, Texas, be­came flu­ent in Span­ish and de­vel­oped a real love for lan­guages.

“The peo­ple down there, I con­sider them fam­ily,” he says. “They took us in just like we were. Af­ter see­ing that and how com­fort­able I felt, I re­al­ized how im­por­tant lan­guage was to es­tab­lish­ing that con­nec­tion to a cul­ture.”

When he be­gan work­ing in the West Ada School Dis­trict, that feel­ing was ce­mented. He prefers the idea of a “mixed salad” to that of a “melt­ing pot,” and en­cour­ages the par­ents of his stu­dents to pre­serve their cul­ture along with their lan­guage.

“That’s why I want to learn Swahili. I want to pick up Ara­bic even­tu­ally,” he says.

“I feel like it’s a way I can meet (my stu­dents) half­way. I’m ask­ing them to do some­thing re­ally hard, and I’m try­ing to do the same and show that I’m in it as much as I’d like them to be.”

He wants to be more than a teacher; he wants to be their ad­vo­cate.

“I want to speak for them and with them,” he says.


Cen­ten­nial High School is a mag­net school for stu­dents learn­ing English. The pro­gram is unique in that stu­dents learn English as well as sub­ject mat­ter — like math, so­cial stud­ies, speech — at the same time. It’s called “shel­tered English in­struc­tion.”

Faris says the les­son plans be­tween all the pro­gram teach­ers are care­fully struc­tured to in­clude read­ing, writ­ing, speak­ing and lis­ten­ing. Stu­dents are tested sev­eral times a year on a scale of one to five, and at a “2,” stu­dents can join gen­eral ed­u­ca­tion classes.

Some stu­dents come into the pro­gram with lit­tle to no math, his­tory or any ed­u­ca­tional back­ground. Other kids come speak­ing four or five lan­guages al­ready, which is why the pro­gram is no longer called “English as a se­cond lan­guage.”

“They’re su­per-tal­ented kids,” Faris says. “We want to get them (speak­ing) English, and we want to cre­ate a re­ally safe en­vi­ron­ment for that to hap­pen.”

He’s ex­cited about new ways of teach­ing that en­cour­age stu­dents to in­ter­act with teach­ers — and with each other — to prac­tice their lan­guage skills. In­stead of, for in­stance, the lec­tures he re­ceived as a stu­dent.

“We, as the ris­ing gen­er­a­tion, are go­ing to change the way that ed­u­ca­tion is typ­i­cally thought of.”

PHO­TOS BY KATHER­INE JONES [email protected]­hostates­man.com

“I love to sing and play and per­form in front of peo­ple,” says Tan­ner Faris, a first-year high school teacher who re­ally loves his job. “The sign has been good to me.” Play­ing for tips at Sat­ur­day mar­kets has helped sup­ple­ment his fam­ily bud­get.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.