HARRISONBURG, Va. — After earning a degree in songwriting from Berklee College of Music in Boston in 2006, Harrisonburg native John Hostetter moved to Tucson, Ariz. He spent two years playing guitar in a bluegrass band, then joined a rock band called Harlem, moved to Austin, Texas, and started to get recognized nationally.
“I lived [in Austin] for a summer, and a bunch of things happened all at once,” Hostetter said.
“Harlem got signed to a record label. And right as soon as that happened I decided that the rock-and-roll lifestyle was not for me. . . . We went all over the United States playing shows, and I said, ‘This is not the kind of lifestyle that I can live.’ ”
Hostetter returned to his hometown and approached Cathy Smeltzer Erb, chair of the undergraduate teacher education program at Eastern Mennonite University, about gaining a degree in English education.
“When he first explored the option of pursuing the program, he didn’t have either English or education as his major. So he was kind of starting over, after already having the undergrad degree,” she said.
This spring, Hostetter was honored as one of five Teachers of the Year for Staunton City Schools. His peers selected him to represent Shelburne Middle School, where he is a sixth-grade language arts teacher.
“I’ve been playing music since middle school,” Hostetter said. “When I graduated high school, I think I knew in the back of my mind that I would be a teacher eventually, but Berklee was kind of my way to prevent that from happening right away, because music was my first love.”
Raised in a Mennonite family and educated at Eastern Mennonite School, Hostetter developed early on a sense of social responsibility that influenced his decision to become a teacher.
“I want [my students] to develop a love for reading and a love for learning and discovery,” said Hostetter, who occasionally uses his vintage ’73 Epiphone electric guitar to incorporate music into a lesson. “When I meet a student at the beginning of the year who doesn’t necessarily like reading, or isn’t very excited about language arts, if I can foster some kind of change in that disposition, I think that’s incredibly rewarding.”
Hostetter hasn’t abandoned music. He has a home recording studio and plays guitar in a local band, Elephant Child.
“I’ve got my guitar in the classroom, and they think that’s the coolest thing in the world,” he said.