NORTH ADAMS — It's almost more graduation than retirement.
Robert Davis will step out of the classroom for a final time when the 2015-16 school year concludes this month at Charles H. McCann Technical School.
He's been an electrical program instructor at the school for 23 years, during which time he directed most of the school's musical projects and performances.
Davis also spent more than 20 years as president of the McCann Faculty Association. He's spent a lot of time at the school; Davis graduated from McCann in 1973.
"I love teaching and I'll miss everything," Davis said during a recent interview with The Eagle. "I love the kids. Our kids always come back and share their success stories. We have students who have come back to teach. We have a nice, nice bunch of teachers here, teachers who are dedicated to these kids. I will miss them."
Superintendent James Brosnan said Davis will be missed.
"Bob is the consummate instructor at McCann," he said. "He has a real passion for excellence. He's done a lot for the school and the kids and I cannot think of another educator who has given as much."
His 23 years at the school covers just some of his 45 years in the workforce. Davis was formerly employed at the city-based Tower Electric firm and also spent 20 years working at a General Electric facility in Pittsfield.
Retirement will not leave him bored, Davis said. While classroom doors are closing, time for music is opening.
"I will have plenty to do," he said. "I will be doing some traveling and performing."
Davis is of Lebanese descent and has an appreciation of Arabic music. He plays the oud, a pear-shaped 12-string fretless instrument similar to a lute, as well as the riq, which is similar to a tambourine. His musical abilities expand to include many other instruments including the violin, accordion, and drum.
This summer, he plans to attend the 20th annual Arabic Music Retreat at Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, he said. Davis said that he is a member of the Arab Music Retreat Orchestra, and expects to perform with the group during a November 2016 fundraiser at Carnegie Hall.
This year will mark Davis' 17th year of orchestra and retreat participation. The retreat begins Aug. 7 and is led by renowned Arab musician Simon Shaheen.
The retreat has drawn some of the world's most famous musicians, including cellist Yo-Yo Ma and Sting, Davis said, as well as Woodstock organizer Michael Lang.
Davis has played with numerous musical groups and has traveled to other countries as part of musical contingents. On one occasion, he traveled to Lebanon to perform at a wedding, he said.
"Arabic instruments are the 'mother instruments,' " Davis said, noting the link between an 81-string qanun and an 88-key piano.
His family celebrated music and as a youth, Davis learned to play instruments "by ear" as opposed to formal lessons. As a college student at the former North Adams State College, he did take two music classes where he did learn to read sheet music.
But "reading" music did not come as easily to Davis as "hearing" music, he said.
"If I can sing it, I can probably play it," he said. "When you are used to playing without reading sheet music, it can be easier to improvise. I notice when (the orchestra members) are playing they are all looking at the sheet music and I am looking up and out at the audience."
Davis said he enjoys learning new instruments and new arrangements as much as he enjoyed teaching new skills to students. Learning and teaching go hand in hand through all walks and eras of life, he said, and added that he does not believe standardized testing should stand as a lone measure of student capability or teacher competence.
"I will not miss all the paperwork, all evaluations," he said. "There's so much that you have to write now to show that (teachers) are doing a good job," Davis said. "We call it success when we feed information into the kids and they regurgitate it back out onto these standardized or high-stakes tests. It fills kids with anxiety and I don't think the testing makes our kids any smarter."
"They need to get out into the world," he said. "They need real knowledge."
Delivering a quality education and perfecting a piece of music are not such different tasks, he said, noting that both require genuine interest, commitment, persistence and pleasure in the job at hand.
Judging the success of both can be done without sole reliance on tests, he said.
"I look at the end product as evidence of success," he said.