Fairfax County music teacher balances National Guard duty with work

Over the past year, teachers have had to develop engaging online lesson plans and execute them from their home offices, living rooms and kitchen tables.

But Jacob Kohut, a music teacher from Fairfax County, Virginia, has them all beat.

A sergeant with the D.C. National Guard, Kohut has been teaching online from the back of a Humvee since he was deployed to the District ahead of Wednesday’s inauguration.

“I think it’s an honor to serve in this capacity for the peaceful transition of power,” said Kohut, who has served in the military for over a decade.

A bandsman in the 257th Army Band, Kohut sees some direct parallels between National Guard service and teaching fifth- through eighth-graders.

“There are a lot of day-to-day interactions that are potentially chaotic, depending on what’s going on in school, how hyped up the kids are,” he said. “And as a student musician, they have to be very formal and ready to perform.” Kohut said that’s also true of the members of the Army band when switching from day-to-day service to performances.

More than 20,000 National Guard troops have fanned out across a sprawling security zone in D.C.

“We were pleasantly surprised by the support that we were getting from people that were just glad we were there,” Kohut said.

Known as “Dr. Kohut” in the classroom, he’s received a huge outpouring of support from his students at Canterbury Woods Elementary and Frost Middle School in Fairfax County. He’ll try to respond once he’s able.

Jacob Kohut is teaching his Fairfax County music students online while he’s deployed to D.C. with the National Guard. (WTOP/Kate Ryan)

He plays the bassoon and saxophone, and said since his situation has received national news coverage, he’s been hearing from bassoon players worldwide.

“It’s kind of like we’ve all united under this thing,” Kohut said, adding that many people can’t identify the bassoon, a large woodwind. It’s featured in Prokofiev’s “Peter And the Wolf” — a piece of music used to introduce children to orchestral music — in the role of Peter’s stern grandfather.

Kohut was determined to keep teaching while on National Guard duty, especially given the tumult of the last year and the impact it’s having on children.

“I think that the arts in general are the best way to heal, socially and emotionally, what we’re dealing with right now,” he said.

Kohut hopes that people will support the arts in education. Any time school budgets become tight, he said, arts education can be vulnerable to cuts.

In his 11 years in education as a band teacher in a number of schools, Kohut has served under 43 principals. And he’s quick to give a shout out to Canterbury Woods’ principal.

“Diane Leipzig is a national treasure,” he said, adding that she has been a steadfast champion of the school’s music program.

Kohut had a message for his students back in Fairfax County while he’s busy fulfilling his military service in D.C.

“Whether I’m here or there,” Kohut said, “they’d better be practicing.”

Kate Ryan

As a member of the award-winning WTOP News, Kate is focused on state and local government. Her focus has always been on how decisions made in a council chamber or state house affect your house. She's also covered breaking news, education and more.

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