It’s quite a lot of fun talking to Robert Traner-McDermott. You can actually see the two worlds with which he’s involved through the way he dresses and interacts.
He’s been an early-education teacher since 1987 as well as the lead singer of the popular band Tequila Mockingbird. So he sports a traditional ‘60s haircut with glasses, a tattoo, and shoes that light up as he walks. Every summer, he also runs a Summer Venture School Program where he teaches kids outside the structure of the classroom; one day they’ll go strawberry picking and the next they’ll go to the Summer Solstice workshop to help build floats.
When he was getting his education degree in preschool and early childhood education, he was the only man in a class of 54 women. “I always knew I didn’t want children of my own,” explains Robert, whose wife also agreed not to have kids. “I’ve raised over 1,000 children. I’ve dedicated my life to taking care of the children that are already here.”
He’s been teaching for nearly three decades at the Open Alternative School and, this coming year, he’s transitioning to be the school’s librarian. When I point out that he will shatter any pre-conceived notion of the old-fashioned librarian, he laughs and tells me his library will be filled with “noise, music, and twinkle lights.”
He is adored by young kids, and his nephews and nieces call him “Funcle Bob.”
As for his rock band, which has been together for 14 years, he’s amazed at the fact that, when they started, they played with crappy equipment to enthusiastic young crowds late into the night. Now they have $100,000 worth of equipment and their audiences want to go to bed by 9 p.m.
“Funcle Bob” answers the Proust Questionnaire.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Raising healthy, confident, kind children. It does take a village.
What do you like most about your job?
I love teaching kids. Long ago, the Rosenthal Study showed that one of the most powerful deciding factors in a child’s success in learning is the amount to which the teacher believes in them. Working at Open Alternative School for the last 28 years has allowed me to be a much needed role model of a strong, fun, nurturing male for many children.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Meaningful work, live music, and the Buffalo Bills winning the Super Bowl!
What is your greatest fear?
Two words: “President Trump”! No, really, it’s flying. When I was young I had a recurring nightmare for years that I died in a plane wreck, and now I have to be poured into a plane by my wife.
Who do you most admire?
So many people: my wife Rita, my dad, but Joe Chiu (my mentor and colleague for many years) is the man who taught me by example how to be an excellent teacher, and a better man.
What is your greatest extravagance?
Travel. Hard to do on a teacher’s salary, but my wife, Rita, and I went to Paris and several cities in Spain with a large group of friends to celebrate my 50th birthday this last spring break! That, and working out with Jenny Schatzle!
What is your current state of mind?
What is the quality you most like in people?
The ability to be positive and forward thinking, without being naive.
What is the quality you most dislike in people?
Not being able to take the lead, make a decision, or bring in ‘da Noise or ‘da Funk… but resenting the people who do.
What do you most value in friends?
The ability to bring ‘da Noise, AND ‘da Funk.
What is your most marked characteristic?
I like things clean and organized, to a fault. Some may call it OCD, but I use my powers for good not evil.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
I always have a “Word of the Day Calendar” word going. Currently it’s “countenance.” Rita’s already over it.
Which talent would you most like to have?
The ability to repair or fix anything.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
I would abolish any trace of insomnia, and sleep like a baby until well after 9, 10 a.m. on the weekends!
Where would you most like to live?
Right here: beautiful Santa Barbara!
What is your most treasured possession?
A little jar of sunflower seeds that I got from a sunflower my brother who passed away at a young age grew in the garden.
Who makes you laugh the most?
Gary Trudeau. Steven Colbert. And Layla, my Chihuahua!
What is your motto?
“Where Zen Ends, Ass Kicking Begins.”
Which historical figure do you most identify with?
On what occasion do you lie?
A good Irishman doesn’t let the truth ruin a good story.