NPR 'The Secret Lives of Teachers'

by NPR Special Series

NPR ‘The Secret Lives of Teachers’ January 25, 2015

The NPR Ed team is discovering what teachers do when they’re not teaching. Artist? Carpenter? Quidditch player? Explore our Secret Lives of Teachers series.

It’s not unusual for kids to wear a T-shirt to school with their favorite band on it. But at Oakwood Elementary in North Hollywood, Calif., that T-shirt may also have a picture of their teacher — actually, three of their teachers.

The punk band No Small Children formed two years ago when Joanie Pimentel moved to California to play with two elementary teachers — her sister, Lisa Pimentel, and Lisa’s co-worker Nicola Berlinsky.

“We thought to ourselves, ‘We’re not getting any younger. And we’re sure not getting any cooler,’ ” recalls Berlinsky, the band’s drummer and a fourth-grade teacher. ” ‘So why not? Let’s see what happens.’ ”

The band started as a way to create a space for themselves outside their lives as teachers — hence the name No Small Children.

The “Might Get Up Slow” music video is a tribute to the band’s routine of teaching and performing.

Onstage, the trio wear matching dresses while pumping out fast, heavy, energetic punk songs: like “I’m Irritated” and “Dear Youth.”

They were an immediate success, playing 55 shows in their first three months.

“At first, we said yes to everything,” says Berlinsky. Now, after two years of steady gigs, No Small Children is an established act in Los Angeles. So the band can be more selective. One big change: It doesn’t play many school nights these days.

Lisa Pimentel leads her orchestra class at Oakwood Elementary School in North Hollywood, Calif.

Lisa Pimentel leads her orchestra class at Oakwood Elementary School in North Hollywood, Calif.

Mark Horowitz

Balancing the demands of teaching and performing wasn’t hard, says Lisa Pimentel. She’s lead singer, guitar player and, at Oakwood Elementary, orchestra instructor. It was never a decision between this or that, she explains. Instead, the band always thought about school and music as one entity: this and that.

All three agree that performing together has made them better teachers.

“As performers, we’re constantly putting ourselves out there. We ask our kids to do that every day,” Joanie Pimentel says. She plays bass and is the school’s music instructor. “When you can talk to them from the same place, you can relate better. You’re kind of walking the walk.”

With a combined 25 years of teaching among the band members, a full-length album released last year, and regular — if not weekly — gigs, No Small Children shows no signs of slowing down.

“Both music and teaching are very long careers,” Berlinsky says. “You can keep going and going.”