EDMOND — Edmond North High School Orchestra teacher Peter Markes didn't always know he wanted to be a teacher, but he had a hunch.
The youngest of four children, Markes was born and raised in Waukomis, near Enid. His mother taught physical education and his father taught science. The family also farmed.
“We're a family of farmers and teachers. Those are two professions that teach you faith and patience probably better than most,” he said.
When Markes wasn't studying or helping out on the farm, he engaged in his favorite pastime: music. He became skilled on the piano, violin and guitar.
His earned degrees in music education and instrumental performance from Oklahoma City University and was hired as North's orchestra director in 2002.
He said he realized he wanted to be a teacher while taking a personality development class his father taught.
“I learned that the foundation of teaching is trust. I realized just how much of an impact a teacher can have on someone,” Markes said. “I like to think of where my teaching can take my students. They say a teacher affects eternity. You never know where your influence ends.”
This year his teaching took him throughout the world, performing with Kyle Dillingham and Horseshoe Road.
Selected as U.S. ambassadors for the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, Markes and his Horseshoe Road bandmates traveled the globe to teach music.
Markes said the bureau's mission is to bring countries together through the universal language of music.
“Our purpose is to represent the American culture and create relationships through music. It's such a positive way to establish an impression.”
The band, which he said plays everything from country music to bluegrass, classical and jazz, traveled to South Korea, Taiwan, Myanmar and Russia during its monthlong tour.
His most memorable experience was teaching Taiwanese students to play the fiddle.
“They started playing a piece that my high school students learned right before I left,” Markes said. “I got goose bumps. I thought here we are in Taiwan playing a song I taught my students in Oklahoma that was originally composed in Russia.”
Markes said his time abroad made him miss his students in Oklahoma.
“They are such a good group of kids. My favorite part of teaching them is getting to see that moment when a light clicks on in their mind and they get it.”
Markes is so passionate about the orchestra program at Edmond North that he has begun assisting classes at Cheyenne Middle School, which feeds into the high school.
“A lot of students who are in orchestra in middle school don't stay in it when they enter high school. It's a new place and they're already scared to begin with,” he said.
He said by introducing himself to junior high students and preparing them for what they'll need to know as high school orchestra students, he hopes to increase the retention rate.
Respect from peers
The school district's Professional Development Committee named Markes teacher of the year. He was on his way back to the United States when the committee announced its decision during the Edmond Public Schools Foundation's Celebration of Excellence.
Markes, 33, gave his thanks to the committee and district via a video he had been advised to create in case he should win.
While Markes was abroad, his orchestra was led by student teacher Jeremy Scott, a music education major at Oklahoma City University.
“I wasn't surprised when I heard that he won teacher of the year. From the first time I watched him teach I was kind of blown away. I've seen very few teachers be as effective as he is,” Scott said.
“Whether it's relating music to math or physics or an experience he had with his son, he relates music to something on a daily basis. He holds students' attention because he's not just teaching them about music, he's teaching them about life.”
Scott hopes to become a school orchestra or band instructor after he graduates in May.
“I'll mold almost everything I do after what I've seen him do,” he said.
Markes lives with his wife, Kris, and their sons, Patrick and Vincent, in Oklahoma City.