Fans of singer/songwriter and one man band Possessed By Paul James my be surprised to find out that playing music is not his only passion. Though he somehow finds the time to make appearances all over the US and Europe throughout the year, down in the Texas Hill Country he’s in charge of an elementary school special education classroom, teaching children with intellectual disabilities. And you may think that with juggling so many responsibilities between music and work that he wouldn’t have the energy or the time to excel at either one. But Possessed by Paul James is not your average musician, or teacher.
At the end of the 2012 school year, Possessed by Paul James, whose real name is Konrad Wert, was awarded “Teacher of the Year” honors at his elementary school in his first year of teaching at the school after moving from another district.
And just today Possessed by Paul James was recognized again and presented with the “Golden Apple” by SACU’s ExCEL Program set up to give recognition to teachers and to encourage collaboration and sharing of best practices, improving the quality of education for our children. The distinction also comes with a public recognition through San Antonio’s CBS affiliate, KENS Channel 5 (see video below).
“It’s humbling, and a little embarrassing.” Konrad Wert says about all the recent accolades. “But ultimately it does say, ‘Hey, we recognize how hard your dynamic of teaching is within special education, and even more so working with children who are diagnosed with an intellectual disability.’ The way we look at it as a team—I have two co-teachers in the classroom and myself—we look at it as props to the kids, recognition of the kids and the value of the kids, and how hard the families work for the kids. So in a lot of ways I felt like it was an extension to shine a light on our students. Really, by honoring one teacher, they’re honoring every teacher, and they’re saying, ‘It matters. It matters that you do what you do.'”
Konrad Wert, or Possessed by Paul James is originally from Florida, and was born into a Mennonite family. He gives credit to his parents for instilling the value of service to others that is evidenced in his teaching of students with special needs.
“My parent’s lives were focused on service,” Konrad says. “I remember specifically we would reach out to some of the families right around our community, and we were working with families whose kids had been taken away by CPS, trying to work with those children. I don’t feel like there’s anything else I can do with my 9 to 5 time that will have that great of an impact. Teaching feels like that first line of focus and defense when families are struggling in our country. It is in the trenches of social change. It is investing in children, and if you’re investing in children, you’re investing in what society is going to develop into.”
And when Konrad Wert morphs into the performer Possessed by Paul James, the medium may change, but the desire to make a difference in people’s lives doesn’t.
“I think that’s the foundation of what music has always been. It has always been a cultural voice. I’m not really saying anything new, but when looking at the majority of music, it’s not a cultural voice of change, it’s just a reflection. It’s not encouraging us to do anything, it’s just reflecting, like on my ‘Red Solo Cup.'” Activism is a funny word because it’s pretty demonized. When you think of activism you think of an extreme approach of making social change. But I think activism is simply taking on the responsibility to actively engage people in a positive way to make change.”
When Possessed by Paul James performs, his passion equals the passion he brings to his class Monday through Friday, with many witnesses to the Possessed By Paul James show referring to it as more of a life-altering experience than a simple one man music show.