I like to think my kids know me pretty well. As any of you that are music teachers know, especially if you have a marching band/show choir/musical background, we spend thousands of hours with our kids over the course of four years.
I’ve been teaching for 16 years I still have THOSE days. Yesterday was one of THOSE days.
Teaching sometimes feels like the duck swimming in water. What we usually present outward to the world is the calm and serene duck effortlessly floating above the water. What we usually feel like is the part below the water…
The two wind ensembles have a festival coming up on Friday. For those of you that are repertoire nerds like me, we are playing:
Wind Ensemble I
- The Gumsucker’s March, Percy Grainger/Mark Rogers ed.
- Aurora Awakes, John Mackey
- Wedding Dance, Jacques Press/Frederick Fennell ed.
Wind Ensemble II
- Italian in Algiers Overture, Rossini/Lucien Cailliet ed.
- All The Pretty Little Horses, Andrew Boysen Jr.
- Korean Folksongs from Jeju Island, Frank Ticheli
And as will sometimes happen 48 hours before a performance (!) our rehearsals yesterday were terrible. I mean the kids were quiet and well behaved but new mistakes occurred, things we’d fixed weeks before suddenly showed up, concentration and energy were low and I was feeling despondent. Frustrated.
And for better or worse, the first place I go is not to blame the students. I blame myself.
“What could I have done to better prepare myself for rehearsals?”
“How did I not hear that tuning issue before right now?”
“We haven’t even discussed the text of this folk music…I’m sure the judge will ask about that.”
“Why have I waited this long to get to this level of detail?”
And so on and so forth the mental gymnastics continue. It’s like a ride I can’t quite get off of.
And then my 2nd period class came in. This is my non-auditioned band of juniors and seniors. I realized as they were entering that they did not deserve to interact with this cranky, uncentered energy I was bringing to the start of their rehearsal. So I made a choice.
As they sat down I was honest with them. I told them I’d had a bad morning which had nothing to do with them and that I would do my best to be present for them from where they were at, not where I was at.
I was touched by the sincere support I felt from the kids through that rehearsal. We started working on Earth Song by Frank Ticheli and I talked to them about the origins of the piece as a germ from his longer and more difficult work Sanctuary.
We had a thoughtful discussion about what a sanctuary represented. Several mentioned the band room as a place where they could be themselves without fear of judgement. I shared some imagery I was having related to the piece and made myself vulnerable to them in my sharing. It’s the magic you wish for but can rarely plan for on the podium.
By choosing a different path with that group of students my teaching and the music became cathartic. I was reset. I was renewed. And my awesome kids were central to that happening.
So those days happen. Still. And it’s ok. I’ve learned how to weather them differently as a veteran teacher.
Also I’m happy to report that the wind ensembles played the snot out of their run-throughs today.
I feel more like the duck above water this afternoon.
On Wednesday of last week I had a series of epiphanies during a collobarative visit with friend, mentor, and hero Shelley Durbin. If you don’t know this woman, get on her level, ASAP.
During Symphonic Band (an awesome class of 84 ninth graders) Shelley was talking about the idea of committing deeply to engagement and paying attention. A single student raised his hand confidently and answered her prompt with 100% certainty. She questioned the class and asked “how many of you knew the answer to that question?”
They grumbled. Turns out most of them knew the answer to the question but were hesitant to raise their hands to answer. It was at this time that I asked Shelley if I could unpack some baggage that I had as a student and that many of my students may also have.
I asked the question “how many of you have somebody in another class who rolls their eyes or makes a comment under their breath when someone else in the class answers a question?” The response was resounding. They ALL knew that someone.
You know I was the kind of student who was excited and ready to answer questions when teachers asked them but quickly learned through middle school and high school that this was not “cool” behavior. To have knowledge was not good currency.
So I asked my freshmen “what if this got to be the kind of class where we all got to be that kid who knew the answer to the question. What if we supported one another so fully that we didn’t have to be embarrassed or ashamed to have knowledge and information when asked to share that knowledge or information?”
It was a powerful moment for me and hopefully for my students to understand that when they walk through the doors of my classroom each day they have baggage both conscious and subconscious that needs to be unpacked in order for them to be their best learners.
And my hope is that seeds were planted on Wednesday to open the
doors to fearless learning and limitless exploration without judgment or boundary.