Remember the why and love/survive/handle/navigate/overcome/enjoy the what/how/when/where.

Nearing the end of another school year energy swirls in all kinds of different directions. As we prepare for a finish we also prepare for a beginning. We understand change is a constant, but as chaos-control-experts we music teachers do appreciate some anchors now and again on which to tether our sanity.

I find myself in a mixed up head/heart space that leaves me vaguely comforted in it’s familiarity but also in a bit of energetic limbo. So I’m reminding myself to take a moment to be conscious and mindful of the why in my teaching and in my career.

Sharing here helps gets my thoughts out of my head. I’ve been told if you can name it you can tame it!

WHY?

I got into teaching because of the incredible existence of my high school band director, Mr. Bob Parker. He is retired now but his sphere of influence remains strong in my world. There is a miniaturized version of him sitting on one of my shoulders guiding a very human, considered, patient, and slightly chaotic love for my students and the art we are creating. The very “why-ness” of my band directing has it’s origin story with Mr. Parker.

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There are a thousand memories I have of high school band that are strong, clear, and vibrant because of their attachment to how Mr. Parker made me feel in his program. I was seen, heard, valued, trusted, and understood under his direction. He had a magical way of taking a figurative ceiling off a room and opening up the sky for you to see what was possible. I shudder to think where my life would be if not for the universe dropping him in Chesaning in the summer of 1990.

My “why” is honestly an ongoing tribute to him. I want all of my students, to the best of my ability, to feel accepted, safe, included and encouraged to start from where they are at and go to places they didn’t fully know they could go.

From Mr. Parker I learned, and try to teach with these values in mind:

  • Kindness matters
  • Humanity matters
  • Art matters
  • Expression matters
  • Nurturing matters
  • Expectations matter
  • Values matter
  • Integrity matters

All to say people matter.

I have no martyr complex about the work we do daily as music teachers. I know all kinds of students sit in my ensembles for all kinds of reasons. For some it’s the class between science and math. But for some it’s the class between sinking and swimming.

Presuming with any sense of grandeur about the impact one is making is certainly the first step in ensuring that one’s impact is diminished. But ignoring that there is an impact at all is missed awareness.

I know that creating an environment where my students have the opportunity to choose for themselves what it means to create, to respect, to value the people, the art, the process, are at the core of why dragging myself out of bed for the 164th day of school is possible.

Wanna avoid burn-out? Maybe it’s ok to think about it as burn-in.

The axiom of the more you get/the more you give? Are your filters open right now to what you are getting from your time with your students? With their progress? With their artistry? With their connections to one another/to you/to the music? Are you nurturing your own inner energy to grow joy and momentum for your students?

Take some time to reflect on why you are here. Who and what got you to believe that music and music education were places where you felt you belonged.

And listen, this is not to say that hard days and difficult moments don’t happen. This is not to say that there aren’t days where I yell into my windshield on the drive home so I will feel better (oh if that windshield could talk…) This is not to say that we should be striving towards some daily idealized bliss as teachers that is not realistic or sustainable.

But I recognized awhile back that my sense of happiness was like a photo album (those still exist y’all!) and in taking stock of the mental snapshots I asked myself what the collective feelings were in reviewing those moments.

Some snapshots were hard, ugly, difficult…they exist still in the collection. But the majority? Moments of joy, beauty, humor, happiness, contentment.

Offer yourself the conscious choice to zoom out a bit from the necessary work of tuning chords, marking up a score, entering grades in a grade book, and answering emails to reflect on your why. We can allow ourselves at least that. I know each time I do, a little more space opens up for a breath, some energy and a reminder that I can get out of bed and face what the day has to offer.

Enjoy the last lap around the track for this school year! Summer is on the way.

Thanks for reading.

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