Two Places at the Same Time

Our family has two graduations to celebrate next month. Our youngest son, Ryan, graduates from high school. Our daughter, Rachel, graduates from college. Each milestone represents commitment, hard work, dedication. Each represents a big step, moving forward in life.

As a mom, I am thankful and proud. Also, a little emotional. You can imagine my disappointment to discover both graduation ceremonies will occur on the same night, at the same time, in two different locations!

No matter how many ways I attempted to resolve this dilemma, nothing worked. Extended family and friends would certainly help make sure both kids were supported. Even though each would understand any choice I made, it felt like I’d be letting someone down. How could I possibly choose?

My husband is an administrator in our district. He has graduation responsibilities. There was no question which he would attend. Besides, he has had the privilege of handing our daughter and oldest son, Robert, their high school diplomas. It would only be right for our youngest to have the same experience. Plus, I need that third picture. 😉

So, what should I do? I continued to weigh options and fret about these things which were out of my control. And then, my children stepped in. Here I am, worried about disappointing one of them, and they provide not only the solution but with the perfect logic.

It all began as I visited with Robert. I was talking about graduation, not knowing what to do. Robert said, “Mom, this is Ryan’s first graduation. You need to be there. Erin (his girlfriend) and I will go to Rachel’s. We can livestream her walking across the stage, so you don’t miss it.”

Wow! That did sound like a good idea. But what would Rachel think?

I shared Robert’s solution with her, and her response was precious. “Mom-Dad needs to be there to hand Ryan his diploma, just like he did for me and Robert. And you need to be there to see it.” So matter-of-fact and without hesitation. I could not argue with her reasoning.

There were some tears. But these tears were no longer due to sadness over missing an important event. These were tears of joy. Joy because my children provided a thoughtful solution for their mom. They understood how difficult this was for me and why. And their decision showed how much they value our family.

On May 13, 2019, I will proudly watch my husband hand our youngest his diploma, just as I have for the other two. Hopefully, technology will allow me to also see Rachel walk across a different stage, on the other side of town. Believe me, if I could be in two places at once, now would be the time. Since that is physically impossible, I will leave it to my heart. For my heart can be in two places at the same time. Possibly even three… ❤

…if we do not give up

Not the phrase I wanted to read this morning. I would have preferred “be encouraged” “change is coming your way” or “just a while longer.”

My attitude was terrible. I was tired and grumpy. It’s been a rough week, and the report I received about students being disrespectful on the day I was absent did not help. I certainly was not ready to greet my students.

Well aware that I needed an attitude adjustment, I decided to read the verse of the day on my bible app. Surely, there would be an encouraging verse to help turn my morning around. After all, isn’t that the purpose? 😉

The first words read were familiar. “Let us not grow weary in doing good…” Hmm…maybe I am doing good as a wife, mom, friend, and music teacher. On the other hand, am I? Lately, I am weary. Causing me to question everything. Then I read the rest of the verse.

“…for in due season, we will reap, if we do not give up.”

Suddenly, I could only see that last phrase. It was as if I’d never read those words before. Screaming at me in all caps with bold letters.

“…IF WE DO NOT GIVE UP.”

So, even if I’m weary, questioning, having a rough week…it is not time to give up.

How do I respond? First, it’s the weekend so I rest. Create a good plan for the coming week. Read that daily verse, the whole verse. Read it daily, not just when I’m in a bad mood. Work on taking better care of myself.

One more thing. Hold on to the tiny moments. Here is one from this week.

Not my best teaching day. Feeling a little discouraged. First graders are lining up to leave music. One sweet little girl hugs me and says, “Mrs. Morris, you’re the best music teacher in the whole world.”

I may not have agreed with her at that moment, but her words reminded me that teaching is a “good” work. And it’s harvest is the future…if we do not give up.

“Let us not grow weary in doing good, for in due season, we will reap, if we do not give up.” Galatians 6:9

Friday Confessions of a Music Teacher

For teachers, Fridays create an interesting contradiction. The day begins with an air of excitement. Yay! It’s Friday! We made it! The weekend is in our sights, and that means rest and regroup.

So, where’s the problem? We still have one whole day ahead of us to teach. And for me personally, that second half of a Friday is one of the most difficult parts of my week.

This week was no exception. Three forty-five-minute classes filled with rhymes, body percussion, singing, and playing instruments made the morning fly by. On my feet-singing, clapping, snapping, scanning the room. Making sure everyone is engaged. It was exhausting! I’m not complaining here, just stating a fact. 😉

Next came lunchtime. Always a welcomed break. Visiting with my team, laughing while we ate. But right as the break is about to end, I suddenly found myself lacking the motivation to finish strong.

The afternoon brings kindergarten, 1st and 2nd graders. They require a much different level of energy when compared to my morning classes. In addition to the usual music activities, I now have to be a convincing puppeteer, tie shoes, and remind them to keep their hands out of their mouths and off of their neighbors.

Gotta love puppets!

Confession time. Today I was tempted to scrap my afternoon plans and take the easy way out. Surely there was an appropriate music activity we could do which would require less energy from me. After all, it was Friday.

But then the thought hit me-these little ones deserve the same energy I gave my morning classes.

I’m happy to say I did not give in to the temptation. And I’m so glad. We marched around the room while reviewing tempo terms, listened to a Freddie the Frog story, and played instruments. Instruments! Little hands echoing rhythmic patterns on xylophones and metallophones. They were making music, and their smiles made it all worthwhile.

Freddie the Frog

Most certainly I will face this dilemma again. It’s part of being a teacher. If I’m being honest, there will be at least one “change of plans” day before the school year ends. My goal, however, is to remember today and the positives which resulted from pushing through. And when I feel this way again, allow those memories to help me once again finish strong.

Friendship=Success

My classroom is a big open space. Perfect for music! I created smaller areas within this large space using sit spots. A big circle, visible right as students enter. We use this space for movement activities, games, drum circles, etc. A rainbow row of dots in front of the Smartboard. These create rows where students have their own music spot to sit.

We often move from one area to the other multiple times in one class period. This was true Wednesday during first grade. As students began to transition from our circle to their music spots, I noticed one precious girl assisting a friend. She was speaking calmly and sweetly to her friend. Both of them smiling, holding hands.

I was just about to remind this helpful girl about the location of her music spot. After all, she was heading in the wrong direction. Thankfully, I did not say anything. An interruption would have been sad. The friend she was helping is a sweet boy who happens to have Down syndrome.

We have some awesome paras in our building. They attend specials with specific groups of students. Because of their disabilities, these friends just need a little extra guidance to have a positive experience in class. These ladies provide invaluable assistance which makes that possible.

Although success in regular education settings is an important goal, how much more valuable is gaining a friend? For a friend can help us in ways no one else can. A friend is something we all need. Some might even say having a friend is a success.

This week I witnessed a sweet new friendship. I hope it continues to grow. I hope to encourage many more.   


Keeping it Real in Kindergarten

Bathroom breaks during a teacher’s day are few and far between. They must be strategically planned. You cannot simply run to the restroom anytime you want, especially when you have a room full of kindergarteners…

Teachers are known for having “buddy” teachers. This is typically a teammate working right across the hall. They’re the one who covers your class in case of an emergency, such as a non-scheduled bathroom break. My teammates and I are located at opposite corners of the building. We might as well live in another state when it comes to emergency situations.

My closest teacher neighbor is one hallway and a half away. She, of course, is always willing to help. I just have to pick up the phone, make a call, and pray she answers. Such a call was made today during my kindergarten class. Thank goodness she answered!

There were fifteen minutes left before a break. I was not going to make it. And I was pretty sure the school nurse would not have any dry clothes in my size. The only problem, she had kids in her room too and could not walk down to my classroom right at that moment.

What did I do? Told my little friends that we needed to go somewhere. “Line up! Follow me!” We rounded the corner and I asked them to sit in the hallway outside my friend’s classroom. Quickly looked in to let her know my students were sitting outside her door and ran into the restroom right across the hall. Phew! Students were supervised. Crisis averted!

Walking out of the restroom, I thanked my teacher friend, looked at my students and said, “Ok, we can go back to class now.” They were all smiles, though a little confused, as I let them skip down the hallway back to the music room.

The funniest part? As we headed back to class, one precious little boy looked at me so sincerely and asked, “Mrs. Morris, where did you go?”

Going to Mars

Since I was a little girl, I’ve always been fascinated with the moon, the planets, and stars. Being far away from the city lights, able to see uncountable numbers of celestial objects, was something I looked forward to. I don’t even begin to understand the science behind these bodies. What are they made of? How long have they been shining? Will they burn out? Despite my lack of scientific knowledge, my fascination is not diminished.

Today was an exciting day! NASA sent another object to Mars-the InSight Lander. It has been traveling on a seven-month, 300-million-mile journey, and today was landing day! Apparently, it is supposed to spend two years studying the inner workings of the planet by measuring seismic activity. I know enough to understand that means earthquakes on our planet.

My point is not understanding all of the science behind today’s events or their purposes for our society. It’s really about curiosity and how events such a this spur the imagination. Sharing this information with some of my students, watching live while the scientists waited on the landing, their anticipation and excitement were contagious.

Even though we could not visibly see the InSight Lander, there was a countdown scrolling along the bottom of the screen. With each goal that passed-heat shield working-heat shield separating-parachute deploying-students would gasp as if they’d been holding their breath. Once the landing was announced, they clapped and cheered right along with the scientists in that NASA project control room.

Of course, there were some funny moments too. More than one precious kiddo asked, “Are we sending a man to Mars or just a robot?” “Mrs. Morris, I’m so excited about a person going to Mars!” “Not a person…not a person.” Also a few concerned, confused looks. Possibly related to watching too many sci-fi movies or playing too many video games. With a little reassurance and my simplified explanations, they were at least able to understand the basics of what was happening, and know that we were not being attacked by Martians.

I’m sure there will be some interesting conversations tonight if students are asked what they did in music class today. Who knows? Maybe that little detour from our music lesson sparked some new interest. It certainly reminded me of the beauty not only in our world but also in our universe.

We may not be able to see it all up close and personal, but we can appreciate it by simply gazing at the night sky, looking through a telescope, or viewing images taken in space and transmitted back to Earth…from a camera on a capsule…which traveled for seven months…and then landed on Mars.

I can’t wait to show my students the first image that was sent back from the surface of Mars today!

What are You Thankful for?

Feeling a little low? Need your spirits lifted? Just ask a group of first graders what they are thankful for. You will smile, laugh, and maybe even cry…guaranteed! And their answers just might surprise you. 

Since it is close to Thanksgiving, I chose to do some silly turkey activities in music class last week. We used our voices by following changing lines to help Mr. Turkey escape from the farmer. Then we sang “Super Turkey!” It’s a riot. I’m not sure who likes it more, me or the kids.

After all the silliness, I introduced a sweet song called, “Let’s Be Thankful.” The tune is “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” and the words talk about friends, family, food, and being glad. Another plus, the song also has accompanying sign language.

Before singing the song, I asked the kids what they were thankful for.  Their little hands shot up in the air, ready to share. Calling on them one at a time, I wrote their answers on the Smartboard. The list looked something like this:

• My mom and dad
• Family
• Dogs and cats
• The whole world
• All the people
• My games
• Food
• Cousins
• Friends
• School
• Music
• Having a safe home

One little boy said what sounded like, “My wife.” I’m sure my facial expression showed confusion, so he said it again. Thankfully I realized he was actually saying, “My life.” Sweet baby still has a little trouble pronouncing certain letters.

The board was filling up quickly, but there were still hands in the air. And then it happened. I called on one sweet boy, “What are you thankful for?” With the biggest smile, he says, “I’m thankful for you, Mrs. Morris.” “That’s what I was going to say,” chimes in the little girl sitting behind him.

Needless to say, I immediately choked up. Taking a few deep breaths to help hold back my tears, I added my name to their list. “I’m thankful for you guys, too.“  I smiled as I wrote the word “students” on the board.  Their faces beamed.

Moments like these help me come back to school each day.  Some days I’m so tired, lacking in energy and motivation. Thoughts turn to how much longer I can continue this routine. But then there’s a precious reminder that what I do matters and I feel a push that says, “Keep going.”

So, what am I thankful for? So many things. I need to make my own list!  Today it would begin with this:

• Kind words from a first grader
• Time to rest and refuel next week because it’s Thanksgiving!

What about you?  What are you thankful for today?

Baby Steps

My young friend at school who has severe anxiety and spends most of his day in the special education classroom gave me a high-five today! It was super quick. Our hands only touched for a second, but I believe it is progress. He still won’t speak to me, but I sometimes get a smile. He continues to allow me to put a music stamp on his hand at the end of class as well.

I know he has rough days at school and often indicates that he’d rather be at home. Yet he seems to be smiling more this year than I remember from the previous year. Last year he wouldn’t come to art, music, or P.E., but now attends all three. Most of the time he simply observes and that is ok. He is there, taking in what’s happening around him, participating in his own way.

His teacher and paras love him so much. They refuse to give up on him, recognizing his capability for so much more. Progress is definitely being made, yet it could be easily missed if not looked for intentionally. I see this progress as he smiles and quietly teases with his teacher. It’s a beautiful thing.

That’s exactly what was happening today after school. I walked over to him and quietly asked for a high five. He smiled but hesitated. I teased a little, “Oh please. Can I have a high five?”  Then his teacher chimed in, also teasing,  “Don’t you give her a high-five. You better not give her a high-five.” We were laughing, and just as I was about to walk away, I saw his little hand move toward mine.  I told him “Thank you” and walked away…grateful.

Grateful to make another connection with this precious child.
Grateful for the connections his teachers are making.
Grateful that the power of love can be witnessed in these baby steps.

I Almost Missed It

Today’s first-grade music class was quite busy. We covered a lot of ground. Singing the musical alphabet reggae style, forwards and backward, along with Freddie the Frog and his friend Eli the Elephant. We also practiced writing and labeling bass clef notes on our music staff whiteboards. Oh, and I almost forgot-practicing our song for tomorrow’s Veterans Day assembly. Whew! What a whirlwind!

As students first entered the classroom, I noticed one usually perky friend was looking a little sad. He asked if he could share something about his parents going out of town. I told him yes, we would have some time to share at the end of class. With all those activities, I’m so glad I didn’t forget…

The class was winding down, students sat on the floor as I played a song on the piano. And then I saw my little friend and remembered my promise. He came and stood by me and begin to share, “My parents had to travel to California because my grandfather died.” He continued to explain that he and his sister couldn’t go with them, and he was obviously sad about that.

We talked as a class about how hard it can be when sad things happen and that we needed to be especially nice to this friend, helping him to feel better. Which of course lead to other friends raising their hand to share a sad story. The domino effect was in full swing. I needed to reel it back in before things got completely out of hand.

About the time I had decided not to call on anyone else, I heard this quiet voice from the back of the room. “When’s it my turn?” Some background information is needed-this friend is new, only four days at our school. He also has special needs which include difficulty with eye contact. I haven’t known him long, but I was surprised upon hearing his sweet voice and clear question.

“Of course, you can share. Come on up here by me.” Looking down at the floor he began to talk about how he missed his house. And how his mom had to work all the time. We talked about how hard moving can be. I reassured him that even though he was sad about moving, we were so glad to have him at our school.

Sharing this story with my daughter this evening it dawned on me…I almost missed it. I almost missed the chance to help this special student not only have his turn but also connect with his peers at his new school. He may not have looked me directly in the eyes, but his smile was communication enough. Hopefully, he went home at the end of the day with a new sense of belonging.

Thankful I didn’t miss those few precious moments today at the end of first grade music class…

Forgiveness~Empathy~Friendship

Experiencing forgiveness, whether on the granting or receiving end, is powerful. Crucial life lessons are learned on both sides of a transgression. The one being forgiven feels a great relief and hopefully learns from their mistakes. The one offering forgiveness appreciates, even more, the instances when they have been on the receiving end. Sounds simple, yet not always the case.

Children often unintentionally demonstrate these truths clearly, if we take the time to watch and listen. Picture one of my kindergarten classes sitting around our music circle, coloring pictures of pumpkins and leaves.  Their fall themed artwork was also to include rhythmic patterns based on phrases about their subject.  For example, “leaves are falling” or “pumpkins everywhere” or “jump in a leaf pile.” Vivaldi’s “Autumn” playing quietly in the background.

Yes, I know it sounds very picturesque, but don’t be fooled.  This is one of those class times that is a struggle for me-giving up a certain level of control and giving students the chance to be social and creative.  It lends itself to a higher noise level and a tiny bit of controlled chaos.  Results are usually pretty cool!  That is until there is a transgression… one student marking on the beautiful, in progress, artwork of his friend.

Typically, it is the student who has been wronged that seeks my attention.  “She stuck her tongue out at me!” “He pulled my hair!” “She told me to shut up!” You get the idea.  On this particular day, the opposite was true. The artist didn’t make a big fuss although disappointed.  I told him he could start a new work if he’d like and asked the other student to apologize. Everyone back to work, all is well. Right?

A few moments later the student who committed the “coloring on my friend’s paper” infraction was standing in front of me with tears in his eyes. “Oh dear, what’s wrong?” I asked. “I apologized, but he wouldn’t accept my apology.” Hmmm…what to do? So many ways I could respond to this conflict. I’m not sure if my choice was the best, but it did have an interesting result.

Empathy-the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.

I began to talk to the teary-eyed transgressor about why his friend was upset. As with my own children, I attempted to help my student put himself in his friend’s place. “How would you feel if you were working hard on your artwork and someone marked on your paper?” On the surface a simple question, but not always an easy place to find yourself. His tears indicated his comprehension, and in a “kindergarten kind of way,” he began to understand.

For the remainder of the class, this particular friend stuck with me like glue. Tears turned to smiles, offers to help with clean up, wanting to have more conversations. Why? Just as being forgiven evokes feelings of relief and freedom, an apology not being accepted brings the opposite-guilt and sadness. However, when we learn to place ourselves in the shoes of the ones we have hurt, then we begin to develop empathy. Our focus moves from being self-centered to others-centered.

Which is more powerful? The ability to forgive or the ability to empathize? I suppose it depends on the situation, transgression, and the people involved. Obviously, consequences come into play, long and short term. But what if we see them as tied together, working hand in hand? I believe if we can help children learn to empathize, having a spirit of forgiveness will naturally follow. And just maybe they will begin to stop and think before making a choice which negatively affects their friend.

But wait, maybe the foundation for this whole discussion should instead be the word “friend.” Becoming a friend is a process. An acquaintance becomes a companion, the companion becomes a supporter, and so on. And if I truly support someone, I’m much more likely to think about the impact of my actions.

Once we learn what it means to be a friend, the potential for both empathy and forgiveness grows exponentially. It still requires effort and work. It does not just magically happen without being intentional. Like everything else worth doing in life, it takes practice. But the results are oh so worth the work!

Here’s to forgiveness, empathy, and friendship.  Especially when witnessed through the eyes of kindergarteners.  May I pay careful attention to opportunities this next week for expressing and teaching these vital life lessons during music class, especially the importance of being a good friend.

You’ve Got a Friend