“Mrs. Morris Said So!”

A parent stopped me in the hall this morning. ”Our family had an interesting conversation about you at our house last night.” My first thought was, “Oh dear. What did I say?”

Her daughter, a first grader, was sharing all the things she wanted to be when she grows up. Her older brother chimed in, saying she would have to choose. She could not be all those things. Her response? ”Yes, I can! Mrs. Morris said so!”

As the mom and I continued to talk, I remembered an impromptu conversation from her daughter’s class the day before. At the end of class, we watched the Wintergatan Marble Machine video. Students love this video, and so do I! It sparks imagination and encourages great discussions. https://youtu.be/IvUU8joBb1Q

After students watch the video for the first time, I ask the following questions. Do you think the marble machine creator is a musician? An engineer? A builder? A mathematician? The answer is always yes! This leads to conversations about what students want to be when they grow up. I love to encourage the idea that they don’t have to be just one thing.

On this particular day, I mentioned that I had not always been a music teacher. Being curious little beings, several began to ask about my other jobs. So, I shared my list. I have worked as a piano teacher, staff accompanist, college instructor, paraprofessional, special education teacher, and currently an elementary music teacher.

Apparently, this one little girl took our conversation to heart. At home, after declaring, “Mrs. Morris said so!” she continued with “Mrs. Morris has been at least five or six different things.” Then she proceeded to share my list with her family. She really was listening!

Her mom and I had a good laugh. Our conversation ended on an encouraging note. “The kids just love you.” Her kind words started my day with a smile.

I’m thankful what stuck with her daughter was not, “Mrs. Morris was grumpy today.” Some days that is true. And I also learned an important lesson. Evidently “Mrs. Morris said so!” carries a lot more clout coming from a self-confident first-grader than from a grumpy Mrs. Morris. 😉

Go Practice!

When it comes to practicing challenging music, I am a little out of practice. 😉 Yes, I have rehearsed and performed solos with high school students and played for our all-school musical this school year. There were challenges, but none which required extended focused practice.

I am currently preparing to accompany seven college students at the National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS) competition. Each singer prepares four pieces from different time periods with contrasting styles.

Let’s do some math: 7 singers x 4 pieces = 28 individual songs.

I have played some of this music in years past. Some songs immediately returned to my hands. Muscle memory took over and the notes fit right under my fingers. Others, not so easy. Plus there are new ones I’m learning for the first time.

While talking to my mom on the phone today, I mentioned going home to practice after school. She laughed and said, “It’s been a while since you’ve really had to practice, huh?” I’m afraid she is right.

I have great sight-reading skills. Skills which have helped me through many a lesson, rehearsal, and even some performances. Not a practice I would recommend. And certainly not one acceptable for this current playing opportunity.

Practicing is hard work! Not a new truth. It was my life for many years. I can’t say I miss spending 3-4 hours a day in a practice room. But I was young and didn’t need to rest or stretch every 30 minutes. Nor did I have these pains in my neck and shoulders…

Despite the physical challenges which now accompany extended practice time, it is time well-spent. The list of benefits could go on and on, but here are a few:

  • Finally correcting a wrong note/rhythm
  • Repeating a particular phrase until it works
  • Combining my practice with the practice of others
  • Creating beautiful music

I suppose this experience falls into the life-long learner category. Learning new music and re-learning old. Discovering the need to change my practice habits. Shorter amounts of time, practicing more efficiently. Yes, I still have the ability. The process just looks a little different than it did thirty years ago.

I’ve had some dinner and taken a couple of Aleve. Put on a pot of decaf. Beginning to feel a tiny bit rested. Guess I’d better go practice! 🎶🎹🎶

Longevity

I have thought about this word many times in recent days. Longevity. I’ve often said I hope to be the ninety-something-year-old grandma playing the piano at the nursing home. My family usually chuckles or says, “I’m sure you will be!”

Typically, we think of longevity in reference to long life. Obviously, I have no way of knowing how many years I will spend on this Earth. However, I cannot deny the common thread woven enduringly (so far) through my fifty-one years. Music! Here’s to forty-eight more. 😉

Picture me, maybe seven
Stringy hair in my eyes
Sitting on the piano bench
Grandma sweetly smiles
Hands on keys, eyes on notes
Melodies flowing clear
Sharing music from my heart
Even though young in years

Picture me, fifty-one
Trying to hide the gray
Teaching music to little ones
Exhausted every day
Hands on keys, eyes on notes
Melodies flowing clear
Sharing music from my heart
During these middle years

Picture me, ninety-nine
Grey hair in a bun
Glasses perched on the end of my nose
Ready for some fun
Hands on keys, eyes on notes
Melodies flowing clear
Sharing music from my heart
Even after all these years

Where do the years go?

Pep Talk

Feeling a bit restless
Time for a change?
Not quite sure
The question sounds strange

Looking back ten years
What do I see?
Time for a change
A determined me

Time for a change
No doubt then
Confident and strong
Am I ready again?

Where do I start?
What do I rearrange?
So many questions when it’s
Time for a change

Desires of Your Heart

I have loved music since childhood, the way it becomes part of you and expresses how you feel. Growing up, all I wanted to do was play the piano. Any thought of a career involved music, and truthfully all I ever considered besides performing, was teaching piano at the college level. I certainly never pictured myself as an elementary music teacher. Sometimes life takes a funny turn…or two…or three. 😉

After college and graduate school, Gart and I married and soon started a family. I was a stay at home mom. I played piano at church, for a high school choir, and any other opportunity that came along. I also taught lessons from our home. Although I enjoyed teaching beginners, it was that rare advanced student that really made me smile. I loved the challenge of getting them to be expressive, to really think about what they were playing.

Fast-forward nine years. We moved to Tulsa, two of our three kids were in elementary school. Our youngest wasn’t particularly happy about being home without brother and sister. It was time for a change. After a few phone calls, and an interview I was on staff at a local university as an accompanist and eventually added as an adjunct piano instructor. The perfect job!

Full-time positions were rare, but six years later one finally came along. I worked as a visiting professor for one year while going through the interview process. As far as my working life goes, this was one of my best years! I loved going to work every day. My students were challenging and the results rewarding.

I went through the interview process fully expecting to be hired as a piano professor. Although the process was stressful, I was confident. And I clung to Psalm 37:4: “Take delight in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.” After all, this was the desire of my heart. It had been for a long time.

You may have already guessed-I did not get the job. I was devastated. Many tears were shed and questions asked, but not many answers given. I continued working as an adjunct instructor the following year, despite the awkwardness, not wanting to give up my students.

I also did some accompanying at a local middle school for one of my former college students. That’s where I met Jeffrey. Jeffrey was a student with special needs who was in the middle school choir. We had an immediate connection, and I looked forward to visiting with him each class.

Once again I began sensing that need for a change. My husband suggested I apply to be a paraprofessional at the local school. His previous suggestions of this had been ignored, but not this time. My friendship with Jeffrey fueled the decision.

I applied and was hired for the following school year. After several months, I knew I wanted my own classroom. This was not logical. A pianist with two college degrees in music now had the desire to be a special education teacher? With my husband’s research and help, I was completely certified by mid-summer after my first year as a paraprofessional. Even more amazing, I was hired to teach for the upcoming school year.

The realization I’d actually been given the desires of my heart only came after my career change. I had worked as a college professor, even if only for one year. And it was a great year! The truly amazing thing is He gave my heart a new desire and then opened the doors for it to be fulfilled.

That probably sounds like the end of the story, right? It was only the beginning, as I am currently in my 5th year as an elementary music teacher (the one thing I never thought I’d be) in the same building where I taught special education. And I’m certain there are more changes to come. Who knows what is next?

Lessons I have learned through this adventure-sometimes the desires of your heart are granted in ways you never considered. Other times, your heart is given new desires. Either way, there is a plan and a purpose. As long as you are willing to trust and take a step in a new direction. Even when that step takes you where you never thought you’d go.

Teacher as Student

How often do we as teachers think of ourselves as students?  Do we look for opportunities to learn from our students? On those required PD days or weekend workshops, do we truly put ourselves in the position of learner?  I know the answer for me is often no, not really.  It’s easy to just check off another box or keep pressing through my lesson plans.  It’s much harder to focus on what I don’t know and admit needing help.

This weekend I truly experienced what it feels like to be a student.  There were moments of challenge that made my head hurt!  Activities that were way outside of my comfort zone.  I’d forgotten how frustrating those times can be, especially when they involve disagreements or differences in teaching philosophies.  I don’t particularly like to debate and often avoid conflict.  But I was reminded of their benefit and usefulness when used in structured and limited ways.

The challenging times were followed by moments of encouragement and creativity.  When you sing or dance with a group of people you’ve just debated, the air clears rather quickly.  There really is something powerful about music and it’s ability to influence mood and atmosphere.  And that is the root of what made this weekend so special.

Our topic was “Teaching Music to Students With Special Needs.”  The group of participants was made up of music teachers and special education teachers.  As you can imagine, the personalities, opinions, and philosophies were strong on both sides.  With the help of our amazing instructor, we were able to work together, learning new material and sharing helpful ideas from our own teaching experiences.

Tomorrow I will head back to my classroom.  Yes, I will be taking super fun, new, and exciting activities with me.  Hopefully those will help renew my energy as the teacher.  But more important than the activities will be the attention I give to my students as individuals, looking for ways to both support and challenge all of them.  Focusing on each one as a person first, while also recognizing and acknowledging their differences.

Being a student is hard work!  And to be a great teacher, I have to continue being a student, too!