Teaching Connections

Why is change so difficult? Even intentional changes come with a certain level of nervousness. Whether it is a move, a new job, having another baby…even though exciting, each requires adjustments.

Before any rumors get started, no-I am not having another baby! 😉 I am, however, changing jobs. Although excited, I’m also a tad anxious. And yet, reflecting on my emotions brings one word to mind~connections.

Life as a teacher is all about connections. Bonds with students, families, and co-workers create the framework for what happens in a classroom. It is a window to the surrounding community. As a teacher, I am responsible for making a positive impact on that community from my small space.

For the past five years, I spent every day in the Peters Elementary music classroom. My students grew from cute little kindergarteners to fourth-grade school leaders right before my eyes. I listened as they sang and played instruments. I laughed and cried with them as we shared our life stories-family members with cancer, death, divorce, new siblings, graduations, birthdays. They knew my stories, and I knew theirs.

The three years prior to occupying that room, I taught special education in the same building, different room. Here I learned much more than I taught. Connections from that time remain strong. Students, families, and colleagues from those teaching years hold a special place in my heart.

But now it is time for a new chapter, an adventure. I will continue teaching music, but at a different school in our district, Ellen Ochoa Elementary. I will be one of two music teachers in a building set to hold approximately one thousand students. We have our work cut out for us. And I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a little nervous.

You know what the beautifully ironic thing is? Those connections from my years at Peters-friends, colleagues, families, students-are the ones cheering me on.

Thanks to their encouragement, my focus has shifted. No need to be nervous; just continue making connections. Connections with new colleagues. Connections with a new community. Most of all, connections with the kiddos who enter my music room. After all, that’s where the teaching begins.

School Year Successes

Reflections often bring mixed emotions. Whether it’s looking in the mirror or taking stock of an entire year of teaching, there are always things I wish I could change. For this end-of-the-year review, however, I’ve decided to focus on the positive.

One of my main goals this year was making sure all students who entered the music room were able to participate on some level. In particular, I wanted to connect more with our friends receiving special education services. Professional development early in the year was both challenging and encouraging, and it reminded me of the importance of these connections.

So here are my top three successes:

  • A smile
  • A high-five
  • A music stamp on a hand

All three involved the same child. A child who would not come into my classroom last year and this year spent most of his time sitting at the back. I intentionally approached him slowly and quietly, and he eventually smiled. When I got my first high-five, there were definitely tears. And allowing me to put a music stamp on his hand? That was a big step!

Did he sing or play an instrument? No. However, he listened, sometimes colored, and participated in his own way. He let me enter his world for tiny little snippets of time. And for that, I am grateful.

One Day Difference

This time of year is crazy! If you don’t believe me, ask a teacher. The number of school days remaining has hit single digits. Spring fever is in the air. Closing out the current year while planning for the next brings added stress. Many days leave me emotionally drained and physically exhausted.

The May calendar is filled with activities. Field day, talent show, picnics, yearbook signing to name a few. Although fun, they require planning and interrupt routines.

This week has been particularly hard. After school Wednesday, all I wanted to do was take a nap. But I was unable to relax or quiet my thoughts. Instead of resting, I cried. A restless night lead to a grumpy Mrs. Morris Thursday morning.

Thursday’s plan included talent show practice. Students came to the gym during specials to rehearse on the stage. But rehearsals did not take up the entire class. What to do with the remaining time? Song requests!

I like to plan a day where students request their favorite songs. Despite good intentions, this is one end-of-the-year activity that often gets passed over. Not this year.

This was the perfect day! Imagine Dragons and Panic at the Disco topped the list. Songs from Annie and The Greatest Showman also made the cut. Pop, country, rock-a little bit of everything.

Two particular selections turned my day around. The first came during fourth grade. I already had a list of songs from this group and the requests were anonymous. Half-way down the list was Baby Shark. I have done my best to avoid this song. Not today.

It was so much fun! Fourth graders simply being kids. Singing, laughing, doing silly motions. And when I asked who requested the song, an ornery boy raised his hand. I laughed and thanked him for his choice.

The second selection came in kindergarten. After singing Baa Baa Black Sheep and Baby Bumblebee, one sweet little boy raised his hand. What was his request? Jingle Bells! There is something special about a gym full of kindergarteners singing Jingle Bells in May, with only nine days of school left.

I need to remember to slow down, forget about the to-do list, and have fun with my students. These final days of school will be over in a snap.

After school Thursday, I drove home, had a snack, and slept soundly on the couch for about an hour. Yes, I’m still tired. Yes, there is still work to be done. But a little fun with kids singing Baby Shark and Jingle Bells just might get me through. One day really can make a difference!

Of course, today is Friday. It was field day…and that’s another story. 😉 Eight days to go…

My Favorite Seat

The past several weeks, I’ve spent many hours in my favorite seat. Hours practicing piano, preparing for rehearsals with young musicians. Some were singers, others played instruments. All of them dedicated and hardworking students. My job? To be their accompanist, providing support for their music-making endeavors.

Opportunities like these often fill my head with thoughts of more performing jobs. Memories of the years when playing piano consumed more of my time begin to surface. And although those were good times, this train of thought can be a dangerous one. Feelings of restlessness begin to creep in, causing uncertainty and doubts about my teaching.

Not so on this particular occasion…

This past Thursday, I spent the day accompanying high school students at State Solo-N-Ensemble contest. That evening I also participated in their chamber music concert. Such a fun, rewarding day of performing.

What happened after the concert had the most surprising impact.

As I left the concert, my phone started buzzing. The students I had accompanied all day were sending thanks through text messages.

“Thank you for being my accompanist!!!”
“Thank you for everything, Mrs. Morris!”
“I loved playing music with you!”

Suddenly my thoughts were not on seeking more playing opportunities. My thoughts were on the amazing opportunities I already have. “Best of both worlds” kept entering my mind. Both worlds? What does that mean?

Ah…performing and teaching.

Yes, my favorite seat is behind the piano. However, I cannot spend all my time there. Time spent in a classroom is also important. I must recognize the value of getting off of that piano bench and teaching the next generation.

Who knows, maybe some of my elementary students will grow up to be accomplished musicians. Maybe future requests for an accompanist will come from some of them. I hope so!

Accompanying my son, Robert. 🙂

“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. 😉

Best Moments and Braids

One kindergarten girl stayed extra close to me during music today. She wanted hugs, asked about my family pictures. ”Do you have two sons?” ”Yes, I do. And one daughter,” I replied. Making time for one-on-one conversations is difficult with twenty other little ones waiting. Although the others were perfectly content to laugh, talk, and roll around on the floor.

Finally, I coaxed my friend to her music spot. Our class reviewed scat singing and continued to learn more about jazz. We turned Old MacDonald turned into a jazz tune and listened to Ella Fitzgerald’s version. If you’ve never heard it, you should take a listen. https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/old-mcdonald/1447184655?i=1447184659

We further explored the Pink Panther theme, including a short clip from the original cartoon. They loved it!

The class was over, students lined up at the door. My little friend gave me one more hug. I commented on her pretty braid and asked if she thought I was too old for braids. She giggled and followed her class down the hall.

I moved on to first-grade music class. Halfway through class, my little braided hair friend appeared. ”I made you something,” she smiled. A folded piece of notebook paper with the words ”I miss u,” printed on the outside in purple marker. It had been a whole twenty minutes since I’d seen her.

The inside contained a drawing. A big person and a little person. The smaller one labeled ”me” and the taller one labeled ”my music teacher.” Required some deciphering, but I’m pretty sure that’s what it said. She gave me one more big hug as I thanked her for the picture, and she headed back to class.

What prompted these events? I have no idea. But they were the best moments of the school day.

Here’s to tomorrow. Three days until spring break. I need to be on the lookout for more ”best moments.”

Maybe I should wear braids tomorrow…😉

Change of Course

My lesson plan for today was in place. I had taught it yesterday to a different group and it went well. Today I would hit repeat. No need to change course.

The end of my lesson included selections from a list of students’ most requested songs/videos. Near the end of my first class, I mentioned this list and my recent promise to show some of them. Today was the day, and they were excited!

This list includes things like the Marble Machine, O Fortuna with Star Wars, and The Champion by Carrie Underwood. After viewing a couple of selections, a 5th-grade student said, “Why don’t you play the piano for us? Didn’t you add that to our list of favorites?” “You want me to play the piano for you?” I asked. “Yes! How about the Pink Panther?” someone else yelled.

I have taught this group of 5th graders since they were 1st graders. That first year, I often ended class by playing the piano. It was part of our routine, and helped students get to know me.

For some reason, I have not continued that routine. Not sure why. Trying new things, I suppose. Thanks to this one comment from a 5th-grade student, it made a comeback today. Not only did his class hear Pink Panther on the piano, so did every other class today.

This “change of course” may have been small, but it created bright spots throughout the day. A 4th grader commented, “I always love when you play the piano for us.” Kindergarten and 1st-grade students accompanied me with their maracas. 2nd graders created a scat cymbal sound while I played. Chhh-Chhh-Ch-Ch. So much fun!

Before you picture Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music, strumming her guitar, children happily singing, let me assure you that was not the reality. Moments of frustration remained. Patience did not always abound. And I was a little grumpy right before lunchtime…

That being said, the day as a whole was a success. And not because of my lesson plans. Because one student suggested a small “change of course.” One which had the power to impact the whole day. I’m so glad I listened. Besides, how can you go wrong with The Pink Panther on the piano? 😉