The Best Medicine

There are few sounds sweeter than pure, honest laughter. The kind that, once started, is hard to stop. I heard this precious echo twice in my classroom today and welcomed it with open arms.

The first experience was with fourth-grade boys. Our lesson today was about the Brass family of instruments. After a brief discussion of the word family and its relationship to musical instruments, we watched a short video showing the trumpet, trombone, French horn, and tuba.

Students saw both teens and professional musicians playing each of these instruments. Plus, some shenanigans about unwinding the tubing of the instruments. Here’s where the laughter started. In this video, the tuba was referred to as the “Big Daddy” of the Brass section.

At first, there were just a few giggles. The next thing I knew, one friend could not contain his laughter. It was that innocent kind of laughter, uncontrolled and contagious. We all had a good laugh.

The next incident was in second grade. We were singing a song about lunchboxes. There was a measure of rest where students were supposed to say what they hoped their mom would put in their lunch box.

I decided to go around the room and have them each name their item. There were apples, cookies, milk, grapes, bananas. And then someone smiled and said Chick-fil-A! I responded, “Oh my goodness! Now I am going to be thinking about Chick-fil-A all day! Thank you very much!”

I went on and on…and the laughter began. Guess what the next lunch box suggestion was? Starbucks! I’m thinking they had devised a plan. 😉

Reflecting on the day, I did not realize how desperately I needed to hear, feel, and experience laughter. I’m grateful for those sweet voices able to let it freely flow. It is the best medicine, after all.

Time for Music

Precious, fleeting, brief
There is never enough-
We want it to slow down,
Then speed right back up.
I’m speaking about time, of course-
Such a fascinating concept
We break it down into
Hours, minutes, seconds
Weeks, months, years
To what end?
Today, I played
A piece of music
On the piano
Baroque music written
Four-hundred years ago
Can that be correct?
History says it’s so
As amazing as the
Four-hundred years
May sound, the wonder
Occurred in one brief moment-
The eyes of a child
Listening and watching
Questioning how those
Notes on the page
Made their way
To my hands

I love playing the piano for my students. The only downside is not being able to teach all of them to play. Someone always asks, and I smile, wishing that was possible. In my dream teaching world, I would have a room full of keyboards. And each student would have the opportunity to experience that note-to-eyes-to-hands connection.

This week while playing, I heard one of them whisper, “That must be a recording.” Then they snuck over and peeked around the side of the piano. Another class was lining up to leave. One little boy said, “One of my favorite things today was hearing you play the piano.”

And one of my favorite things was being able to play the piano for you… ❤

Good Tired

Last Friday was my first day back at school since before Christmas break. Not only that, the two weeks before Christmas break, we were in distance learning. Basically, my students and I had not been face-to-face for six weeks.

Two of my classes on Friday were brand new. These students had chosen virtual education for the first semester but were now returning to in-person learning. Some faces I recognized from last year, but there were many new ones.

I quickly realized the challenges of the day. There was a little hesitation from older students. One of my friends said, “Oh, Mrs. Morris! I thought you had quit.” I quickly reassured him that “Goodness no! I have been sick.”

Old connections needed to be reestablished. New connections had to be created. Good, but challenging work. I tried to physically rest as much as possible while teaching. But that was impossible with my first and second-grade classes.

Those littles were excited and ready for music. I found myself moving with them, pouring out what energy I had left. Those smiles, wide eyes, listening ears…responding and participating. It was so much fun!

At the end of the day, I was tired. But it was a good tired. The kind that gives me hope and pushes me to keep going.

Recurring Theme

There is such a tired
As good tired
Feeling accomplished
After working hard
Doing the right thing,
Simply because it’s
The right thing to do-
Not because of
Reaching the next
Step on the ladder
That is a never-ending
Cycle of exhaustion
Dependent on approval
Of those standing by
Watching and waiting
For a fall from grace-
No, this tired says
Job well-done
Now it is time to rest,
Sit beside quiet waters,
Listen and let the sound
Refresh mind, body, and spirit
As the work of life continues,
And good tired becomes
A recurring theme

Point of Reference

I grew up with a large extended family. My parents have been married for over fifty years. In my circle of family and friends, we have experienced life and death, cancer, anxiety and depression, and, of course, art, and music. I could discuss any of those things all day long.

There are other things I would rather not discuss. This week I was reminded more than once of life experiences for which I have no point of reference.

The first one involved a younger student. Before class, the teacher mentioned that the father of this child was going to prison. This friend was restless, struggling to engage and fit in. Quickly moving between over-excitement and complete stillness. I think it had been a rough day.

I had my young friend sitting right beside me during music class. When I sensed a little restlessness, I slowly patted on the back-a steady, gentle, sixty-beats-per-minute pat. It seemed to help.

After class, I found myself thinking, “How could my actions possibly help this situation for the long-term?” Yes, they might have helped at that moment. However, in the grand scheme, offered little.

The second involved an older student. This student was able to put their feelings and experiences clearly into words. Nothing could prepare me for hearing, “I was taken away from mom. I talk to her sometimes, but she really doesn’t want to see me.”

I managed a short response, “I’m sorry. You are special. I love you.”

I cannot possibly understand how this student feels. I could offer a listening ear, a kind word, and a smile. Was that enough? It certainly did not feel like it at the moment.

Thankfully, I am not the only one listening. I work in a school building, a district, and a profession with many other caring adults. Many of them listen to heart-breaking stories every day. And the collective listening and responding do have the power to make a positive impact.

No, I may not have a personal point of reference for these two students. And I know there are many other stories I have not heard. But there is strength in numbers. And tonight, I will rest in that point of reference.

A Tiny Bit Proud

My eight semesters of college Spanish are long gone. Although I recognize a few words and remember the pronunciation guides, my conversation skills are limited, to say the least.

Our school, and particularly my kindergarten classes, have a lot of Spanish-speaking students. One student in particular cries often and is always ready to go home. School is an adjustment for the littles, especially when adding COVID precautions and language barriers. It makes getting to know them a little more challenging.

In music class one day, I played a song that was in both English and Spanish. The student I mentioned smiled and stopped crying. It was obvious. I needed to think about using more songs and stories in Spanish.

Then last week, I came across a book I had ordered this past school year. It’s called “Peppa Pig: La lección de ballet.” I probably was not thinking about using it for a read-aloud at the time. But I decided to give it a try.

I practiced reading the book, making sure I understood the story. Watched an English version of the story. And then I asked the kindergarten teachers what they thought about having a guest reader.

Which brings us to this morning. I read the book in Spanish for my kindergarten classes! No, I did not understand every word but could pronounce most. And the kids seemed to enjoy the story.

Was the experience comfortable? Not really. Was it worth the attempt? Definitely!

How do I know? The teacher of my little friend who cries a lot said he was smiling through the whole story! ❤

I was too busy concentrating to notice!

I know there were mistakes, mispronounced words. But I walked away smiling and feeling just a tiny bit proud.

For the First Time

We are in our fourth week of school-during a pandemic, attempting to social distance, everyone wearing masks, etc. School, unlike anything we have experienced before.

Today, during my fifth-grade class, I had this sudden urge to see their faces. At the end of music class, I reminded them about the importance of wearing masks. Then I told them I missed seeing their faces, and we would be taking a quick mask break.

I explained that we would take our masks off, then I would count down from five to zero, and we would put them back on.

Those five seconds felt like walking out into the sunshine. Smiles everywhere! Then I heard a student shout, “Mrs. Morris!” As if he had just recognized me!

As we put our masks back on, I started to tear up. “You look like you’re about to cry,” another student said. “I am,” I admitted. “And now my glasses are fogging up! How am I supposed to read you guys a book?”

We all laughed. I choked back my tears and made it through a few pages before it was time to go.

Wow! Four weeks in and today, it feels like we saw each other for the first time. I had forgotten the power of a smile. And multiplied by twenty, well, there is nothing quite like it.

This one, spur-of-the-minute decision changed the trajectory of my whole day. Yes, the masks were still there. But for a few seconds in each class, I saw sweet faces. And those sweet faces have no idea how much they helped this struggling teacher. ❤

A Hug I Could Not Refuse

Social distancing guidelines do not allow for hugs in most situations. And compared to my typical teacher hug routine, I would guess I’m about 90% successful at school. Although honestly, it feels more like missed opportunities than successes.

One day last week, there was an opportunity I’m glad I did not miss.

Music class is supposed to be fun and engaging. At least, that is my plan. And when I cannot seem to get a student interested, engaged, connecting-it is frustrating. Last week I had one of those kiddos.

In our first class together, there was constant disruption. This student showed no desire to participate. No matter what I tried, he was determined to get out of the room.

The next time I came to this class, something was different. I have no idea what had happened before my arrival, but my friend was sitting there ready for music.

Now, several reminders and redirections were needed, but there was also participation! And he made it through the entire lesson. Even though it was a small step, I counted it a success.

Later in the day, I walked past the same class heading out to recess. I caught the eye of my friend. “You did a great job in music today. I am really proud of you,” I said. He stepped out of line and sheepishly reached one arm out to give me a hug. His reach was hesitant, his eyes looking down.

Needless to say, social distancing guidelines flew right out the window.

This was a big step, and a hug I could not refuse. ❤

Grandma’s Back

Last school year, I had a sweet group of fourth-graders. They liked to call me “Grandma.” I did not mind it one bit. It was funny and endearing. And it allowed for connections that otherwise might not have happened. The Grandma Connection

Fast forward to this new school year. Those sweet friends are all scattered. Some opting for virtual. Others no longer in my music class. I imagine some have also moved. But there’s one I still get to see.

This particular friend, now a big fifth-grader, has been a little withdrawn these first two weeks of school. I haven’t had much luck getting him to participate in music. But sometimes it takes time to get back in the routine of school, so I hadn’t given it much thought.

Today forced the issue. When I entered the classroom, my friend was sitting at the back, head down, hood on. And when other classmates were getting out laptops for an activity, he didn’t budge. I tried getting him to go, but he was not moving.

Once the other students were logged in and exploring their music activities, I made my way to the back of the room.

Me: Remember what you called me last year?
Student: Shakes head no.
Me: Yes, you do. You called me Grandma.
Student: Shakes head.
Me: That means you can always talk to me. Ok?
Student: Shakes head again.
Me: (Patting his head) Love you, Bud.

I was sitting in my room eating lunch a few hours later when this friend showed up at the door. Carrying his lunch tray, hood off, smiling behind that face mask. He walked over and gave me a hug, assuring me that he was ok.

What a relief! Many moments tested my patience today. And some of my reactions could have been better. I am thankful that this one, at least, worked its way to a positive.

I guess this means Grandma’s back! 😉

Welcome Back!

This week I was able to go back to my classroom for a short time. Take things off the walls, put away personal items, clean off my desk. Basically, the process of closing things up for summer.

Typically, this day happens in late May and is followed by a celebration with colleagues at a local restaurant. We congratulate each other on making it through the school year. We talk about plans for the summer. Not this time…

The building was empty, quiet. Only a few teachers are allowed in at the same time to work. The only sounds came from the precious workers in the cafeteria, busy preparing the food being distributed to our families.

My daughter, Rachel, went with me to help. Both of us wearing face masks. It didn’t take us long to get things packed away. I only had two small boxes to carry home-some personal piano music and my Freddie the Frog puppet.

The final step was turning in my keys. This action usually comes with a sigh of relief. A pause in responsibility, allowing rest after a hard year’s work. Not so much.

Once we were back home, I found myself feeling grumpy and irritable. I tried reading a little. I had a zoom meeting with my team-our last official one of this year. Everything just felt strange.

Maybe a nap would help. Clear my head, at least. It did not completely change my mood, but it did allow some perspective.

It’s no surprise I was feeling strange! This is not how the school year is supposed to end. It is supposed to end with celebrations, hugs, goodbyes, and even a few tears. Those things will not happen.

I was missing that “Hooray for summer!” time with colleagues because I missed the “Hooray for summer!” time with students.

My classroom is empty. Ready for a fresh start. Hopefully, that fresh start begins with a happy, “Welcome back!”

Freddie will be making appearances in some upcoming Zoom meetings. 😉 ❤

Zoom!

Raise your hand if you’ve been in a Zoom meeting this week! If I had to guess, probably more than one. Teachers in our district are zooming in, making plans for distance learning. I’ve been part of several over the last few days.

It is nice to see familiar faces and catch up. It is also a great space for brainstorming and sharing ideas. It can also be a little overwhelming.

One thing keeps making me laugh. Every time I see or hear the word Zoom or get an invite to a Zoom, I have flashbacks to my childhood. Anyone else?

The show Zoom dates back to the 1970s. It has nothing to do with online video conferencing. Or does it?

I loved watching this show as a kid. I remember it being informational yet entertaining. It was kids talking to kids.

Today I decided to look it up and see what information I could find. Here are some of the lyrics to the original opening song:

       Come on and zoom, zoom, zoom-a-zoom
       You’ve gotta zoom-a-zoom-a-zoom-a-zoom
       Come on give it a try
       We’re gonna show you why
       We’re gonna teach you to fly high
       Come on and Zoom!
       Come on and Zoom Zoom!

Watch the opening scene. There is music, dancing, introductions. And at one point, a screen full of faces. A diverse group of kids, working together to teach as many kids as they can reach, about all kinds of things. Sounds a little familiar.

Think about it. This idea of distance learning is new for most of us. We have different levels of comfort concerning technology. Yet, we all have knowledge worth sharing.

So, here we are, coming together, Zooming through this process together. Learning from each other as we go.

I’m pretty sure these kids set a good example for us to follow. https://youtu.be/F7gzHLKT5g4