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.

When Your Dad is the Principal

As I reflect on yesterday’s graduation ceremonies, my thoughts keep floating back to my husband, Gart. He is a career educator, twenty-six years now. His path began with band directing and moved through various levels of administration. Because of this, our kids’ educational experiences included “Dad as principal.”

What is it like when your dad is the principal? I’m sure my kids would have things to add, but today I’ll share my perspective.

When the kids were younger, elementary and junior high age, it meant riding the bus to his school in the afternoons. It meant exploring every inch of his building. It meant finding all the secret hiding places while staying out of trouble.

As they got older, the meaning changed. The following questions should help paint the picture.

  • Do I need to spend the day with you at your school?
  • Do I need to contact your teacher?
  • Exactly why have you not turned in your assignments this week?

Those questions and the conversations which followed carried a heavier weight than their earlier building adventures. They were only matched by statements like these:

  • I received a call/email today from your principal/teacher.
  • I contacted your teacher today, and you will be…
  • Due to your choices, you will not be able to…

Thankfully, these did not happen often. But when they did, they were not taken lightly. There were some difficult, uncomfortable conversations around the dinner table. But we all survived and are stronger because of them.

Experiencing their dad as principal also meant wisdom and guidance in planning for the future. He witnessed the impact poor choices can have on a student’s future many times. And although he was always ready to share advice or answer questions, he encouraged them to choose their own path.

“Just do you,” he still loves to tell them.

There is no question as to the best part of “dad as principal.” When each of them completed high school and walked across that graduation stage, Dad was waiting there to greet them. He stood with open arms, ready to hand them their diploma, and say, “Congratulations! I’m so proud of you!” And just as quickly, he watched them walk away.

Of course, Gart is much more than “principal” to our three kids. But the impact that title had on our family will be felt for years to come. It helped shape the three of them into amazing young adults.

Each of our children has their own goals and aspirations. Each shows the determination to see them fulfilled. Most importantly, each of them loves their dad. And from my perspective, that’s what happens when your dad is the principal.

“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. 😉

…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

Best of Both Worlds

From the beginning of November until early February, my life is a little crazy. It’s musical season! During this season, my usual teaching day is followed by a three to four-hour rehearsal. Extra long days and lots of coffee. 😉 ☕️

This year marks my fourth consecutive Union Public Schools all-school musical-Newsies! Each year I think, “I’m not sure I can do this again.” But each year I cannot say no. Time spent in my favorite place, behind the piano, while being part of something bigger than myself. Amazing students, colleagues, and music.

A couple of weeks ago, I asked several of our Newsies cast members if they’d be willing to perform for our elementary school students. My team was planning a Responsibility assembly, and these students were the perfect guests. After all, their success depends on being responsible.

Today was assembly day. These three were rock stars! They spoke with enthusiasm and animation. They performed their songs beautifully. Despite beyond full schedules, they were willing to spend quality time with younger students.

For me, today brought the best of both worlds. Students I teach every day heard from students I’m privileged to work with during the musical season. Elementary students got a glimpse of what’s possible when they choose hard work and responsibility. High school students remembered their younger years and realized how far they’ve come.

And I witnessed it all from behind that piano. Doesn’t get much better…

More Than Just a Band Concert

My husband and I recently attended our last winter concert as band parents. Our youngest son, a tuba player, is a senior. If not careful, my emotions can quickly take over during events like this. The powerful music, memories of concerts past and of faithfully attending family members who are no longer with us create a perfect recipe for tears.

The band program has been an integral part of our family life for many years. Great memories. So many expressions of support and encouragement. Sibling to sibling, parent to child, grandparent to grandchild-a beautiful circle of family love and support. With an added bonus of experiencing amazing music. (Not to mention the after-concert dessert. That may be the part I’ll miss the most.) 

Of course, some “mom” traditions accompany these events. Pre-concert photos, often by the Christmas tree, for starters. Due to a musical rehearsal after school, I was not home to get that picture this year. Instead, I was meeting our son for a quick dinner before the concert.

As he climbed out of his car, looking so handsome in his tuxedo, I said, “Oh no. I wish I’d thought to have Rachel take your…”. Before I could finish my sentence, he said, “It’s ok, Mom. Rachel took a picture. She knew you’d want one.” I managed not to burst into tears, so proud that my kiddos recognize the importance of these little things.


                                     Winter band concert 2018

Sitting in those performing arts center seats once again, like so many times before, I was overcome with a sense of gratitude for this experience in our kids’ lives. Involvement in these groups grounded them, gave them a place to belong, and taught them a life-long skill. Responsibility, creativity, discipline-to name a few of the strengths gained. And all of this in the setting of a public-school music program.

While listening to beautiful music, I noticed the number of students on stage. All of these individuals, capable of making a lovely sound on their own. Yet working together, their parts intertwined, created magic. And all the magic held together by an amazing teacher/director standing in front of them.

Although I know time must keep moving, and a new season is approaching, it’s difficult to imagine a school year without such events. I’m looking forward to discovering what new things we will celebrate and encourage as parents. But I will always remember our years attending concerts with joy, thankfulness, and appreciation for the power of music. Looking back with the understanding that if you look closely enough, you realize each event was much more than just a band concert.