Community

One day this week, our elementary school glee club took a little field trip. We traveled by bus, only about a mile, to a local supermercado. It may have been a short ride, but it left a lasting impression.

One of our school’s community partners sent a request several weeks ago. Did we have a small group of students who could sing at an awards ceremony? A businessman in the community was to receive special recognition from the Mexican Consulate. That is all the information we received. 

We gladly agreed to participate. The performance would be short and sweet, only two songs. The location was close to school, so it would not disrupt our whole day.

The students were very excited! There were lots of giggles and squeals as we boarded the bus, wearing our new glee club t-shirts. Upon arrival, our community school’s coordinator went in ahead of us to get details. 

While we waited, some of the students noticed a car from a local tv news station in the parking lot. Now there were nervous squeals. “Are we going to be on the news?” 

We soon learned the significance of this celebration. As we entered the supermercado, we were met by people dressed in formal attire. Tables with black tablecloths indicated a fancy reception. Long tables were filled with appetizers and desserts. Servers were dressed in chef’s attire, ready to serve.

Family members and distinguished guests had come to honor one particular businessman for his steadfast work to better his community. And our small group of students got to be part of the celebration. 

Students’ nerves soon settled, and they took their place in front of the crowd. Their performance was energetic and exciting! Through contagious smiles, they sang “La Bamba” and “Oye.”   

Once the music stopped, the air quickly filled with applause, bravos, and the snapping of photographs. Students were then invited to partake of the wonderful food. As a teacher, I was both pleasantly surprised and a little nervous.  😉

There was no reason to worry. Students followed instructions, politely chose their food, and listened to the presentation while they ate. I was even able to sneak a little taste. I don’t think I’ve ever been more proud of a specific group of students.

This whole experience left me thinking about the word community. I suppose I belong to many different communities. Whether through family, home, work, church, each is important. And my responsibility in each varies.

This week, I was privileged to celebrate the community where I work. Our students had the opportunity to show pride in the community where they live. And all it took was a short bus ride, two songs, and lots of smiles.

I hope students walked away with a lasting memory. One which will encourage them to be leaders in their communities, both now and in the future. I know I did.  ❤

Full Circle

I’m not sure the exact time, place, or person that sparked Rachel’s passion for individuals with special needs. Perhaps it was noticing kids at school. Or maybe getting to know her friend, Chandler. More importantly, that spark continued to grow.

During junior-high, Rachel served as a peer tutor in special education classes. It was also at this time, she and I worked to develop a “Parent’s Night Out” ministry at our church for families of children with special needs. She also began volunteering in weekly Sunday classes and summer camps for individuals with special needs.

Rachel chose service-learning as one of her high school classes. This program allows students to spend time working in an area they are interested in for their career. She spent time each day working in the special education classrooms.

Even during these early experiences, I was amazed at Rachel’s ability to truly be a friend to all who crossed her path. No matter their ability to communicate, she spoke to them as she would to anyone else. She even reminded me on a few occasions that certain individuals were not little kids and should not be spoken to in that manner. 😉

When it came time for college, there was no doubt about her course of study. She would get a degree in special education. She even talked about how her dream job would be to come back to her own school and teach. Teach in those classes where she spent so many hours as a student mentor.

Her college years flew by. And now she is in her first year of teaching. And where is she working? The high school where she graduated. Those same rooms she spent hours in as a student.

Her very own classroom. ❤

Last week I was finally able to see her in action. She is right where she planned to be. Right where she is supposed to be. Teaching young adults who are often overlooked and ignored. Treating them with respect and dignity. Pouring into their lives daily.

Watching my daughter as the teacher? There are not enough words. It is like a beautiful full circle. No beginning or ending. No limits on where she can go or what she will do.

A Happy Reunion

I love reunions. They allow time to reminisce and strengthen already established relationships. Seeing family and friends after time apart can be refreshing. Sometimes I even walk away with new friends.

This week I had one such reunion.

My daughter, Rachel, is a first-year special education teacher at our district’s high school. Several of my former elementary students are now her students. I love hearing her talk about them each day after school. It is nice to have a way to reconnect, even if it’s not in person.

This week I had an opportunity to visit Rachel at work. I was looking forward to seeing her in action and actually visiting with some of these now teenagers. It has been six years or more since I was their teacher. Even though excited, I wasn’t sure what to expect.

When I arrived, they were all in the gym for P.E. I immediately recognized those familiar faces. One precious girl came running towards me. She hugged me and buried her head in my shoulder.

No words. ❤

Our conversation went something like this.

“Oh, Mrs. Morris. I missed you so much!”
“I missed you, too! You look so grown-up and pretty!”
“I think I’m going to cry.”

This precious girl had no idea of the impact of her reaction. I held back my tears.

I was quickly swept away to greet other old friends and meet some new ones. Several students walked right up, shook my hand, and introduced themselves. One took my hand and gently placed it on her face. Another held both my hands and touched his forehead to mine. And yet another asked me my name using sign language.

Each greeting was individual and personal. Each communicated, “I see you. I’m glad you’re here. I want to know you.” I know the words may not have been spoken, but the messages were clear.

Not only did I reconnect with former students, I instantly gained new friends. Their capacity to love and accept everyone is beyond limits. There are no outsiders.

This short visit left me with a thankful heart. Thankful not only for this happy reunion but also for the chance to witness my daughter as a teacher.

But that’s a story for another day…

Dynamic Duo

I teach music in a large elementary school, over one thousand students. It is almost like two schools in one. Half of the students come to my class for music. The other half to my teaching partner. For grade-level performances, however, we come together as one big group. At least, that is our plan.

Our first performance is rapidly approaching. Fourth-grade students are busy learning songs and speaking parts for two Veterans Day assemblies. At least, they are supposed to be.

Preparing a large group for a performance is a daunting task. This year, in particular, I have been struggling. New students and unfamiliar music proved too much for me to handle.

Pridefully, I did not want to admit my struggles. But I finally had no choice. Of course, my friend was understanding and gracious, agreeing to a last-minute change.

We agreed on a well-known replacement song and decided to team-teach our classes for the next rotation. My stress level immediately dropped.

Even though we teach the same material, we have different styles. His students are familiar with his, mine with mine. What happened when we combined the two? Well, let’s just say we were a dynamic duo!

Students were initially confused. But once we got started, the results were amazing! Kids were engaged, they listened, and sang. The two of us naturally bantered back and forth. It was so much fun!

There is still much work to be done. Time is short. Will the program be perfect? No, but perfection is not our goal. Our goal is for students to give their best. And in doing so, to experience the power of sharing their music.

Hopefully, under the direction of our dynamic duo, students will continue to work hard. I know we will continue to have fun pushing them to be their best. And I will continue to be thankful for an energetic and understanding colleague. 🙂

Small Victories

Today was the last day of school before Fall Break. Honestly, I was pretty much in survival mode. My focus was on getting to the end of the day. And I almost missed a small victory.

One particular third-grade class has been a challenge. I’ve had a difficult time connecting with some of the personalities in this group. And I’ve allowed this difficulty to turn into frustration on several occasions.

The classroom teacher for this group is awesome! She is patient, kind, and supportive. She has witnessed my frustration on several occasions. And yet, also recognized my desire to connect with the students. Today’s success began with her.

Last week she mentioned a student’s interest in rapping. There had been some impromptu rapping going on in their class. This knowledge opened the door, giving me a way to connect with one friend in particular.

I asked this student to share in class. His initial response was one of hesitation. He did not share that day but said he would keep working. At least the mood was lighter. I was able to relax and have fun, creating a silly rap myself.

      My name’s Mrs. Morris, and I like to play
       The piano every single day
       I love you guys, but you drive me crazy
       Especially on the days when you act lazy

Yes, I know a career in rap is not for me. However, my students and I had a much-needed laugh. 🙂

Fast forward to today. Students were talking about rapping when they walked through my door. Two students got up to share their rhymes in front of the class. They acted silly and embarrassed, but they did it! The one student I was hoping to reach? Still no rap.

When class was over, I encouraged him to keep working and bring what he had written to class next time. I also reminded him that it didn’t need to be finished or perfect. I tried to honestly express my interest in what he had created.

And that’s when the victory occurred. No, I did not hear the rap. I did, however, hear about his other interests. Suddenly, he was telling me about things he had done as a kid. He was proud of these things and eager to share.

Our conversation was brief. But our conversation was positive. It was the first time this student talked to me as a person. And possibly the first time I truly listened.

During the few minutes between classes, I quietly celebrated.

I have more work to do. I’m sure there will still be moments of frustration. But in between those moments, I will remind myself to look for similar successes. Small victories that are truly worth celebrating!

Reset Button

Some days I feel the need for a reset button. There have been many times as a wife, mom, and teacher I longed for a second chance. Times when I was impatient. Times when things didn’t go the way I planned.

I’ve recently experienced such times. Last week, I was not always a patient teacher. Despite my best plan, attempts to connect with my students often fell flat. By Friday, I was frustrated and confused.

Over the weekend, I began to think about expectations. I had worked to establish student expectations, but what about teacher expectations? I was expecting myself to successfully teach certain materials without first creating a solid foundation. Maybe not the best plan after all.

Although unintentional, I had placed myself in an uncomfortable position. One which was bound to negatively influence my connections with students.

I see my classes on a three-day rotation and today started the beginning of a new rotation. So, I decided to hit that reset button. I did not worry about what I wasn’t teaching. Instead, I shared a growth mindset lesson about which I am passionate.

What a difference! Students were interested and engaged. We had some awesome discussions. We spent time getting to know one another. Our foundation grew a little stronger. Oh, and we still had time for some music activities. 😉

Tomorrow and Friday bring new sets of students. Two more chances to press that reset button. Here’s to learning from my mistakes and allowing myself a little grace.

Neighborhood Walk

It’s that time of the summer. Back-to-school ads are everywhere. School staff members are working hard to make sure everything is ready when the students arrive. It is a team effort.

I spent most of last week preparing my classroom. But on Thursday evening, I experienced a different type of back-to-school preparation. I went on a neighborhood walk.

What an amazing experience! Around sixty school staff members gathered in the cafeteria for snacks and instructions. Our goal? To visit the families of our nine-hundred plus students.

Each team received a list of names with addresses and a map. We drove together to our assigned neighborhood or apartment complex.

Walking door-to-door, we greeted each student at their home. We introduced ourselves and gave each child a backpack. Parents shook our hands, grateful for the information shared. Kids’ smiled, telling us their grade level.

During our walk, one family stuck with me. As soon as we introduced ourselves, the mom began speaking in Spanish. Two precious little girls stood close by her side. Although I could not understand what she was saying, I sensed she was happy.

Thankfully, our assistant principal translated. He told us the mom had shared that her daughter was excited about school. She knew teachers were coming to visit that day, and had been awake since 5 A.M. waiting! The walk did not start until 5:30 P.M. She had been waiting for us all day long! ❤

A little later, we walked back by their apartment. I noticed the little girl standing on the landing with her younger sister. They were playfully hiding behind a post. When she saw us, she looked out from behind the post, smiled, and waved.

The smile on that little girl’s face was the real reason for our walk. Yes, we handed out important information. Yes, we provided a few school supplies. And yes, we were hot and sweaty. 😉 But more importantly, we made connections. We made connections with colleagues, parents, and students.

The first day of school can be stressful. But just maybe, the connections made during that back-to-school neighborhood walk will help ease the stress for our students. I know it helped ease mine. 🙂