By the Numbers

I have always been fascinated by the connections between music and math. And I love using math concepts to teach music. No, they are not exactly the same. But they do work together beautifully.

Today in music class, students were introduced to that connection. And they used it to become composers.

The premise was simple. Students would write four sets of four numbers (using only 1-5) on a notecard. The groups of numbers would then be translated into a melody, using the notes C, D, E, F, and G.

Before students chose their number groups, we talked about patterns. First, we studied the patterns on the keyboard. We discussed how numbers in a pattern can step up and down, skip, or repeat. Just like a melody.

2, 3, 2, 3…

With this in mind, each student received a notecard. They divided it into fourths, creating four boxes. Each box was then filled with four numbers of their choosing.

There were students, notecards, and pencils everywhere! It was loud! Controlled chaos, I like to say. But it was awesome!

Once students completed their pattern cards, I planned to play their melodies on the piano.

The response from my fifth-grade class was precious. And “precious” is not a word I often use to describe fifth graders. 😉

As I began to play the compositions, students huddled around the piano. Each one crowded in, trying to hand me their card next. Each one sheepishly smiled as they heard their creation. I wish I could have snapped a picture.

Maybe the actual composing was more logic than creativity. But the outcome was music, nonetheless. Even if it was music created by the numbers.

Love to Hope

This was not the subject I planned to write about immediately following Christmas. But I could not ignore the story. A local news headline read, “Toddler critically injured by a gunshot.” None of those words belong in the same sentence, yet here they were again.

An innocent 18-month old baby, sitting in the backseat of a car, had been shot. I don’t know the whole story. Just that someone shot a gun into an SUV and a bullet struck the child.

The shooting occurred the day after Christmas, near my school.
I quickly checked the location of the incident, wondering if I knew the family. Faces of students immediately came to mind. Did they have younger siblings? I didn’t know.

Further investigation showed this specific apartment complex is not one of my school’s neighborhoods. But it was very close.

For a brief moment, I felt relief. And just as quickly, guilt. The reality is a child was shot. And whether or not I have any connection makes the story no less tragic.

I began to wonder. Would my reaction differ if I had known this child or family? Would my anger and sadness lead to action? And if so, what possible action could I take?

Too many unanswered questions. Too many stories repeated. Too many children left with overwhelming emotional scars.

Being a teacher, I sometimes witness the manifestation of these scars. Withdrawal, aggression, and fear top the list. All lead to an inability to connect with others. An inability to trust. An inability to love or be loved.

I teach in a building full of individuals who love every day. We set expectations while recognizing the need for grace. We challenge students while also advocating for them. We mostly smile during the day and sometimes cry at night. I know this is true in other schools as well.

So, how do we continue? Especially in the face of such heart-wrenching stories. We hook arms, grit our teeth, and hold each other up. Remind each other of our purpose. Offer reassurance that what we do each day matters.

We love in hopes of making a difference.

“Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.”
Romans 12:9

” Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” 1 John 3:18

Loud and Clear

My house is quiet this first morning of Christmas break. But moments of joy from yesterday ring loud and clear in my mind.

The last day of school before the break is filled with treats, parties, gifts, and PJs. For teachers, a crazy mix of fun and exhausting! When the day was done, one quote came to mind. It perfectly described two events of the day.

The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear.

Buddy the Elf

As students entered the building, they were greeted by teachers singing and playing hand-held percussion instruments. Jingle bells, maracas, and drums accompanied various Christmas carols.

But the fun did not stop there. Once students were settled in their classrooms, one group of teachers decided to take this musical show on the road.

With instruments in hand and portable BlueTooth speaker in tow, we were off. Traveling through the entire school, past every single classroom. Familiar tunes of Jingle Bells, Frosty, Rudolph, and Feliz Navidad filled the air.

Students and teachers smiled their biggest smiles. Faces pressed against windows, students waved, some sang along. Some eyes even filled with tears. The joy was almost tangible. Most assuredly contagious and loud!

The second event occurred in my classroom. Not nearly as loud, but just as clear in its joy.

My kindergarten class was watching “The Nutcracker Prince.” During the movie, I decided to sit on the floor near the kids. Soon, I had five or six kiddos sitting right next to me, leaning in and smiling.

When the movie ended, I stayed put and asked all the students to move closer. Picture me sitting on the floor, twenty-plus little ones piled up around me.

I started to sing. “Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way…”. They all joined in. We continued with “Rudolph” and “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” Their voices and smiles were precious. And once again, the joy was evident. It may not have been as loud as the morning caroling, but it was just as tangible and clear.

My hope is for students to remember our singing. And for the memories to remind them how much they are loved. A simple message delivered loud and clear. ❤

A Chance to Shine

Everyone deserves to be celebrated and have their moment in the spotlight. It happens more naturally for some than others. But when the “some” decides to help the “others,” the results are magical.

Our high school puts on a yearly musical. It is a highly anticipated event. Students audition, prepare and rehearse for months. All of their hard work culminates in a shining moment of performance.

Our high school also has a large group of students who receive special education services. For these students, who have a wide range of disabilities, participating in such a production is rare. They are often overlooked.

A common assumption is they are not interested or able to be involved in such events. Nothing could be further from the truth. When given the chance, it is their light that shines the brightest!

This past week, these students were provided that chance. A show created especially for them and by them, with the help of drama students.

The playbill listed the title of each act and the names of all participants. There was no distinction between drama students and students receiving special education services.

The acts were as diverse as the cast. Magic acts, singing groups, lip-sync, and comedy skits kept the audience engaged for over an hour. Their “Show of Shows” was a hit!

Big productions typically have a grand finale. These precious students decided the best way to end their show was to include the audience. It was entitled Dance Party!

The entire audience jumped to their feet and rushed the stage. A grande finale filled with hugs, smiles, tears, and of course, dancing! Precious students who are often left out were congratulated and celebrated! And their smiles? Contagious! The joy in the air, almost tangible.

Weeks of planning, practicing and making new friends resulted in a funny and heartwarming show which cast and audience members will not soon forget. A show which may just change the hearts of all involved forever. One group because they were willing to share the spotlight. The other because they were given a chance to shine.

Side note: This production raised around $1,800 to benefit Special Olympics.

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…