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.

My Girl

My Rachel is the perfect combination of sassy and sweet. Big blue eyes, tight ringlet curls, her looks, and style are a classic beauty. She sets goals, lays out a plan, and the rest is history.

Rachel practiced being a teacher when she was little. Her room transformed into a classroom with stuffed animals and dolls, a whiteboard, notebooks with lesson plans and assignments. How many kids ask for a whiteboard and markers for Christmas?

During junior high, she worked as a peer tutor in special education classes. For her, it was more than simply being helpful or nice to her peers who were different. She made connections, treated them as friends, sat with them at lunch.

This continued throughout high school. Proms were happily spent with her special friends. Summer camp meant being a buddy to a friend who otherwise would not have a camp experience. Friday nights were often spent volunteering at a respite night for parents of children with special needs. This was the high school life she chose.

When it was time for college, there was no doubt as to her career path-special education. Ultimately, she wanted to be a teacher in the district from which she graduated. The place that allowed her so much experience in the field she loved.

I am so proud of my girl. Tonight, she graduates from Northeastern State University with a degree in special education. She begins her teaching career next year at her alma mater, Union Public Schools, teaching secondary special education.

Rachel is already dreaming, thinking, planning for her future students. Wondering who they will be and what she will need to reach them. Her bedroom is lined with containers filled with supplies, fidgets, thinking putty. She knows this is not an easy path. But she embraces it with courage, excitement, and hope.

I’m looking forward to helping her set up her first classroom. I can’t wait to hear her stories. No doubt she will have an impact on the lives of her students, and they on hers. Get ready world, my girl is beautiful, determined, and strong. Here she comes! ❤

Friendship=Success

My classroom is a big open space. Perfect for music! I created smaller areas within this large space using sit spots. A big circle, visible right as students enter. We use this space for movement activities, games, drum circles, etc. A rainbow row of dots in front of the Smartboard. These create rows where students have their own music spot to sit.

We often move from one area to the other multiple times in one class period. This was true Wednesday during first grade. As students began to transition from our circle to their music spots, I noticed one precious girl assisting a friend. She was speaking calmly and sweetly to her friend. Both of them smiling, holding hands.

I was just about to remind this helpful girl about the location of her music spot. After all, she was heading in the wrong direction. Thankfully, I did not say anything. An interruption would have been sad. The friend she was helping is a sweet boy who happens to have Down syndrome.

We have some awesome paras in our building. They attend specials with specific groups of students. Because of their disabilities, these friends just need a little extra guidance to have a positive experience in class. These ladies provide invaluable assistance which makes that possible.

Although success in regular education settings is an important goal, how much more valuable is gaining a friend? For a friend can help us in ways no one else can. A friend is something we all need. Some might even say having a friend is a success.

This week I witnessed a sweet new friendship. I hope it continues to grow. I hope to encourage many more.   


Desires of Your Heart

I have loved music since childhood, the way it becomes part of you and expresses how you feel. Growing up, all I wanted to do was play the piano. Any thought of a career involved music, and truthfully all I ever considered besides performing, was teaching piano at the college level. I certainly never pictured myself as an elementary music teacher. Sometimes life takes a funny turn…or two…or three. 😉

After college and graduate school, Gart and I married and soon started a family. I was a stay at home mom. I played piano at church, for a high school choir, and any other opportunity that came along. I also taught lessons from our home. Although I enjoyed teaching beginners, it was that rare advanced student that really made me smile. I loved the challenge of getting them to be expressive, to really think about what they were playing.

Fast-forward nine years. We moved to Tulsa, two of our three kids were in elementary school. Our youngest wasn’t particularly happy about being home without brother and sister. It was time for a change. After a few phone calls, and an interview I was on staff at a local university as an accompanist and eventually added as an adjunct piano instructor. The perfect job!

Full-time positions were rare, but six years later one finally came along. I worked as a visiting professor for one year while going through the interview process. As far as my working life goes, this was one of my best years! I loved going to work every day. My students were challenging and the results rewarding.

I went through the interview process fully expecting to be hired as a piano professor. Although the process was stressful, I was confident. And I clung to Psalm 37:4: “Take delight in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.” After all, this was the desire of my heart. It had been for a long time.

You may have already guessed-I did not get the job. I was devastated. Many tears were shed and questions asked, but not many answers given. I continued working as an adjunct instructor the following year, despite the awkwardness, not wanting to give up my students.

I also did some accompanying at a local middle school for one of my former college students. That’s where I met Jeffrey. Jeffrey was a student with special needs who was in the middle school choir. We had an immediate connection, and I looked forward to visiting with him each class.

Once again I began sensing that need for a change. My husband suggested I apply to be a paraprofessional at the local school. His previous suggestions of this had been ignored, but not this time. My friendship with Jeffrey fueled the decision.

I applied and was hired for the following school year. After several months, I knew I wanted my own classroom. This was not logical. A pianist with two college degrees in music now had the desire to be a special education teacher? With my husband’s research and help, I was completely certified by mid-summer after my first year as a paraprofessional. Even more amazing, I was hired to teach for the upcoming school year.

The realization I’d actually been given the desires of my heart only came after my career change. I had worked as a college professor, even if only for one year. And it was a great year! The truly amazing thing is He gave my heart a new desire and then opened the doors for it to be fulfilled.

That probably sounds like the end of the story, right? It was only the beginning, as I am currently in my 5th year as an elementary music teacher (the one thing I never thought I’d be) in the same building where I taught special education. And I’m certain there are more changes to come. Who knows what is next?

Lessons I have learned through this adventure-sometimes the desires of your heart are granted in ways you never considered. Other times, your heart is given new desires. Either way, there is a plan and a purpose. As long as you are willing to trust and take a step in a new direction. Even when that step takes you where you never thought you’d go.

Right Where We Left Off

I love the way certain friendships seem to transcend time and space. Life’s circumstances may take us far away from each other. Yet when our paths cross again, we pick up right where we left off. When reunited, it feels like nothing has changed and no time has passed.

Today I realized how much I take this phenomenon for granted. I always thought of it as a natural occurrence. Something you simply experience over time, not something you are taught. Maybe that comes from growing up in a loving home, having friends from an early age.

But what happens when a child grows up in the opposite?

Rachel and I took a little road trip to visit our sweet friend, Marie. Our short visit was well worth the almost three-hour drive. We had Christmas presents to deliver and it had been several months since we’d seen her. The year prior to her foster home placement, Rachel and I saw her almost weekly, so we were very excited about this visit! (See earlier post for more of Marie’s story.) https://pianogirlthoughts.wordpress.com/2018/08/13/face-to-face-with-child-abuse-personal-reflections-of-a-teacher/

Marie had requested Braum’s for our meeting place. You can’t go wrong with ice cream! We arrived, all smiles and ready for hugs. Her initial reaction was interesting. Lots of eye rolls and shoulder shrugs in response to our questions and attempts at conversation.

Her foster mom reassured us she had been really excited to see us. We trusted this was true, she was just not quite ready to show it. With patience and persistence (about 10-15 minutes worth) Marie was smiling, holding Rachel’s hand and laying her head on my shoulder. Finally, we were right where we left off.

On the drive home I was thinking about our visit, trying not to cry. Those goodbye hugs do it every time. Not to mention my daughter saying things like, “You’re doing really good, Mom.” 😉

As Rachel and I talked about the day, it suddenly hit me. Of course Marie would have reacted that way. This child has never had a secure home, was abused for years, tossed from one facility to another. And on top of all that, she has developmental disabilities. Before she was finally placed in this amazing foster home, the uncertainty of her future was difficult for her to understand.

We often had the following conversation:

Marie: What if I go someplace else?
Me: What are we?
Marie: My friends.
Me: Yes. And wherever you go, we will see you.
Marie: Ok.

Then she would smile. And that explanation would suffice for maybe a week…or a day. Now that she is in a loving home, our conversations have changed. She laughs as she tells me about her mom, dad, siblings, and extended family when we talk on the phone. She enjoys going to school and is making new friends. She is happy.

Marie knows we love her, but we cannot expect her to understand this idea of “picking up where you left off” just yet. She will need to experience it many times. Hopefully, time will continue to heal. And maybe one day she will be able to trust that we are true friends. Friends who pick up right where they left off, no matter the miles apart or the time gone by.

The Brody Bunch

When our school behavior tech walked into my classroom carrying a beautiful poinsettia, I knew immediately who it was from. As I began to share the story with my students, tears welled up in my eyes.

Before I became the music teacher, I taught special education. These flowers were from the family of one of my former students. Even though I’m not his teacher anymore, his grandmother continues to bring me this lovely gift each year. The tag reads, “We love you, Mrs. Morris.” From “The Brody Bunch.”

My student’s name was Brody. The first year I taught special education, he was in my class. Brody is a funny boy. He has his very own sing-song language. Listen closely and he will let you know if he’s happy, sad, playful or upset. Although understanding his language takes practice, it is worth the effort.

Brody has autism. Our first year together as teacher and student, I had more questions than answers. His family was helpful and gracious as I navigated my new job. Somehow Brody and I connected. He would look directly into my eyes, often a difficult task for individuals who have autism. It seemed as though he was peering right into my soul, understanding much more of me than I understood of him.

Brody’s grandma, know as Meece, was sweet from the beginning. Meece brought Brody to school almost every day, walking him to my classroom. Her morning greetings always started our day on a positive note. Then she and Gramps would pick him up in the afternoons. Brody and I enjoyed a daily afternoon walk to meet them in the parking lot after school.

Although I’d communicated with Brody’s mom and Meece, it had been several years since I last saw him. Last year while visiting another former student at a different school, I heard a familiar song. It was Brody! Looking all grown up and much taller, but the same Brody.  

Not sure if he’d remember me, I walked over to say hello. His approach was cautious, his look at first puzzled. But then he grabbed my hand and looked me directly in the eyes. That same look I’d seen many times before. Yes, he knew me.

The delivery of this beautiful red and green poinsettia not only added some holiday cheer to my messy desk, but it also brought a flood of memories. Memories of both the challenges and joys of those first teaching experiences.  Memories of the challenges Brody faced and continues to face.

Memories of one precious student and his amazing family-The Brody Bunch.

Baby Steps

My young friend at school who has severe anxiety and spends most of his day in the special education classroom gave me a high-five today! It was super quick. Our hands only touched for a second, but I believe it is progress. He still won’t speak to me, but I sometimes get a smile. He continues to allow me to put a music stamp on his hand at the end of class as well.

I know he has rough days at school and often indicates that he’d rather be at home. Yet he seems to be smiling more this year than I remember from the previous year. Last year he wouldn’t come to art, music, or P.E., but now attends all three. Most of the time he simply observes and that is ok. He is there, taking in what’s happening around him, participating in his own way.

His teacher and paras love him so much. They refuse to give up on him, recognizing his capability for so much more. Progress is definitely being made, yet it could be easily missed if not looked for intentionally. I see this progress as he smiles and quietly teases with his teacher. It’s a beautiful thing.

That’s exactly what was happening today after school. I walked over to him and quietly asked for a high five. He smiled but hesitated. I teased a little, “Oh please. Can I have a high five?”  Then his teacher chimed in, also teasing,  “Don’t you give her a high-five. You better not give her a high-five.” We were laughing, and just as I was about to walk away, I saw his little hand move toward mine.  I told him “Thank you” and walked away…grateful.

Grateful to make another connection with this precious child.
Grateful for the connections his teachers are making.
Grateful that the power of love can be witnessed in these baby steps.