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

Distance Learning Lesson No. 1

My school district is currently in distance learning. We have experienced it once before, but there is still much to learn. And I have a feeling the most important lessons will have little to do with academics. Oh, those will be woven in and out, but they will not be the lasting thread. No, the final fabric will be found in the simple attempts to cover the distance.

Distance…I do not like that word. It implies being away from family, friends, and now students. This is hard to explain to children, especially when we cannot see the ending.

I have been busy creating music activities to share. Students can access the lessons online. For the first one, I added a twenty-second voice recording-a short greeting with some basic instructions. Not a big deal…I thought.

These lessons also had a response page for students to share their favorite part of the story from this lesson. One precious kindergarten girl recorded her response. Her message was confusing at first.

“My favorite part was when she said I love you guys!” Hmmm, that was not part of this story. And then it hit me-she was talking about my twenty-second voice recording. At the end of the message, I said, “I miss and love you guys! Bye!”

Such a simple thing, I thought. Until this little voice spoke it back to me.

So, my first distance learning lesson? One phrase spoken from the heart covers more distance than any music lesson I could ever create.

Bittersweet

One of my main goals in writing is getting emotions on paper. I often find it hard to say aloud how I feel. However, if I can physically write down the words spinning in my head, it often brings a sense of release. Today, there may be too many emotions…

Our district made the difficult decision to transition to distance learning for the remainder of this semester. The announcement brought an initial sigh of relief. Teaching during a pandemic is challenging, to say the least. Stress levels have been increasing daily.

Yet, even during the struggle, there have been moments of light. Experiencing the joy of music with students-watching lightbulbs turn on. Being part of a loving, supportive staff that is always saying, “We are in this together!”

Nevertheless, here I am today. This is the last day for students this semester. I have already had conversations with older students this morning-a questioning look in their eyes-my attempt to assure them everything will be ok. Even one of my quietest students called out my name in the hallway, “Hi, Mrs. Morris,” followed by a big hug. They know…

There are no easy answers. The relief that accompanied the decision quickly mingled with a sense of sadness. So, today I smiled and listened. We danced the Reindeer Pokey and did body percussion to Jingle Bells. I reminded them that I love them and that we will be together again soon. And that it is ok to be sad because that is when we can show our love for each other.

The following visual from Taya Oelze’s kindergarten class says it best! You might want to zoom in! 😉

How to help friends who are sad. ❤

Missing Pieces

At the beginning of quarantine, we worked a couple of jigsaw puzzles at our house. A way to pass the time while keeping the brain working. It is always interesting to me to watch how tiny pieces fit together to create one big picture.

The pieces all have different colors and shapes. Each one with its own place. Only fitting together with those directly surrounding. The togetherness grows exponentially. However, if there is just one missing piece, the picture is incomplete. So frustrating.

Each of us is born into a picture. With a family that will love us and helps us grow. Sadly, that is not always the case. And the missing pieces often leave big holes.

Children especially have a difficult time finding their place when these pieces are missing. They do not understand. Whether withdrawing or acting out, they are seeking control. This is sometimes hard to remember as a teacher.

Yesterday, I reacted to certain behaviors with little thought to what was behind them. They were frustrated. I was frustrated. I kept thinking, “If only these friends would listen and follow directions like everyone else!”

This morning, I woke up thinking about those friends. I wanted to find a way to improve the situation. Find a way to encourage appropriate behavior and participation. After all, music class is supposed to be fun!

But how? One word came to mind-connections. I know that is the key. Sometimes I just need a reminder.

Today, I worked on those connections. In the process, I discovered some of the missing pieces. The death of a parent, negative influences from older siblings, family instability. These little ones are dealing with big emotions and don’t know why or how to express them.

Our time together was brief. Leaving me with more questions than answers. However, there was also a glimmer of hope. Little faces, often angry, smiling just a bit. Showing a desire to do the right thing. Even if only able for a limited amount of time.

There is no way for me to fill in those missing pieces. They are irreplaceable. All I can do is recognize and acknowledge. But maybe the edges can be blurred, and a new picture of belonging will emerge. Causing the frustrations of the missing pieces to fade.

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.

Teacher Heart

Confession time. This teacher’s heart, mind, and body are struggling. Each day brings physical and emotional exhaustion. This is not about complaining or seeking validation. I am acknowledging that we are in a difficult season.

Life is full of difficult seasons. This is not the first and will most certainly not be the last. Such is the world in which we live. It is just that I am having a difficult time dealing with this one.

One day can feel like a rollercoaster. One hour, I have a great class, kids engaged, lightbulbs going off. The next, I allow something small to wash away the positive. A problem with technology (shh…do not tell my husband.) 😉 My attitude, maybe a student’s attitude-it doesn’t matter which. I’m suddenly trying not to cry, counting the minutes until I can hide in the bathroom between classes and regain my composure.

My thoughts quickly move towards an “I don’t think I can do this” attitude. And every time this happens, encouragement follows.

An encouraging word from my husband. “You are stronger than you think you are.”

An encouraging comment from a colleague. “You inspire me.”

An encouraging email from another colleague. “M and T told me all about strong and weak beats…that music lesson stuck with them!”

All I see is that one word…encouraging. And these are only a few examples from the last several days. The individuals who shared their thoughts may not have realized the power held in their words, but I felt it in my teacher-heart. Their messages brought smiles to brighten my day and tears to wash away my doubts…renewal.

Renewal…the next focus word. Something we all must learn to practice. I am practicing it right now. Today, it looks like taking a personal day and a long drive. A time away, visiting my own parents. A time to rest and be loved as a daughter.

Other days, the renewal will look different. An evening walk with my husband. Taking time to play the piano. Talking to a friend. Writing, painting, something creative to ease my anxious mind. All things to help renew my heart, soul, and body so I can continue doing what I’m called to do for however long I’m called. ❤

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. ❤

Waves

Although I prefer to spend time in the mountains, the ocean also fascinates me. Waves come in many forms, each with its own purpose and level of intensity. We can learn so much just from observing.

Sometimes the waves are gentle, barely lapping at the sand on the beach. With little force, this wave flows over my feet, body unwavering. Sometimes the swells are playful. Just strong enough to cause the body to sway back and forth.

Other times, the waves are fierce. Swells so high, they knock over everything in their path. No point in resisting. An impossible fight.

Life feels that way sometimes.

Maybe it is a wave of emotions brought on by exhaustion. The kind of tired that knocks me off my feet. Such was the case last Friday. After finishing the third week of school, I had nothing left. I felt like waves were overtaking me. No choice but to give in to the tears already flowing, and then sleep.

Saturday morning was different. The storm had passed. Moments to relax and enjoy my morning cup of coffee were like gentle waves ushering in the day. Later, there was time for reflection to reveal the positives from the previous week.

Both waves were necessary. Sometimes rest does not come until I stop fighting and give in. Only then will I experience peaceful, renewing rest. The kind of rest that prepares me for whatever is in store.

Here’s to a new week! And all the waves it may bring-fierce, fun, or gentle.

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! 😉