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.

My Favorite Seat

The past several weeks, I’ve spent many hours in my favorite seat. Hours practicing piano, preparing for rehearsals with young musicians. Some were singers, others played instruments. All of them dedicated and hardworking students. My job? To be their accompanist, providing support for their music-making endeavors.

Opportunities like these often fill my head with thoughts of more performing jobs. Memories of the years when playing piano consumed more of my time begin to surface. And although those were good times, this train of thought can be a dangerous one. Feelings of restlessness begin to creep in, causing uncertainty and doubts about my teaching.

Not so on this particular occasion…

This past Thursday, I spent the day accompanying high school students at State Solo-N-Ensemble contest. That evening I also participated in their chamber music concert. Such a fun, rewarding day of performing.

What happened after the concert had the most surprising impact.

As I left the concert, my phone started buzzing. The students I had accompanied all day were sending thanks through text messages.

“Thank you for being my accompanist!!!”
“Thank you for everything, Mrs. Morris!”
“I loved playing music with you!”

Suddenly my thoughts were not on seeking more playing opportunities. My thoughts were on the amazing opportunities I already have. “Best of both worlds” kept entering my mind. Both worlds? What does that mean?

Ah…performing and teaching.

Yes, my favorite seat is behind the piano. However, I cannot spend all my time there. Time spent in a classroom is also important. I must recognize the value of getting off of that piano bench and teaching the next generation.

Who knows, maybe some of my elementary students will grow up to be accomplished musicians. Maybe future requests for an accompanist will come from some of them. I hope so!

Accompanying my son, Robert. 🙂

“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. 😉

A Little While

“…What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” James 4:14

How do I balance living in the moment with wisely planning for the future? If thinking only of today, will the future take care of itself? My heart says, “I know I’m not guaranteed another day.” My actions do not always match.

This is my tenth year as a public-school teacher. I’ve been in my current building for nine years, my longest stint in any job. Equal to the number of years I was a stay-at-home-mom. Cue feelings of restlessness.

Next week is spring break, followed by the final nine weeks. A flurried push to end the year strong is filled with activities. The toughest part of the year.

I am tired. Thoughts of, “How many more years can I do this?” begin to play over and over in my head. A desire for change creeps in, negatively affecting my mood. This describes my mindset for the past couple of weeks.

Suddenly, in the middle of the tiredness, a fleeting thought. Quickly dismissed. Did not write it down, afraid to say it out loud. But this thought would not leave me alone.

What if I continued teaching for ten more years?

I could look back and say, “Wow! I taught elementary school for twenty years!” An accomplishment I would be proud of. Imagine how many students would cross my path. But it sounds like such a long time…

Trust me, these ideas reflect the complete opposite of my recent list of wants:

  • Spend more time playing the piano
  • Search out new accompanying opportunities
  • Teach piano lessons again

At least, I think those are the things I want to do. Truthfully, at this moment I don’t know what I want to do. And that is ok. Maybe “not knowing” is a safe place to remain for now.

Whether I teach one more year or ten, I must give it my best. Allow some new life to be breathed into my teaching. Somehow James 4:14, “…a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes,” makes that feel possible. It may not be logical, but such is faith.

Feels like I have walked in one big circle. Now back at the beginning, I need to listen, reflect, and rest. And trust that is enough.

“Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’-yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” James 4:13-15

Words…Reactions

My interaction with a little friend at school this morning made me stop and think about the power of our words. Sometimes all it takes is a few short words to send someone into a tailspin. Yes, there are times we must ignore harsh words. Typically, that is much easier for adults than it is for children.

Such was this morning. One particular student was crying and crying, expressing a desire to go home. I tried to be sympathetic and funny, saying I wanted to go home too. That did not help. There was no comforting this one.

Discovering the reason for this reaction took at least twenty-thirty minutes and multiple adults. I’m afraid I was not one of those adults. Although I helped to a point, I was not the one for this job. My usual “dry up those tears” attitude was obviously not going to work. And honestly, I did not have the patience necessary this early in the day.

Whether this student overreacted or not is not the issue here. The fact is unkind words from another student lead to what seemed like an eternity of tears. Eventually, it passed, the student regained control and began the school day.

I wondered what other factors may have been in play. Didn’t sleep well? Woke up on the wrong side of the bed? Didn’t eat breakfast? I don’t know. I do know I have experienced mornings like that.

Although it’s hard to admit, there have been those rare times when a cross word from someone almost brought me to tears. I’m not even talking about mean comments directed towards me. And I am an emotionally stable adult. (Just don’t ask my teammates or family.) 😉

So, should I really be surprised when a child reacts this way? I suppose it depends on the child and the situation. However, it does make me think even more about our need to teach and model kindness every day. Sounds simple but requires being consistent and intentional.

Here’s to tomorrow…hoping for an all-around happier start to the day. It is Valentine’s Day, after all. Just maybe there will be some short words that will lead to happy reactions. ❤

Gotta love conversation hearts!

I Almost Missed It

Today’s first-grade music class was quite busy. We covered a lot of ground. Singing the musical alphabet reggae style, forwards and backward, along with Freddie the Frog and his friend Eli the Elephant. We also practiced writing and labeling bass clef notes on our music staff whiteboards. Oh, and I almost forgot-practicing our song for tomorrow’s Veterans Day assembly. Whew! What a whirlwind!

As students first entered the classroom, I noticed one usually perky friend was looking a little sad. He asked if he could share something about his parents going out of town. I told him yes, we would have some time to share at the end of class. With all those activities, I’m so glad I didn’t forget…

The class was winding down, students sat on the floor as I played a song on the piano. And then I saw my little friend and remembered my promise. He came and stood by me and begin to share, “My parents had to travel to California because my grandfather died.” He continued to explain that he and his sister couldn’t go with them, and he was obviously sad about that.

We talked as a class about how hard it can be when sad things happen and that we needed to be especially nice to this friend, helping him to feel better. Which of course lead to other friends raising their hand to share a sad story. The domino effect was in full swing. I needed to reel it back in before things got completely out of hand.

About the time I had decided not to call on anyone else, I heard this quiet voice from the back of the room. “When’s it my turn?” Some background information is needed-this friend is new, only four days at our school. He also has special needs which include difficulty with eye contact. I haven’t known him long, but I was surprised upon hearing his sweet voice and clear question.

“Of course, you can share. Come on up here by me.” Looking down at the floor he began to talk about how he missed his house. And how his mom had to work all the time. We talked about how hard moving can be. I reassured him that even though he was sad about moving, we were so glad to have him at our school.

Sharing this story with my daughter this evening it dawned on me…I almost missed it. I almost missed the chance to help this special student not only have his turn but also connect with his peers at his new school. He may not have looked me directly in the eyes, but his smile was communication enough. Hopefully, he went home at the end of the day with a new sense of belonging.

Thankful I didn’t miss those few precious moments today at the end of first grade music class…