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I am re-reading “Present Over Perfect”, by Shauna Niequist. Her simple, direct, honest writing is a joy to read, and I find myself surprised at how differently I am reacting to different chapters.
The chapter titled, “Throwing Candy”, I read this morning tucked away in a little side street cafe with a cup of coffee. It transported me.
Shauna describes how one of the playful traditions of a retreat she went on was throwing candy into the river where people were kayaking. She describes her reaction:
As I watched from the deck of the lodge, I put my head down on the wide railing, and I began to sob.
Because I used to throw candy, right in the middle of it all. I used to throw candy no matter what. I used to be warm and whimsical. I used to believe in the power of silliness and memory-making and laughter.
And then I became the kind of person who threw candy as long as nothing else was going on – as long as it didn’t get in the way of being responsible. I threw candy at approved and sanctioned candy-throwing time, after all the work was done and things were safe and lunches were made.
And then I got so wrapped up in being responsible that it was never the right time to throw candy.
And then, the worst thing: I became the kind of person who made fun of candy-throwers…please, who has the time?! What is this, kindergarten? I’ve got a list, people, and a flight to catch.
What a loss – for me, for my family, for our community, for all the joy and laughter and silliness we missed out on because I was busy being busy.
…I don’t want to get to the end of my life and look back and realise that the best thing about me was that I was organised. That I executed well, that I ran a tight ship, that I never missed a detail. I want to look back and remember all the times I threw candy, even when it didn’t make sense. Especially when it didn’t make sense.
…And that’s why I’m throwing candy every chance I get.
Me too. That’s why I’m throwing those Freddos and Allens Jelly Beans with all the guisto I can muster. Bring on the Scratch ‘N Sniff stickers in my Year 12 Musicianship lessons, because they bloody well remembered to raise the 7th in a harmonic minor harmonisation! And believe me, the excitement that comes with those stickers is on par with finding a clean fork in the Centre for Senior Learning kitchen. Because in my job, students may be developing adults requiring all manner of respect, boundaries, and healthy challenges, but they are also human beings. They should never have the opportunity to stop being playful, and I need to model that optimism, that joy, that freedom, and that sense of forward thinking. At best, it is pure joy. At its most honest, it is the ability to adapt and fit to a changing world in a healthy way. Those little pockets of silliness and joy keep us human, keep us open to life and learning, keep us vulnerable to both grief and joy, and are absolutely essential.
Yesterday morning, I’d never heard of these two wonderful musicians. But this video popped up on my Facebook newsfeed and made me grin + light up in a way far more than their playful duo recording attempt was ever intended.
Seth Allyn Morris and Ben Smolen are both professional musicians with impressive portfolios, at the start of their careers, having established themselves as outstanding flautists in their own right. Yet in this recording, they put their professional selves on the shelf, and are just totally engaged in being playful…”I wonder if we could do this?!”
The humility + playfulness in their banter belies the obvious hard work + grit both have shown to get to their respective points in their careers. There’s no elitism, they are relying upon each other, and having a great time…being silly…in a creative, intellectual, and playful manner.
They’re not in their own little glasshouses, they are not precious or overprotective with their talents…they’re just having fun.
And that fun says so much about how they treat their skills, talents, and careers.
I’m showing this clip to my Year 12s as an example of musical excellence in professional performing, with these two young professionals at the beginning of their careers, but more importantly, as an example of life-learning + character. It’s so wonderful to find young, outstanding musicians, still being…normal, nerdy, curious, playful people.
That’s what I want for my students + myself. The complete package…with no frills, not attitude, no sass, no elitism…just a total respect and care for themselves + their talents.
And a little bit of nerdy.
The end of Term 4 crept up on me this year. Maybe “crept up” is the wrong way to put it; it caught me unawares, but hurtled towards me like a rampant herd of ravenous pubescent Year 9 guys at the first whiff of a fund-raiser sausage sizzle. It was Week 3, and then all of a sudden, it was Week 8.
It didn’t help that I was horribly sick for those 5 weeks between Weeks 3 + 8, where I don’t remember much except trying to keep my internal organs INSIDE me. I developed a phantom six-pack from coughing, and it felt like I’d expelled 4 kidneys, 3 spleens, 2 livers and a lung during The Time of Great Sickness.
I am so very grateful + glad to be back in good health, running around like a normally do!
But, despite being struck down by The Plague + being up to my eyeballs in reports + final concerts, I really wanted to do something small for all the staff at my new school, something to say “Thank You” for all the support + assistance I’d received in my first year at Pulteney. I purposely didn’t want it to be expensive; just something playful + fun that would make them laugh + show them a little of my personality + gratitude.
And I arrived at the idea of “Chopsticks + Some Breed of Round Lolly”. Yes, that would be perfect! For one thing, there was no wrapping required. All I needed to do was tape them together and bung a ribbon around them to make them look arty-farty. I could get everything I needed from Woollies. I could sit my sorry, sick self on a cushion in the middle of my living room floor and assemble these with minimum energy expenditure. And more importantly, many tired + totally over-it teachers would (hopefully) get a laugh trying to pick up + eat their lollies with their chopsticks.
I had no idea what joy + hilarity they would spread.
Armed with a basketful of these little packages, I started my rounds at school the next day. First, the Senior School Office.
Sir Maths puzzled over the package for a few seconds, then looked up and said, “Uh, NO.”
Sir English, “I’m going to be here until 2017!”
Ms English, “No worries, I’ll throw ’em into your mouth for you!”
Ms Math, “This is SO much better than finishing my reports!”
Many of the staff hadn’t arrived yet, so I resolved to come back and see what effect my present had had later that morning.
To the Middle School Office:
Ms Front Desk, “I’m starting straight away! Stuff answering calls! This is much more important!”
Ms SOSE, “Alright! Who’s up for a dual?! Whoever wins gets a free coffee”
Mr SOSE, “Make it beer, and I’m in!”
Mr Maths, “I’m so winning this one!”
To the Prep School Office, and they all cracked into their little kits and started launching all manner of Smarties, M&Ms + Skittles all around the staffroom. The Prep School Principal emerged from her office to see what all the noise was about, then started using her coffee cup as a basketball ring to collect flying lollies.
To the Head of Houses…and I’d left these behind earlier in my travels. I came back to find a high-stakes battle in full-swing, with the entire length of the office hallway being used as an elaborate launching-space for flying Smarties, a bit like you would for Olympic discus. The 4 normally very responsible Heads of Houses had even made a make-shift launching circle using whiteboard markers just outside the doorway from which to throw Smarties with their chopsticks, and created goalposts from the 4 indoor pot plants from each of their offices.
Head of House 1, “This is the first time my pot plant has been useful all year!”
Head of House 2, “Now I know why I kept it alive! For this moment!”
Curious students crowded around to see what all the noise was about. The launching circle made it impossible for anyone to enter or leave the front reception area, and the Heads of Houses were told off not once, but 3 times for being too disruptive and loud.
Student 1, “This is awesome! I never thought I’d see the day!”
Student 2, “They’ve all totally lost it! I love it!”
Student 3, “Hey Mr Head of House 3! Can I just…”
Mr Head of House, “Can’t stop now! Very busy!” He was at that moment trying to catch Smarties in his mouth. He looked very dignified with his tie flapping up around his forehead.
And my favourite of all moments; I came back into the Senior School Office to see what fun had ensued. They all seemed very settled.
Then a ripper from Ms SOSE:
“Hey Kwokkie, thanks for the cute gift! I dunno what the hell the chopsticks were for, but I ate the Skittles!”
And she fished the empty Skittles packet off her desk, chopsticks still attached, and showed me the empty packet.
From a tiny, measly little idea, conceived in desperation, came a morning of laughter, fun, and hilarity.
And I didn’t cough all morning! 🙂
I have a colour-addiction. It’s a full-blown problem, but I just don’t admit it!
I found these today…oh, I am in some SERIOUS TROUBLE…!
I am about to go back into full-time work and could not be more nervous and excited and every conceivable emotion in between!
I will be running fast…but I cannot WAIT to be running fast in a school community and back in a Music classroom, full of the energy + teaching I totally love, even if I am going to feel like hugging a wine bottle at the end of each day.
It seemed like the opportune time to post this little gem of an idea I had when dealing with a couple of my past students…from the high-flyers who couldn’t contain their nerves to the kid who would enter the classroom by throwing a chair at me rather than a (sometimes cheery), “Hey Ms Kwok!”, I decided I would get creative on how I modelled a calm approach…and at about 2am one morning, thought of this.
Since then, for very special students, I have been handing out my (necessary) Internal Suspension Notices with a stress ball + these instructions….and relishing the perplexed looks of consternation as the student in question tried to figure out if I was serious, or if I’d lost it.
As with everything you do as a teacher, you give out the very best example without entertaining the hope of it being returned then and there, but hopefully sometime in the future, where you may or may not see the effects.
This is one of my magic moments…an email last year from the student who once upon a time threw music stands by way of greeting in my classes.
He hadn’t figured out the way to express his frustration and fear at getting braces, thereby making his progress on his trumpet – his absolute passion and an integral part of his identity – a whole new challenge.
Hey Ms Kwok,
Just wanted to say thanks for all the support last year with my trumpet playing when I got the braces on, I really needed it. I still have your stress ball and it reminds me that I can handle these challenges. I‘m sorry I was a little shit, I was just so frustrated. Thank you for helping me see that I would get through this challenging time. And thank you for just being an all round grand teacher! I’m getting my braces off tomorrow and I had to let you know!
I hope you’re doing well.
Yes, after reading that and getting teary and grinning like an idiot simultaneously, I believe I’m doing VERY well.
“Please explain to me again how your essay, which was due today and worth 30% of your marks, somehow made it into the microwave and self-combusted?”
This fabulous photo was taken by Aditya Permana, a professional photographer in Yogyakarta, Indonesia.
This photo comes from the following post:
This one has been making the rounds on Facebook…love it!
Replace “adult” with “teacher” and you have a phrase which makes perfect sense to teachers world-wide.
This is a light-hearted piece about the trials and tribulations of the changing voice, celebrating all its quirks and even putting the (very manly) “squeak” in the spotlight for some particularly brave choristers!
As a special interest classroom music teacher, I know the hilarious + sometimes stressful journey of discovery each male chorister makes in “finding their voice”. As a choral director, we are always trying to figure out ways to help minimise the “vocal blowout”; to help each chorister discover and strengthen the mechanisms of their new instrument…their newly changed voice.
Then I thought, how cool would it be if I actually WROTE the squeaks and the “accidental blowouts” and the girly falsettos into a piece of music?”
And “The Guy Voice” was born!
The Guy Voice
You’re not careful for a moment, and it slips
People ‘round you duck for cover
What’s that? What’s this?
A deafening silence of suppressed hilarity
For everyone around me…but me.
It’s The Guy Voice
Between “tween” and “manly”
Can you understand me?
When I say no amount of hair product can fix it?
When I say no amount of good intent can guarantee my pride?
My manly pride.
It happens when I emphasise, or criticise or just plain get excited
And then all vocal hell breaks loose, my vocal chords just lose the plot and…
[Squeaky falsetto] *I find myself up here!*
It’s The Guy Voice
Between “tween” and “manly”
Can you understand me?
When I say no amount of hairy chest can fix it?
Not even meditation, yoga, Zen, can guarantee my pride?
My manly pride.
Oh for the velvety tones of a baritone!
Heroic, resplendent, and fine
The bright and slightly drama-queen-y tenor
The plump warm “ba da du bahp” of a bass
But tragically the magic doesn’t always manifest
Not even with good posture and good diet
But maybe, just maybe
I just can’t deny it
I’m ever just so slightly
And so rightly just a little bit…proud…!
Of my Guy Voice
Of the squeak and the saintly
And you really can’t blame me
‘Cos I can Disney any princess
I can Bieber and Beyoncé
I have the three essential bass notes that I need to harmonise
I got my pride (don’t you know it, and I got the style)
My manly pride (don’t you wish that you could talk to the whales?)
Just like I do (any frequency, it’s all possible)
I’ve got it all!
(Brave chorister improvises an 11th or 13th above chord in a falsetto squeak!)
What if you pedalled to learn?
Gillian Lynne needed to move to express her art, and look at what she created in the world of choreography and dance! As a teacher I fail miserably on the professional development days where I am required to sit for longer than 2 hours. And we expect this from our students EVERY DAY.
In the same zone as bubble wrap for stressed-out Year 12s, choreography and co-ordination exercises in choir, and any sort of tactile connection to the learning at hand…what if we got creative with how to manage the energy in the classroom?