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YOUR choice. What will you choose?
Her courage is extraordinary.
I defy anyone not to be completely and utterly moved by this…what an extraordinary young woman. Ten minutes ago, I had no idea who she was. The TED talk popped up on my newsfeed and I was looking for something to fill in a pocket of time.
I got far more than I could ever have imagined.
Thank you, Amy. You are exceptional.
Actually, I think my return to full-time classroom music teaching was more like a catapult into space, with me shrieking, arms flailing, legs kicking…! I reckon I did all that in real life, too…
And I think I spent the whole week drooling…into my pillow, wrecked after a full day of running fast, into my lap, whilst looking at a brand new teaching plan or curriculum that I had to pick up…or CREATE…and onto my laptop, whilst trying to understand the new roll-marking system, read exotic names without completely slaughtering them in front of their owners, and trying to create some sort of flimsy lesson plan to carry me through the next 23 minutes that I’d unexpectedly inherited to teach…
But I am so incredibly, ridiculously excited. I’m back in a world I love, in the groove, running VERY FAST…!
I’m back…in a school community, in a new place I can build, create momentum, and affect positive change. I just have to remember to take it one step at a time.
I’ve felt everything on the emotive spectrum this week. There have been snotty tears of appreciation, swells of gratitude, abrasive stabs of frustration, as well as the slightly crazed laughter of the overwhelmed…I’m starting in Week 8!…I don’t know any of the kids!…I have no idea where I go for the care group I’ve never met!…I’ve just met my Year 12s and now we’re diving into the lesson, never mind names!
For the first time in ages, baked beans straight out of the can with a tablespoon of Nutella afterward seemed like a reasonable dinner + dessert combo…
But I survived, in full-colour and not without some semblance of style!
I came out of last lesson Friday fist-pumping, happy bum wiggling, and WINNING at life. “We Are The Champions” was playing in my head, and the crowd was going wild.
In the wide stretches of bug-eyed, high-octane thinking, and planning on top of planning, my 3 little mantras of 2014 popped up into my head:
1. I don’t need to figure it all at once.
I don’t have to plan 211 lessons all at once, and pronounce the umlaut on the strange last name perfectly, or have a photographic memory of the school down to where all the fire exits are…I am ALLOWED to be on L-plates…and revel in it!
So I did. Walking the school grounds LIKE A BOSS with ABSOLUTELY NO SENSE OF DIRECTION. I had an awesome Friday morning randomly wandering in and out of classrooms, having kids wave at and recognise me, (“she’s the REALLY COLOURFUL new music teacher!”), and meeting all the staff by default.
2. I absolutely have the capacity of figure it out.
I get to change the momentum of this place…how incredible is THAT!? Yes, I’m starting halfway through the term, but, when you think about, there’s no perfect start…you just build. I didn’t get the team-building games or Week 1 opening credits…but I know how to care for the students under my direction. It will take time, patience, loads of advice, trial-and-error, humour, and courage…but I know this story. I’m just starting in a different spot, that’s all.
What’s the thing most needed?
Students absolutely need to be seen, valued + heard.
I know I can do that.
In caring for them, I will take time to learn their names, plan supportive, interesting and suitable lessons…even if I’m only ONE lesson ahead, that’s PLENTY ENOUGH TO STAY ALIVE RIGHT NOW!…and teach with my heart open, alert to all the little characteristics which form them. In caring for them, I am building my foundation to teach well…and this is my work. This is my new thing to practise.
3. I’ll dust-bust it later.
New mantra: There is always wine. That is all.
Wish me luck for Week 2 of Running FAST Like An Idiot!
This made my heart glow and sink simultaneously…if it’s true, then why the bloody hell have I been working on these amazing lesson plans brimming with examples of scaffolding, differentiation of the curriculum in as many different ways as flavours of Bertie Botts Every Flavour Beans, and student-directed learning up the wazoo, plus a couple of bells and whistles thrown in as well?
But then I realised this intellectual learning ran in parallel to the emotional connection with my students…my wanting to strive for excellence through modeling passion and pure love of my subject area worked in tandem with how I made my students feel in my class.
And was this true for my own learning experiences? Was how I felt more important than what I achieved?
I remember my most influential teachers…some were extraordinary teachers in every sense, and my knowledge base and passion for their area of expertise blossomed under their care. Some were not the best facilitators of learning, yet I loved their lessons, I loved their energy, I loved how I felt in their classrooms. Alive, seen, and valued. Some teachers were such rigidly disciplined “founts of knowledge” that I felt like I was going into The Black Hole of Joyless Learning every time I entered their classrooms…and this was, instinctively, definitely and absolutely, NOT the sort of teacher I wanted to be.
I thought about the three teachers who affected me the most during my school and university years…Miss Lori, my first piano teacher, Clemens Leske Senior, my high school piano teacher, and Rosemary Nairn, my mentor and artistic director while working for the Public Primary Schools Festival of Music. All of them so extraordinarily different. All of them so deeply embedded in my heart, in my words, in my actions, and in my very being as a teacher. Were they all extraordinary teachers? At various stages of learning, yes. Were they as fiercely committed to excellence as some of my top-notch teachers? No. I cannot thank Miss Lori or Clemens Leske Senior for my fabulous piano technique and ability to focus with Zen-like precision on my piano etudes…I had other teachers I have to thank for those skills. And therein lies the very wording and truth…that I “have” to thank, not “want” to thank…because I did not feel safe and secure, seen and valued all the time in their lessons.
These three teachers gave me the capacity to draw the best from the teachers I did not always feel safe with. And it’s important to say here that neither of these three wonderful people ever accepted anything less than the best that I could give at that exact moment in time, or that I always felt delightful in their lessons…I didn’t. I knew when I wasn’t making the cut, and I knew how it felt to disappoint them, and myself…but never at the expense of my self-worth. My actions, my learning, my music making and my performances were an innate part of me, but didn’t define me.
The wonderful, effervescent and kind Miss Lori…you walked into the room and every 5-year old under your care felt loved, even though there were fifteen of us in each Yamaha class. You saw us all, loved our quirks, asked us about the stickers on our school uniform, or the Band-Aids on our knees, you got ridiculously excited with us when we discovered our first F sharps and B flats. You gave me 15 minutes of private piano tuition after group lessons, knowing my parents couldn’t afford to pay you, for free, for a whole year. When my parents could afford to pay you back, you told them to put the money toward a proper piano for me rather than a keyboard. You made us all shine in our grubby and beautiful 5-year-old selves. I could have hugged you forever on my final lesson at Yamaha. Your generosity then makes me generous now.
The calm and loving Clemens Leske Senior…just as your name speaks of mercy and love, so are you in person. At my most angular, inconsistent and fiery, you saw me completely…for the raw and incomplete talent, for the deeply sensitive heart, for the technical difficulties I had to overcome, for the teenager I was, and person I was becoming. The gap in years could not have been wider, yet with one word you could direct my phrasing, expand my understanding of texture + colour, or explain the weight in the sound of a chord. Every lesson was magical…a crystalline world of sounds, colours and lines, and an unraveling of the heart and all defenses. Because you taught with care and love, I learnt the emotive power of my playing…and my piano playing became my own voice, not one that reflected you. Not once did you ever make me feel inadequate…or feel that it was your duty to “break me in”…you just let me grow in whatever way you could. I cried when I couldn’t have you as a teacher when I entered university.
And the playful, quick-witted and joyful Rosemary Nairn…I met you when you were 60 and I was 19…you used to joke that we were at opposite ends of the concession continuum for tickets, bus fares, and discounts meals. You would step on stage at the Festival Theatre and have 342 students sharing in your playful musical games, in your clever words…and somehow you made the most mundane bits of rehearsal hilarious, completely energised, a joyful sharing, or a witty little musical game. When I grew up into a real teacher, I told myself, I wanted to create the same joyful energy and momentum you created every day. You didn’t go overseas and to study a conducting degree. You didn’t do an honours recital in piano. Yet every skill you had in composition, arranging, piano playing, teaching, and choral conducting, you maximised…you were always learning, always curious, and always totally engrossed in the moment. Every kid completely believed you when you said that no question was too silly…and would have the courage to ask you. You never made anyone feel small…in fact, you made everyone feel special. You worked hard + expected excellence. But not at the cost of a person’s well-being.
I look at these three extraordinary teachers in my life and realise that Maya Angelo must be right. I will always strive for excellence…I will always want to see the potential realised in my students, my choirs, my ensembles…and myself. I will always want to hone and refine until I figure out where the perfect balance of joy and excellence lies.
Yet I realise my teaching mirrors the teaching of these three special people the most.
I want to make my students feel how they made me feel.
You were right, Maya.
The lyrics of this piece read like a love song, as meant for someone special. However, the original intent was for the words to be as an acknowledgement or personal “prayer” to each of the choristers to remind them of how essential, individual and valued they are. I was thinking about the fragility and beauty of the changing voice in parallel with the development of identity during the teenage years, and how surprising, challenging, and ultimately extraordinary a journey it can be. These words are for each of the choristers, to remind them of how essential they are.
“No two snowflakes are alike in formation, each made individual and unique. And while the universe may draw them on the same journey, each takes a different path. Perfectly imperfect, exquisite and beautiful.” [Unknown author]
Like a snowflake
Crystalline and perfect
There is one
It’s you, only you
Who changes the momentum of the world like you?
No one has your words, no one has your simple breath, resonance
No one speaks with your words, no one speaks with your sound, no one else can but you
And it catches me unawares
The edge of my heart
The edge of my thoughts
The edge of my sleep
I haven’t been thinking as fast as I should! My imagination has been asleep and I need to DREAM again and gather those dreams and throw them into the crisp morning air – wake them up and set them free! How long has it been since I’ve taken a chance? Taken a leap of faith and done something which has made my stomach flip? With common sense comes sensibility, both of which are highly valued and neither of which are productive to dreamers and do-ers. Nothing which lends itself to LIVING! Open my eyes and fill my soul again with the beating desire of challenge – of going the extra step to give someone joy or sympathy. Don’t travel the path which looks easiest – find a new one, one full of adventure and full of unspoken, undiscovered ideas and feelings. Find a pathway which is delightful as it is daring, one which requires a certain amount of strength and imagination.
CREATE! Don’t just reflect – make something more out of the puzzle pieces of reflection. Make a whole picture – something of use and service to the world. When you’ve been given a voice, don’t just whisper – sing in a million and one harmonies, otherwise you will not have used it properly.
THINK! Always think beyond the sphere and discover what makes a person laugh or cry – what affects them. The human race is so full of passion and wonderful examples of courage, if only we could make the time and space to NOTICE them and UNDERSTAND them better. Each person has something unique to contribute and the skills to write their own chapter – write SOMETHING. There is no-one else in the world exactly like you – no-one who speaks the same words with exactly the same thought behind them – and isn’t THAT extraordinary? However more loved the rest of the world appears to be, know and trust that the world needs your graciousness and good-humour more than you’ll ever realise. Somebody is counting on you to be you, somebody need you more than you’ll ever know and somebody wants you to be happy. There will always be someone who wants to know you and love you, to touch you, to treasure you and listen to your silent tears, to set you free but be your anchor – to keep you good. For someone – and if you’re lucky, for many “someones” – YOU are the person who makes the world make sense.
What a breath-taking, marvellous responsibility!
Appreciate. Truly appreciate the inexplicable, spontaneous acts of love. Sometimes beauty is hard, like the jagged edges of the coastline rocks, mellow like the twilight, fresh like the new grass or wise like the ripe heavy clouds of Autumn. Beauty has many faces, as does love.
So go out and paint with wide brush-strokes! Cover the world with your colours. Grab every possibility and bring them to life – who knows which will flourish and grow into life-long lessons? No-one can EVER take your spark and spirit away – not without your permission. And it would be a very great tragedy if you did not allow yourself to shine completely because of fear. This is what I hope for each day – this is how I want to live my life in joy and sorrow and hardship and delight; this is what I hope for the ones I love, this is what I hope for my students. On this awesome journey of discovery, I’ll run down the corridors of LIFE, kicking up the sands of imagination and knowledge and dare to dream with all my heart because that is how I’m built and this is what I understand best. So I hope I have the courage and grace to be the sort of dreamer who wakes often enough to make new and exciting realities – simply because I can!
“…and rise before you fall
live if you really want to…”
Love her ease, her style, her voice, her message…beautiful!
The following is a response to the post “What Students Really Need to Hear” from the talented Angela Millar, an 11th grade gem from Plainwell High School. Originally posted by Chase Mielke on “We Are Teachers“.
From The Velveteen Rabbit…How Toys Become Real, a children’s novel written by Margery Williams and illustrated by William Nicholson.
Is it any wonder that kiddies understand the concepts of being authentic + loving completely far better than we do? This is beautifully written. 🙂