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Today was one of those days which never got off the ground. From the moment I walked into Concert Choir at 7:15am, I proceeded to stagger my way through double-bookings, clashes, missing pages of accompaniment, flat batteries, sick choral kiddies, dropping a jar of ashes (yes, it was Ash Wednesday, just to add to the fun), and other assorted mild to epic fails.
While sitting in the corner of the classroom, throwing down my lunch in record time in stony-faced silence + generally hating all forms of life, my Year 12 Prefects appeared with a cup of tea + a Freddo.
“Okay, Ms Kwok. We need to talk.”
Instantly, the alarm bells went off and the braincells went into overdrive, “What NOW?! Have I forgotten something? Have I let these guys down?!”
Miss Year 12 Head Prefect put her arm comfortingly around me and said, calmly and soothingly, “Look, Ms Kwok, you have to LET IT GO. You can’t do it all. You can’t nail every moment of every day. It can’t all be AMAZING.”
Sir Year 12 Deputy Prefect: “We made a cup of tea + stole a Freddo for you. Chill out. Stop saving the world for the next 20 minutes.”
Miss Year 12 Deputy Prefect: “Plus we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to quote you back to you.”
Damn it, you three. I just got schooled, and in the most caring way possible. 😭
I am exhausted, but grateful.
This entire week, but today especially, has been a lesson in connection. I am so grateful for my Year 11 tutor group + my gorgeous Music kiddies who continue to challenge me to think, love, care and connect more deeply. Surprising, perceptive, full of fight, scrappy, big-hearted, generous, genuine, courageously raw + absolutely alive young adults who love and challenge me, and whom I love and wholeheartedly challenge right back. I used to be gentle about this, but lately, I find I’m absolutely all in. In on the hard conversations, in on the grittiness, in on the tough love, in on the massive belly laughs, in on the beautiful poignant moments.
I think I’m doing great, then I realise how much more I can do, or how much I don’t see until the moment I do see. I realise I need to look + listen MORE, catch the moments of connection, and be courageous in my words + actions. That each day presents tiny moments for me to be aware of, often out of my comfort zone, which I can choose to engage with.
I am exhausted, but so very grateful.
The conversations have been gritty, consuming, and revealing. But the connections have been powerful + very real.
In Dymocks and a group of excited + noisy “tweens” exploded into the store, went all still, inhaled deeply and said happily to each other: “Oh, it smells so GOOD!”
There’s hope in the world.
One of those days where I was totally up against it in terms of navigating, negotiating, and behaviour-managing, with my poor Year 12s walking into class after lunch with me in full-behavour-management-flight with a student.
Very quietly and respectfully did they all sneak in, dotted themselves around the classroom and quickly got to work.
After 2 minutes, a cup of tea appeared on my desk in a mug inscribed with “BADASS.”
Then, when my back was turned, a muesli bar + a handful of Minties appeared alongside it.
All of a sudden, I realised my camera was fully set-up and ready to roll for performance masterclass.
While I was looking over some Composing + Arranging issues, a message appeared on the whiteboard, “Kwokkie: Tiny Awesome Teacher! 😊”
And walking to Year 8 Music, I found the downstairs classroom door covered in post-it notes with various encouraging messages of, “GO KWOKKIE!” + “SMASH IT!” + “HANG IN THERE!” + “YOU CAN DO IT!”
My Year 12 kiddies. NINJAS of little acts of kindness today. You guys totally got me over the line!
I was rocking a black turtleneck sweater yesterday and a number of my kiddies commented on how classy, elegant, and “Audrey” I looked. 😎
And one astute Miss Year 12 completely burst my elegant, class-filled bubble by exclaiming:
“Classy?! Aren’t you guys concerned?! Have you guys ever SEEN this before? I’m thinking the stress-factor is high and Kwokkie’s not on top of the laundry situation. She’s spending all her time looking after us!”
It was the most stomach-pummeling, crash-to-earth, and backwardly affectionate compliment ever. 😂
And yes, she was right.
Against my will, I am utterly deflated by the email response of a parent to a kid who desperately needs to find solid ground + clear, loving boundaries.
It is extraordinary the scope of responses from one extreme to the other to the same issue, and therefore what a kid gets modelled to them as appropriate, which in turn influences how they respond to the world around them.
Oh, the TRYING that has gone into this kid! I wish this family knew how much we wanted to love and support their kids. For all their kids to actually CRACK A SMILE. Wow, that would be healthy.
Anyways, this is not about the family or the kid.
I wrote that I am deflated “against my will”. I thought I was ready. I thought I’d considered the responses. Was not ready to be utterly disappointed + flattened. And it was a SLOW creep of disappointment after the initial impact.
And while I’m certain I’ve got it right for the well-being of the kid and this will fade + heal, I’m totally fine with being deflated right now.
I tackled the study today and was dreading the 3 large tubs full of cards, notes, and letters as they’d been untouched since…I moved into my home!
It turned into the most extraordinary, nostalgic, and humbling walk down memory lane. There were note of thanks + encouragement from my mentors from when I was 18 years old, so utterly GREEN, and just starting out at Festival of Music. Played my first concert at 19, more programs + notes. The 10 years I was at Brighton, WOW. That was traversing a whole decade of teaching + all the years which have formed me as a teacher. Young Adelaide Voices, Gondie Voices, and the Con High. The very top layer of the final box, my first 3 years at Pulteney Grammar.
The layer that took my breath away was 2013, when I left Brighton to work in Sydney for a year. The notes of gratitude + thanks were numerous, overwhelmingly beautiful, funny, touching, and largely unprocessed by me. I had to pack up to move cities, so those notes + cards got packed up almost immediately.
Re-reading them now is just EXTRAORDINARY. And look at some of the detail and artwork.
I am so lucky.
I found this on my desk yesterday after lunch rehearsals.
Remember Sir Year 11 who called my jokes cheesy, then proceeded to dig a hole for himself by saying that they were “high quality cheese”?!
This is from him, goaded on by the Year 11 Music kiddies. Things have escalated. The CHEESE WAR is ON.
Metaphorically, linguistically, and literally.
He actually comes from a family who specialise in seriously AMAZING cheeses + other small goods, which makes this so damn hilarious.
So my next move is going to involve some generic, plastic Kraft Cheese Sticks. Let’s see how he copes with those!
It’s been one of those weeks where I have been kicked around. Arse-kicked. And not in the normal “teaching kicks my arse” kind of way. In a deeply personal way.
And it made me think about my own relationship with students, and how I endeavour to have the hard conversations with them.
This week, I had my worthiness as a musician put on the line. I was bumped off the accompanying roster, without word or explanation, and replaced by another accompanist. I am not driven by ego or pride, only excellence, so if it happens that there is someone else more suited to the job with a more correct skills set, then it is absolutely fine with me. And it turned out in the end that the swap made perfect sense.
But here’s what cut:
I was not spoken to. I was not told. I found out in the most uncomfortable way possible. This was a place where I was supposed to be playing for the Year 12s I have spent the year thus far nurturing and growing up into confident and expressive performers. Would I want to play for them? Of-fucking-COURSE I would. My heart’s connected! I love these students, I’ve watched 10 weeks of failure and rising, struggle and success. WHY WOULD I NOT WANT TO PLAY FOR THEM?
And I realised, having watched them perform, and having played for only two out of the original seven students I was supposed to play for, that it was NOT the fact that I didn’t play for them that cut my moral compass.
It was the fact that I was not approached with the courageous, hard conversation in the first place. I was not told, in terms that reflected my value and work, that I would not be doing this gig, but that I was seen for the excellence of teaching, support, and care I was giving to these students. I didn’t even have the logistics explained to me.
Here’s the thing; we all of us can live with things we don’t like if we are allowed to experience them from a place of worthiness. It might take time and struggle, grieving, swearing, and whatever brand of chocolate is your drug of choice to alleviate the annoyance + disappointment of the situation. The point is, everyone DESERVES to feel valued. Has a RIGHT to worthiness.
That’s not to say we deserve to get everything we want. We certainly should NOT. We need to accept our skills, our failings, our successes, and have an accurate barometer of our profile as people and professionals. But at NO POINT should our worthiness be on the line.
It took a day of feeling bent out of shape and a great deal more struggle to get myself back to equilibrium. And I am FLUENT in the language of self-care. I am not afraid of internal struggle. Even with my healthy sense of self as a teacher, musician, and professional, it cut deep and took way more time that it should to recover from.
What this whole experience highlighted to me was the courage required to initiate these challenging conversations. It also demystified to me my rapport with my most challenging students. I DON’T have a perfect track record with all my students. But for some reason, I have street-cred. And I am the most non street-wise, non-sassy of them all.
Yet I am loved and respected by my students. This I know to be true.
I work off kindness, compassion, and courage. I want excellence, but not at the cost of worthiness and well-being. I approach each student and put INTO WORDS why I’ve made certain decisions, why certain outcomes have gone pear-shaped, what realities they’ve placed themselves in. I approach a kid in person about a failed grade. I acknowledge them. My words resonate with value. I agonise how I should language things, or how a conversation should go, because I care about their worthiness. Every kid has VALUE to me.
It’s so incredibly present to me when I’ve been put through the emotional wringer how very important that process is, and how MUCH courage it takes.
It’s a courage I willingly engage with. It’s called integrity.