I do it, and I do it big. Here's to not forgetting about it.

Posts tagged ‘Music Teaching’

Hurt 

It’s hardly news that Lady J does not handle her imperfections well. However, there is one type of mistake I make that bothers me more than any other by a long shot. I would venture to say that this is because it is one, at least from my point of view (which may indicate this is an area in which I need more work), that I do not make very often. 

I believe that I hurt someone who was already hurting. This hurts me not only because I try to love the way Jesus loves me but because of how I couldn’t see that it was happening. I think of myself as sensitive to the needs of others and fairly emotionally intelligent but right now I feel like a complete idiot. 

I am fighting back tears as I type these words. This is the first time in my 4+ years as a classroom teacher that I have felt legitimate remorse over how I’ve dealt with a student. 

Here is what’s been happening: 

I see my students who meet for one of my after school ensembles once a week. I also see these same students in class. I have one, new to our school, with whom I’ve found myself particularly frustrated. Not only does it take several redirects of his attention to get him to be on task, but when he tries something new, he complains about it. As I work to manage 15 other students whose fine motor skills have, uh, equal room to grow, one who will NOT quit complaining just grates my nerves. It’s the end of the day, I want to be home, I feel like I’m asking something simple, blah, blah, blah. I am not a teacher who raises her voice often; I believe in economy of dynamic. If you live a Fortissimo life it won’t be effective very long. Turn it up from my usual mezzo forte and there is no mistaking that Ms. Lady J is serious. Yet I’ve found myself turning it up quite a bit toward this young man, because I thought it was what he needed. 

Our concert is coming up and I thought he could use some additional help, so I reached out to his mother to see if I could spend 30 extra minutes with him on his own after school. As the day came closer, I was dreading dealing with his complaining. I contemplated canceling and making some excuse. I hoped he or his mother would forget. Wouldn’t you know, as soon as carline ended and I walked back to my classroom, he bounded toward me. 

Let me tell you something – I needed that 30 minutes of extra time INFINITELY more than he did. 

We reviewed chords. We had some spontaneous music battles with one another. I saw quickly that his musical struggles were indeed minimal. He smiled a lot and when he missed something, he would sigh, look up, and try again. Then he would get it. By the end of our time together, I was asking him some questions. He wouldn’t look at me as he answered. I asked if he was okay and he said he was just shy. He told me he was excited that his Grandma is coming from New York to live with his family and that he likes his new school. I walked him out, met his mom, who thanked me, and drove home, pensive. I had invited him for extra help but God knew that I was the one who needed the time after school to correct my attitude, not some sweet kid’s chords. 

I have been trying not to beat myself up about being overly firm with this student. He just needs a gentle touch and I was too wrapped up in my agenda to see that. It is humbling to be reminded that despite not being a beginning teacher any longer, I can miss the forest for the trees. I am praying that he continues to adjust to school and that I can bring him as many smiles as possible. 

I hope that in time, music can be something that gives him the confidence to look people in the eye and share what he has to offer. For me, though it hurts and I am scared to make a mistake like this (and I am sure I will again), I have to keep sharing what I have to offer, too. May my best continue to get better. 

  

Ignorance Was Bliss

“Agree to one husband, get two children to mentor without your getting (additional) stretch marks FREE!” 

How could I not take the deal. 

19 and 10. Girls. Both smart and beautiful enough for me to claim them. In public. It may shock you to know that it took me several months after becoming engaged to have my first panic attack about being a stepmother. What brought it on, you ask?

Lil One’s dance recital. 

It was the second dance recital I’d ever been to – the first was my own in 1990. A lot changes in 25 years, the most obvious being showing up to the recital hall and suddenly realizing you play for Team Mom now. Holy crap. I sat in my chair and had to partake of my purse booze that I keep for bumpy flights to help keep it together. One, I immediately had empathy for all my music parents who ask me, “How long will your program be?” because we were there for over three hours. No more self-righteous thoughts – not that I’ve ever been stupid enough to program anything that long! Okay, for real now – no more self-righteous thoughts. Lil One danced twice in three hours. I’m all about supporting kids I don’t know on stage, even when they are literally picking their noses, but combined with the realization that I have signed up for the nightshift of child rearing was too much for me at the time. 

I began to reflect on all the sacrifices that have been made for me. Hell, that are STILL being made for me. How many evenings did my parents give up so that I could remind other parents to support other people’s children? How many weekend mornings do they still give up to watch me cross a finish line? I felt incredibly guilty for being such a leech. I resolved then not to tell them about any other races I’m doing because I didn’t want to take their time. Pretty selfish of me, huh? 

In the past, I’ve told my parents that I wouldn’t blame them if they didn’t have me because I’m a lot of work. They usually would first stare at me like I have two heads and then tell me how they couldn’t imagine life without me. Then Daddy would get on his soapbox about how wrongheaded people are who don’t want to have children because it’s hard. Lather, rinse, repeat, boom, I’m 30 and at a dance recital, not able to imagine life without girls I didn’t know a year ago. 

Being sarcastic and scared about child-rearing was fun, I admit. It was ignorance, and the worst kind. The type that is self-absorbed and seeking its own ends. I no longer have that privilege. Instead, I am becoming part of an insta-family who will consistently and lovingly challenge me to be a better, stronger wife, daughter, stepmother, and hopefully mother of Jamerigreeks someday. That growth will not be easy, but truth, especially with love, beats ignorance every time.  

 

Permission Granted

Every Triathlete Ever: OMG, it’s so hard; this is so much work. I’m miserable right now. You should totally do this. It’s great.

Um, what?

I can’t be the only person who has noticed this. When E.T.E. is asked why I should, like, totally do this (this being sign up for X or Y race), typically the response involves his or her addiction to racing. “I just love it, Joan.” Of course, having chosen to do it more than once, I’ve experienced the thoughtfulness of E.T.E. as I panic and question my decision. However, not one of them warned me of what would happen after my first half-ironman.

The afterglow.

Don’t misunderstand. Any fool could reason that life after a big event would feel calmer. I knew my training load would be lighter, despite having two races left in my season. Time in the pool and on the road feels easier now that I’ve experienced what I can accomplish when I put my mind to it. What I was NOT expecting was to be a more forgiving person in the classroom.

I realize that things probably should feel different for me this year, in that I’m no longer quite a rookie at work. I am noticing drastic changes for the better. The way I talk to my students is different. I am much more calm in general, and it takes a lot more for me to become upset by anything that happens at work, really. I had thought that I was already judicious with choosing my battles, but now I am seeing that some situations aren’t even battles. When a student is flipping out about playing a. stupid. note, I handle it much more sensitively.

I must admit that I feel more than a little foolish about this change. I am an experienced musician and have no shortage of empathy for my students as they deal with performance anxiety. Why, then, have I been such a (relative) bitch to them in years previous? I believe the reason is twofold:

1. I have had the opportunity to see their growth despite my imperfection.

One of the many reasons I love being a specialist is that I am privileged to work with my students for several years. There are times I have looked through and executed my lesson plans and thought to myself – shit. Did I teach anyone anything? Now I am able to see students who used to look at me like I have two heads use musical terms with ease and play confidently. Children who once were completely unenthused about playing by themselves eagerly raise their hand to show me what they can do. While I don’t take all the credit, I think it’s fair for me to take some when what they do is pretty solid. They quote things that I have said that make it seem like they have paid attention to me throughout the years despite all the errors I’ve made along the way.

2. I have had the opportunity to see my growth despite my imperfection.

From the department of the bleeding obvious – I’ve always been imperfect. I’ve always made progress nonetheless. However, I have been a musician for so long that the process has often taken place without my being aware of it. The difference between the person who starts something at 4 and the one who starts something at 27 is stark. Only a complete dumbass My head would have to be buried under the sand for me not to be aware of the risks I’ve taken in the last 22 months; I’ve signed more “if you die it’s your own damn fault” waivers than I can count.

It took me 7:35:58 to finish 70.3 miles. Were there things that could have gone better? Of course. Did I do my absolute best? Totes. Are most people faster than I am? Am I black? I know I have a lot of room to grow, not because I’m black and therefore inherently meant to participate in endurance sports but because I know my best can get better. I’m giving myself permission to enjoy where I am right now, despite all of my flaws.

How gracious of me to allow myself to be human, whether I’m in the classroom, on the race course, or anywhere else. I’m welcome.

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Warning: Triathlon can make it go soft.

Your heart, that is. What else would I be talking about?

All right, kids. It’s been a week since I registered for this madness, and I am quickly realizing that my life is very different than it was just a year ago.

“But Lady J,” you retort. “You were sexy as hell last October, even before you did your first triathlon. What are you talking about?” Well. Who am I to fight an argument like that? *blushes* I’ve got to tell y’all, though – the eyes through which I admire myself in the mirror see life in a new way.

Life can be more than a bit torturous for an introverted perfectionist. Already, my tendency is to share myself fairly selectively. Add to that my feeling that the more people know me the less they’ll want to do with me – quite frankly, it’s a wonder that I open up to anyone. Probably because all humans need connection with one another. Whatevs.

Since triathlon has come into my life, I am finding that I resent that need less and less. What is training but dealing with imperfection? Race day is simply imperfection management. I have learned that excellence and imperfection are not mutually exclusive. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that because my definition of success is changing, I am slowly becoming more comfortable sharing with others.

As I think of just how intense my training will have to be as I approach my first Ironman, I find myself looking forward not to race day itself but to the path that will take me there. I am excited to dig deep and see more of what I am made. The real shocking part is that I am also excited to get to know people who are currently in my life even better. Not only that, it doesn’t scare me to ask for help as it once did. I know I am going to meet a lot of new people and it doesn’t even make me roll my eyes to think about it. What’s that about?!

I think my favorite part of my mellowing is what I see happening in my professional life. I find that a kinder, gentler Lady J is more sensitive to the needs of my students. It is easier for me to see the good in their efforts to make music, even when it sounds absolutely horrific. The words that it takes to convince someone to try something new are coming more naturally to me. My babies are becoming less tense because I am starting to recognize that it is normal for them not to understand something right away, to stumble, and then get it if they keep showing up.

“Lady J,” you say in disbelief. “You teach music. Shouldn’t you know better than anyone that practice is needed to become proficient at anything?” Dammit. You’re right again. And I have always maintained with my students that I don’t expect them to be perfect – only to try their best. I am realizing I have secretly been hoping that they would get it right on the first try because their imperfection is a reflection of my imperfection. The more they play imperfectly, the more I have to deal with my own inadequacies as musician and teacher. Twisted, I know. Now, I am able to celebrate their progress with much more than a sigh of relief. “Thank God I don’t completely suck,” I would think. No, no, NO! “Thank God you stuck with it and can reap the rewards of your hard work.”

So, um, yeah. Lord willing, becoming an Ironman is gonna be pretty sweet. The road and relationships I build along the way are going to be even sweeter. Hugs for everyone!

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Bada$$es need love, too

As the peak of triathlon season approaches, I am feeling many things. With less than two weeks remaining until my “A” race, what I am feeling most is doubt. Doubting that I will finish within the time goal. Doubting that I will finish at all. Incredulous that I belong among this group of people who do things like swim 1.2 miles, bike 56 miles, and run 13.1 miles. In a row. This is my first race of this distance – it’s normal to feel some anxiety, right?

Evidently, I am not the only person who will show up at his or her race with these type of feelings. I have found myself sympathetic with other beginning triathletes who question themselves similarly. However, I have caught myself being judgmental with anyone who has more than like, 5 minutes racing experience than I do.

I’ve been there.

I know what you’re going through.

and the worst –

I. Am. Right. There. With. You.

The f*** you are.

You have been doing this a long time OR completed this same distance or even same course before. You’re so much faster and stronger than I am. Why are you even talking to me? You make me sick.

And then – I am reminded of my relationship with music and my music babies. One of my favorite exercises is to have them raise their hands if they suffer from stage fright. I always raise my hand with them because indeed, I still get very anxious before I perform. Invariably, at least one student responds, “No. Way.” I tell them we are all growing musicians, but I’ve just been growing a little longer than they have. And they actually buy it.

I applaud my babies when they are brave enough to play 3 note songs for each other. As I age, I think I am even more proud of the risk I take as I share music with others. In some ways, greater experience brings greater risk. You’ve delivered results in the past and success becomes more normal than not. As you expect more of yourself, others start to believe in you as well. “Man. People think this is going to go well. What if it doesn’t?”
Dammit, if anyone DARED to question why I was nervous as my recital last month was approaching, I looked at him or her as though s(he) had two heads. “Why wouldn’t I be nervous? Dumbass.”

Oh. Heh.

I suppose that if I am allowed to be nervous on stage, despite having performed since I was 4, people who already call themselves Ironman can be nervous too. While I haven’t read the USAT guidebook lately, I think it’s a safe bet to say that only humans are allowed to compete in races. To be human is to be fragile. Having the will to test your limits, regardless of your experience level, is to always be admired – never judged.

So uh – for all the thoughts that have ever run through my head about you – my bad. 🙂 I am praying for your progress, just as I pray for my own.

13 days.

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When the therapist is the patient – and lacks patience

School is back in full swing, which means Lady J’s after-school ensembles have started. I get to spend my Tuesday afternoons helping 25 students learn to play the ukulele. At the same time. God help us all.

Most of them have had no prior experience with the instrument. I’m no ukulele virtuoso, but I know enough to stay ahead of them – for now, heh. Over the course of our time together, we’ll familiarize ourselves with enough chords so we can sing and play several songs for their loved ones. “It’s not enough for us to be adorable,” I tell them. “We have to sound good too!”

So we start with the easiest chord. One finger on one string. For most, this was no problem. Then two fingers on two strings. Some problems but still okay. Then three fingers on three strings. What had been a fun rehearsal turned into bedlam.

My fingers hurt!

This is sooooooo hard!

I will NEVER get this!

“Dudes. What do you have to do in order to be good at ANYTHING?” Practice, they tell me. “How long have you had your instrument? Like, 10 minutes? Why are you expecting to be amazing at this? There is a difference between difficult and new. Calm down. Keep going and you will get it.”

This outer dialogue was much calmer than my inner monologue. “OMG. Everyone is panicking. I am a blight upon my profession. Nobody will ever learn to play if they are learning from me! Why is this so hard for them?! They are going to go home and tell their parents that I should be fired.”

As we were wrapping up, a 2nd grader got my attention. “Man. I feel so much better! It was hard at first but now I am getting it! I was worried!” I smiled at him and said, “Toooooold yaaaaaa!”
Tee hee. I love when my babies stick with anything long enough to see how much progress they can make.

Wait. Doesn’t that mean my inner freak out was unjustified? Though I was encouraging them to keep trying until they get it, my reaction was as though I wanted – and expected – them to be perfect in their initial attempts. Because they weren’t, I was being ridiculously hard on myself. “Joan, your teaching isn’t perfect! Why are you even here?! Maybe this was a bad idea.”

Is it really possible that teachers aren’t expected to get everything right on the first try, either? Are we allowed to be human, or is it like society portrays us – either martyr or wholly unqualified?

It felt good to return to work in the following days and hear from both parents and students that they were having fun in my group and excited about what they are learning. I suppose I should I do what I am asking of them and keep showing up. Perhaps.

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Apparently, I’m a Total Bitch. Classroom Edition

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Here’s a secret – just because your kid gets the claps and is adorable doesn’t mean he’s good.

Periodically during the school year, I allow my classroom students to perform for one another with very little guidance (a. Be nice to one another and b. You break it your parents buy it). I like this exercise for several reasons, but I think my favorite is that it gives the students a chance to explore without a right or a wrong hanging over their heads. I love being surprised by my students’ previously hidden talents and am delighted when they appreciate one another and burst into applause.

But maaaaaaaan do I see some “wrong” musical decisions. No sense of rhythm. No sense of steady beat. What’s a key? And that’s not even the kicker. Those kids receive the SAME amount of applause.

This is where I think to myself, “y’all just heard what I did, right? Why the hell are you showing EQUAL amount of appreciation for something of significantly lower quality? Don’t you know about the normal curve?”

Indeed. I’m sure my students would have a greater understanding of my frustration if I would only display this image to them:

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Mm-hmm. Clearly you understand now, dear children. Not everyone deserves the same amount of claps because not everyone can be exceptional. Otherwise, awesomeness loses its value, yeah? How can a standing ovation mean anything if ANYONE can get one?

Yet not just anyone receives standing ovations in my classroom. I do not force my students to perform for one another in situations like these. While I think it’s important that students push their comfort level, I don’t want them to develop a strong association between music and anxiety. My babies volunteer to share their music, and THEY are the ones on the end of the normal curve. I have to reassure my ears that the students are actually clapping for cojones and not musical quality. I suppose my job is to nurture already existing bravery and encourage them to discover that which they can do.

In the meantime – anyone know of any discreet earplugs for purchase?

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