When I Grow Up....
When you're little, you wonder how you will ever know what you really want to BE one day. OR, if you are me, you find it easy to imagine you will be everything someday. When you're at the library, you fancy you will love your job scanning book bar codes while you drink in the smell of books all day long. When you're at Wal-Mart, you look forward to your turn to push so many buttons, and decide you will be an especially smiley checker-outer. In fact, in kindergarten, I found my awareness of ALL of the things I could possibly be so overwhelming, that I remember telling my peers that I'd already occupied some of the careers I thought I'd probably like to, but wouldn't have time for later. (Ex: At 3 I was a doctor. At age 2, I was a dentist...) One brave 5 year old called me out on my creative tale, and I'll never forget the friend sitting beside me who stuck her neck out for me and declared, "I believe Amy Beth. She would never lie." I am still friends with that girl today. (Of course, the integrity of our relationship began a little rocky... on my end. I feel bad about that. That is neither here nor there.)
The point is, in middle school I spent a lot of weekends selling pie to raise money for my church at community auctions. I learned that I love working directly with people - even for short and sweet exchanges. Shortly after I discovered a passion for political science. I thought I might be a future president of the United States. And maybe I will. But then I got really excited about music - I felt sure the Lord was calling me to pair that passion with the thing in me that can't stand to learn anything great without passing it on. I think they call it teaching. And so I did. I got a Master's degree in music education, got a job at a middle school with super kids all ready to build a good band program, and we did it. I loved it! And then... I felt sure God was calling me to be a Mom. I became a mom, and I LOVE it. And then I felt sure that I couldn't do a good job trying to divide my heart, my time, my conscience... So here I am. Signing away the most ideal teaching job I could ever have had. I don't know if I've ever done anything harder. Goodbyes are hard. I am so grateful for the years I got to spend developing a God-given gift, the people I enjoyed it with, and ultimately the kids I got to teach and build relationships with - the very best part of all.
Celebrating... Not Grieving
(A very special group of 8th graders after "Ethiopia Day" at lunch)
This blog is a little bit because I enjoy sharing with you, but it's also such a special form of documentation for me. I may have had the privilege of teaching the very best students who will ever pass through that middle school. I guess I'll never know. (Yes I do.) I have so much to be grateful for. SO many unbelievable teaching stories, and so - admitting I could never capture them all here, in my next few posts, I'd like to share a few...
1) My first day of school EVER as a teacher:
I am calling role in my first EVER class. (It's a class of 6th graders who would also be my first class to graduate.) There are first day of school butterflies in the air. They're squirmy and nervous and I'm nervous. I am trying to memorize their names and faces TODAY, careful not to mispronounce (and thus scar) a single one of them, and I get to the name "Cassandra." I wonder how this student pronounces the vowel in her name, so I ask, "Do you go by CassANdra? Or Cassandra?" She shrugs. I'm worried I've embarrassed her. "Either is fine! I just want to get it right today so I know what you want to be called in the future!" She shrugs again. There are snickers. I'm a little frustrated. "How would you like me to pronounce your name?" She shrugs again, and rolls her eyes slightly. I am befuddled. I give it one more go: "What does your Mama call you?"
She answers, "My Mama calls me Sassy."
2) "Take Out the Trash"
1st year of teaching: I teach 6th grade brass in a room that adjoins the band room, but has no teaching materials, phone, etc. In that class I have a student who's been placed in band although it wasn't his idea or interest. He has an IEP 3 miles long, and struggles with huge emotional explosions that result in erratic behavior. It's week 3 or 4, and I recognize this student is escalating. I try to calm him down, but he is reacting with defiance and I see quickly that it is not going to happen. Step 1 on his emergency plan is to call the guidance office. Problem is, in this room I teach in, there is no... wait for it... phone. I give soft and clear instructions to this student, now standing in front of his seat, looking at me like a bull ready to charge. I turn out the lights, and continue giving calm directives, now asking the rest of my class to remain silent and seated, and I back toward the door that connects to the band room. When I reach the band room door, my room is frozen - my students seem to be holding their breath, and my upset and misguided cherub appears to have stalled on his vision for what he should do next. I take a big breath, spin around and run like a banshee through the band room, grab the phone, dial, yell, and sprint back! I slide through the door, and the room is still frozen - all of my students are sitting silently in the dark room just like I asked them to. All but... one. I, too, freeze. I scan the room quickly. He is nowhere to be seen. I scan again. "Where is he?" I calmly ask. They just point. To the large custodial trash can by the door. And sure enough. He is in it.
I wonder if I will ever survive this year.
#3) "Don't punch the baby"
I love illustration. In music, we are often working to achieve abstract goals, so analogies, metaphors, and the like are extremely helpful. When you're working with middle schoolers, they are triple effective. This was the perfect job for me. In the same breath, as every good band director knows, analogies can get you in trouble. Sometimes you are mid-productive-thought when you realize something has gone horribly awry. Such was the case the day, "Don't punch the baby" was born. I was demonstrating contrast. The importance of good tonguing, especially when given specific articulation. I was illustrating a phrase; the artistic musical sentence one might use to sing to a baby. (I cradled hypothetical baby in one arm.) But in the next phrase, the band had accents. I began demonstrating a good accent; noting the initial blast of air. "It's like a punch!" I was saying. Each note begins with a "punch!" I was gesturing emphatically as a good middle school teacher does for their students; but I'd forgotten to put the hypothetical baby down. Immediately, I realized my middle schoolers would never forget this moment. It was a little funny when I was shocked to realize what I had done. It was extremely frustrating when I could not silence the repeated phrase as they walked in and out the door and passed me in the lunchroom, but then it became a little funny again later in the year when they'd murmur to students who'd been thoughtless or forgetful, "Dontpunchthebaby," or wove the phrase into my Christmas card. Needless to say, our band's accents were unbelievably clean that year. I can't know what mental images were going through their minds while they played them, but boy - we got the job done.
With every anecdote I finish I'm flooded with memories of 5 more. I'll weed them down, but look for some more in the coming days. I am so grateful to have gotten to know some amazing young people, and for these memories that will be ours forever...
(My final performance in the middle of my maternity leave with 8th grade at their spring concert.)