My Best Year of Teaching
This week, we will be two months into the school year at Margaret Scott. For me, that's two months without a classroom, carrying what I can from building to building in the morning, struggling to hold children's attention in a huge echoing gym in the afternoon; two months of having just one (hopefully uninterrupted) half hour session for each class (though some occasionally get two, depending on the "tech rotation" nobody's been able to figure out), instead of the two that's minimal; two months of leading "Rhythms" and pretending it's a musical experience for the ninety rowdy children simultaneously occupying the gym; two months of having one mitigating idea after another shot down because, realistically, my curriculum takes a distant second to me keeping an eye on kids somewhere that what I'm doing doesn't disturb any other classes; two months of district administrators reminding me in their own ways that I should count myself lucky to have a job...
Oh, look. I'm complaining again.
And I can't blame you for being tired of it. In truth, there's very little I can do to change my situation this year: the one space in the building that could be a music room is spoken for by programs that matter more to the administration than mine, and no matter how much I disagree with them, they're the ones who decide such things, not me. So quit yer bellyachin', suck it up, and get that basket of Boomwhackers to your next class.
I could do that and get by, grumpily schlepping the instruments I can carry from room to room, scowling at noisy kids, keeping myself going until I can find a better job. Or, better, I can keep the pressure on administrators to shuffle expenditures and put portables on the two sites in the district that have no dedicated music rooms. Perhaps an invitation for the superintendent to come hear what it's like to teach a recorder class in the gym would help.
Those steps will help me get through the year. But they're not going to help me thrive. For that, I need a dose of magic.
Thank God for Doug Goodkin.
A week ago yesterday, Doug was in Portland to lead a workshop for POSA, the Oregon Orff chapter that I'm president of for the next two years. As president, I had the privilege of appointing myself to drive Doug around. I first experienced the Goodkin magic ten years ago at a POSA workshop, and was instantly hooked: here was pedagogy that was engaging, holistic, respectful, and fun. I've studied with him many times since then, and always come away rededicated to my vocation.
Driving him around, I shared my woes, as I've done with anyone who'll listen. After lunch last Saturday, Doug began the afternoon session by uncharacteristically talking for awhile, and I couldn't help thinking he was addressing me directly. He talked about a blog post he'd recently written on "Momentum," (Look it up; it's a good read.) He's been in his current position for forty years, a privilege he does not take for granted. I say "privilege" advisedly: anyone doing the same job for his entire career could get understandably bored, burnt out, be marking time to retirement. Not so with Doug: "This is my best year of teaching," he said--just as he did last year, and the year before. What makes it his best year of teaching? It's not just sharing the music he loves; it's the connections with his students.
And being true to myself, that's why I'm not permitting myself to grumble from classroom to classroom, or to give up on doing anything but worksheets in the gym: my students have better lives, and will become better people, because of what I do. I see that in the way their faces light up when I come into their rooms, in the eagerness with which they run to the instrument circle when they come into the gym, in the way they grin and wave at me whenever they see me walking from one place to another on campus. They love what I'm doing, wherever I do it. and they love me for sharing it with them. When I'm doing it, I'm utterly engaged with them as a group and as individuals. The rest of the world ceases to exist for me: there is only the space I'm in, the children I'm with, and the music we're making together. That is true whether my teaching space is a gymnasium with a thirty foot ceiling or a 12 by 16 rug. We do our thing for half an hour, and when we're done, I relish their disappointment that it has to end so soon.
So yes, my situation is far from ideal. And yes, I'm going to continue doing everything I can to make sure I can teach in a proper music room, on a proper schedule, next year. In the meantime, though, I am committed to making this my very best year of teaching. I will teach better this year than I ever have before. And I'll be complaining less. Much less. Because wouldn't you much rather hear about the wonderful parts of my job? I know I would.
And next year, I'll do it all over again. I have too little time to share with these children, and I can't afford to waste any of it grousing about where or how often I'm doing it. This moment, this now, has got to be the best I've ever taught, and it will be--until the next now comes along, and the now after that. That's how I'll make this my best year of teaching, and how I hope you'll make it yours, too.
In the meantime,