Saturday, October 8, 2016

Coming Home Happy

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All-staff selfie, taken by Principal Matt. I'm not sure where I'm sitting.

For the first time in my life, I'm coming home happy every day.

At 55, I've had many jobs. Some I liked, a few I even loved. And some were miserable. Looking back on four decades of work, I'm sure of this: none of those jobs even approached being as consistently satisfying as this one.

What makes teaching music at Byrom so wonderful? It's hard to pin down. It's not that my fellow staff members are exceptional: like every other school I've worked in, they're mostly enthusiastic dedicated educators, most of whom are on time to drop off and pick up their classes. Nor is it that my teaching space is spectacular: it's just the right size, and mostly well-equipped, but the Orff instrumentarium needs some major investment and the room is both windowless and chronically dusty. The building is a relic of the 1970s open classroom philosophy and, like most schools built along those lines, is rife with flimsy walls erected when it was realized how misguided that philosophy had been. The commute is similar in driving time to my last gig, 30-35 minutes when traffic is moving freely, more like 45 when, as is usually the case on the way home, 217 is congested. As far as building and district administration goes, my experience, and that of my colleagues, is consistent with other districts where I've taught: we're mostly on the same side, but at times it feels like we're working at cross purposes.

And yet there's something very different about this job, something that seems so different, so wonderful that I come home smiling every day. Amy was the first to notice this, and her observation about it caused me to realize that she hasn't experienced this in the seven years we've been together: we met just months before I was laid off in Banks. When I was rehired there, it was to teach high school music half time, something which, after two years with some of the nicest high schoolers I've ever met, I could safely say is just not my cup of tea. (Sometimes I enjoy a pot of tea with breakfast.) I went from that job to a full-time position teaching disadvantaged children at an elementary school in outer northeast Portland. That job was challenging for many reasons, most of them not related to the children: lack of proper facilities, a poorly constructed schedule and, most of all, unsupportive administrators. But yes, as much as the extraneous parts of the job made it difficult, the children themselves played a significant role: children who've experienced a high level of trauma at home often act out at school, the one place where it feels safe to express their deep, sometimes violent, feelings.

For all that I struggled with the nature of that job, I did love my students. And by the time I finished my third year there, I had developed a set of classroom management skills that are leaps and bounds beyond what I had before arriving there.

In the three years that I taught in the Reynolds district, I mostly came home tired, frustrated, sad, and, all too often, frightened, because I always had a sense that my job was on the line: if I couldn't get those children to behave under those extreme conditions, I was not going to be able to stay. For about a month last winter, I was in limbo, the job falling away from me, no replacement on the horizon.

Then came Byrom.

The interview was promising. The trial lesson was a home run. There were several weeks of waiting then, but at last, I got the offer.

The children at Byrom love music, and they know how to express that love in appropriate ways. They listen to what I have to say. When I outline the expectations, they pay attention. When I remind them of those expectations, they acknowledge the reminder with serious expressions, and change their behavior accordingly. They are enthusiastic about every lesson, go out of their way to thank me for teaching them, and express their affection for me freely. I have a clear sense that my colleagues and my principal are working with me to achieve the best outcome possible, addressing whatever behavior issues may arise the same day they happen.

I miss many of the children I left behind in Reynolds. I wish I could have brought them with me. But at the end of the day, this is where I've landed, and I'm loving this work. I'm teaching music to children, and it's everything I always knew it could be.

This is why I'm hardly blogging at all these days: so much of my creativity is going into teaching I've got little left to type up. More than that, my heart is so full with love and joy, and I come home with such happiness, that I have no frustrations to channel into punditry.

Well--almost no frustrations. There is a certain vulgarian running for President who has me feeling so furious I'm bound to write something soon about him.

But not today. I came home happy yesterday, and I'm not ready to let go of the glow.

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