It has been a calendar year since I last posted posted here on goobermusicteachers after averaging one every three weeks for 5 previous years. I was aware it’s been awhile, but I honestly had no idea it had been that long. Ironically, I know precisely why. It’s a funny thing that happened to me this year: I rediscovered my own classroom.
My entire career, 30 years to this point, has been spent looking at the big picture of music education as a profession. It’s led to my involvement in more district, state and national work than I think I can honestly remember. I’ve never done this because I think “I’m all that” and somehow my voice is more important than anyone else’s. On the contrary, my goal has been to carry out the wishes of others and to further the profession through service. This drive was instilled in me during my undergraduate years at Keene State College and it’s stayed with me ever since. Goober Music Teachers was started because Jarika and I would talk philosophy all the time, and I found myself wanting to speak to those big picture topics. Towards that end, this blog has been heaven sent for me – a vehicle to articulate thoughts and beliefs, a forum to state opinions, an opportunity to help me think through and articulate fuzzy concepts that I need to solidify for myself if for no one else. Starting this with Jarika was twice the fun as well. But for me personally, it helped me to find my own voice. Tie this in with my desire to “think globally and act locally” as it pertains to music education, and you can begin to see the significance of this blog to my personal and professional well-being.
So what happened this year?
I have gradually been able to sense myself getting tired. In the late Fall of 2011, I felt myself starting to burn out, and it scared me. I was in the throes of quite a few professional activities including chairing our YHS accreditation and the tank was beginning to approach empty. I responded by reluctantly (and temporarily) removing as much as I could from my plate to focus on “me” for bit. It not only worked, it largely reenergized me. I didn’t dive back into things to the same degree as before, but I hopped back on board many things outside of school and went back on my merry way. All of this coincides with the blog posts I’ve written since. But last year I felt myself slowing back down again. The difference was that I was beginning to almost resent everything that was shifting my attention away from myself and my teaching. I am also unable to emotionally detach myself from what I do – it took me YEARS to reconcile that “what I do” is not “who I am” for instance. But I felt myself becoming emotionally drained last year and mentally worn down. Whereas before it was fueling me, pending a reasonable professional load, now it was doing anything but. Consequently, I made a vow that the 2016-2017 school year would be all about my classroom, my students, my choirs, my own teaching. I think, in a very warped way, it took me this long to finally feel like I could do so without feeling guilty about it. That is a larger issue I guess I’ll have to investigate on my own time for another day, and certainly not one for inclusion in this blog 😉 But I finally reached the point in my professional life, at age 51, that my focus can just be on what I do. I ditched everything else in my professional life last Fall and moved forward.
And what a miraculous school year it’s been. For decades I would lie awake at 2:17 am thinking about the problems and issues of the profession. This year, for the first time, I found myself awake at 2:17 am thinking about my kids, my curriculum, my classes. And it’s been so cool! “So this is what this feels like!” I don’t feel like I’ve been shortchanging my employers/students for the first few decades of my career – I’m very proud of what I’ve been able to do with and for my students and my programs. I know I’ve given it everything I had. But I always simultaneously had my other foot somewhere else. This year they’ve both been “all in.” I am present with my students in a way that has truly made me a better teacher. It’s felt remarkable. I spend my time outside of class being more analytical of each day’s successes and failures and why they were or were not. I notice myself making adjustments to my teaching and curriculum more often and more sharply. I communicate more and better with my students outside of class about their work in class. I became so enamored with skill development in my warmups, that I devoted my mid-term exam time with my students to filming them as they incorporated my techniques and then having them write analytically about each one. Not only was it the most meaningful exam I’ve ever given, it yielded footage which led to my creation of the Choral Warmups Project and youtube videos of my techniques and approaches. This was invigorating not only because it forced me to look at MY OWN classroom, MY OWN students, but because it also gave me a new outlet to deliver resources for others in the field to think about. I have been so energized to focus on my own assessment strategies. What a difference that has made.
My work with the Portland Community Chorus was transformed when they became my focus last Winter over December break, culminating in a survey – the results of which shifted our policies and beliefs and practices. As a result, PCC this past term became a brand new entity in so many exciting ways. They have never achieved the level of musical and motivational uniformity/excellence that they achieved this Spring, and their concerts reflected it. In 13 years I’ve never felt so excited about working with them as I do now.
A year ago I was asked to serve on the New York Board Of Regents review committee to redesign their state music assessments, a great honor. I was contacted by NEASC to join them in reimagining and rewriting their accreditation standards and process. I was contacted to take a lead role in our district move toward proficiency. I was contacted by the Maine DoE to take a leading role in the development of statewide proficiency exemplars for Music Education. I turned them all down. You don’t get a second chance to get involved in amazing opportunities such as these. But this year I guess I also discovered something much more important and much more substantial. I realized that you go through your career believing you have total control over so many things and that you are the captain of your own ship, but that it’s never really true. You go where the wind directs you. You go where you physically and emotionally are called. I realized that the crime is not in what you do or don’t do, it’s in the not listening to the wind or to your own self. If I could write a letter to my younger self, I’d tell myself that.
I don’t regret one single thing I’ve ever been involved with even though there was a price to pay for each of them. I had to decide 20 years ago if I was going to immerse myself in the trenches or get my PhD. I chose the trenches. I received an invitation from a Superintendent one year to become a High School Principal though I never took a course in administration. I turned it down. I had to decide several times in my career where I was going to plant my roots. Each time I made the choice that was best for me at that moment at the sacrifice of other opportunities in front of me. I had to decide several times how my personal life was or was not going to impact my professional life. Each time required a sacrifice of one or the other. The difference this year is that I felt like this choice was made for me, I really didn’t have a say in it. A leap of faith? Yes. Disconcerting? Yes. New? Yes. A sacrifice to elements of my life I’ve always believed were essential to my professional happiness? Yes. An amazing year as a result of all this? You betcha. The epiphany is that apparently this getting-old dog can learn a few new tricks, and it happened by concentrating on what was right in front of me the whole time.
I’ll post again in this blog, and Lord knows I’ll move forward with the choral warmups project. But It’s been a year since I’ve posted anything here and I wanted to make sure to do so this month. In thinking on what was most near and dear to my heart to write about, this is all what came to mind. I apologize that it is so introspective and self-serving, but it feels really good to finally write it all down. Maybe I’m not so sorry after all. 😉