Saturday, February 27, 2016

High Expectations and More Questions

At this time last year, instead of attending the Kansas Music Educators Conference (KMEA), I was at home recovering from my first chemotherapy infusion.  Very surreal to think about!  I’m so thankful to be participating in normal life again, and with an improved outlook on life.

However, I think that outlook may be responsible for my increasingly obvious inner chatter and conflict.  If you’ve read my last few posts, you know I’m going through an existential crisis right now regarding my career.  And I have SUPER HIGH EXPECTATIONS for this weekend, hoping that it will provide some clarity for my next steps.  I was halfway through the convention weekend, and I didn’t have any answers, just more questions.   That was a rough afternoon, hoping no one would ask me “So how is school going?” for fear of bursting into tears.  I’m an expert introvert however.  I have strategies for avoiding people when I shouldn’t be interacting…haha.

The rest of the time, it was nice to talk through my issues with a few people.  It seems every time I make any big decisions in my life, I’ve always talked with several people and received counsel on how to proceed.  And then it all works out.  The waters are incredibly murky right now, and I just have to trust that it will clear up.  It’s also been helpful to know that others are experiencing a lot of my same struggles.

I have found that one of my primary issues right now is losing my self-confidence as a music teacher.  I experience daily negative feedback from my students….complaining,  arguing, apathetic attitudes.  Being surrounded by great music educators this weekend has reminded me that three of the most important qualities of an effective teacher is:
Having Confidence
Being Comfortable in front of your group
Using Humor

I know I have these qualities, but I’ve lost my way.  I’m pouring from an empty cup, and struggling to refill it.

As someone’s advice said in the past few weeks, I should explore ways to reinvent myself as a teacher somehow.

Do I try a different type of position?
Do I move to another school?  Another school district?
Do I go back to school myself and further my credentials?
Do I choose a path that is less about teaching children and more about supporting teachers?
Do I alter my career path and go out of education altogether?
Or do I do nothing?
This is my 4th year in my current job.  Can I see myself staying another 4 years?   At one point, I was completely happy and that answer was YES.  I saw no limits.  I could stay for a long time and be fulfilled and challenged and confident.  I think a change of scenery might definitely be in order....maybe.

I watch other teachers and it all seems to come so natural to them.  They have addictive personalities that young people are naturally drawn to.  They are skilled at making those around them feel at ease and entertained.  I went to one session particularly about teaching middle school students, and although very good, her information made me depressed and even more insecure with my teaching.   Her topmost pieces of advice were about connecting with your students, creating relationships, etc.   Those topics destroy me every time, because I’m terrible at that.   And I also argue that it isn’t the topmost important quality of a teacher.  It implies that its all about the adult and not about the subject or about the environment you've created.  The teacher has to be likable? Do children gravitate towards them? Are they entertaining?  Though HELPFUL, I disagree that this is THE THING that creates successful teachers.  I've learned valuable lessons, anecdotal or otherwise connected to a grade, from teachers that I did not have a personal connection with.  I would argue that it’s actually Happy Teachers that are a more accurate predictor of success.   Happy Teachers, valued teachers, are unlocking their potential in themselves and in their students.

And I wonder if I need to steer myself away from the classroom altogether, because I don’t have THE THING.  The gravity.  I wonder if my strengths could be used in other ways.  (See questions above about reinventing myself).  I’m not experiencing evidence of my value.

I did finally reach a sigh of relief during the VERY LAST SESSION of the weekend.  Turns out that the author of a blog I’ve read before and loved was the clinician in this session.  If I had known beforehand, instead of it being a happy accident, I would’ve:
1.  Told everyone I know how excited I was for the session.
2.    Not have been considering skipping the session and heading home for the weekend an hour early.
3.     Not have rushed in 3 minutes late, because I was buying a new music note lanyard.
4.     Chosen to sit in the front rows.
5.     Had a charged ipad that didn’t quit halfway through the session.

It was REALLY.  GOOD.  Anthony Mazzocchi:  Why Students Quit Their Instrument (and How Parents Can Help), which was actually a session regarding motivation and rigor than anything else!  It provided me with more renewal, more ideas, and more relevant information than the whole rest of the convention combined.  And never once did it mention connecting with your students and creating relationships.   And I left the room feeling better about my teaching than when I entered it, for once.

It lit a fire under Superman, as well.  (Who kicked TOTAL BUTT at his session on Protecting Hearing Loss for Teachers and Students.  It really was amazing.  His collaborators were well organized, engaging, funny – cracking jokes left and right, and informative.  He’s a natural.  He has THE THING.)  We started brainstorming ideas to co-author a book.  And I think its perfect.  With our individual strengths and experiences throughout the years, we could create something really awesome, and on a topic so incredibly relevant to teachers.  #health  #happiness  #classroomenvironment

So, back to work on Monday, and I will be celebrating the LAST DAY OF FEBRUARY.   I consider this the closing days of winter.   Although presenting its obvious challenges to me, I am expressing intense gratitude for this year's winter.  It has been a time of INTENSE reflection, self-awareness, conservation, and hibernation (although inflaming my existential career crisis).  I know I will come through this spring a better, happier, more fulfilled person, with purpose and drive for better things (when I figure out what those things are).

Monday, February 15, 2016


I've been pondering a lot of questions lately regarding my career-status.  And I think I've reached a definite crossroads.  Something has got to change, and I see the following three possibilities:

1.  Stay in my job, but take steps to further my professional development specifically in the area of teaching low income students.
2.  Leave my current job to teach in a different school, not in a predominantly low income area.
3.  Leave teaching altogether for a different career.

I can not continue to stay the same and expect myself to live a fulfilling, happy, and healthy lifestyle.  I think I've done a pretty kick-ass job of coping so far, but obviously it took some cancer to make me realize:  I am not invincible.  I need to put my needs first.   I've devoted 4 years of my life to this job, and gave them this much of my hide along with it.  There was a time, although hard, I was cleaning up.  The evidence that I was making a difference and having a positive impact on my students was indisputable.  Now that I've created my queendom, I've realized: this is it.  My impact has plateaued.  The issues I'm facing with my students right now, I will be facing forever.  I have everything I could ever want to be the teacher I want to be, but the fight against Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs is too great.  (and I provide a graphic that is meant to be funny, but it is however the cold hard truth...)

I came across this article:
Teachers at Low-Income Schools Deserve Respect

A couple things that stuck out to me:
1.  The most highly skilled and qualified teachers should be purposely placed in low income schools
2.  There should be special training, and in fact a specific credential for teachers in low income schools.
3.  Being a teacher in a low income school should be a badge of honor and be compensated as such, instead of assumed that they couldn't find a "better" job.

It has become clear to me that if I am to stay in my current job for much longer, I need the following things for my personal professional development:
-further my techniques in motivating students
-learn how to increase my resiliency
-learn how to fulfill my needs as a teacher in other ways that do not include student feedback

Is there a university program that specializes in these things?  Or is it limited to people that write professional development articles on edutopia about them?  (Like this one:  Boost Your Resilience By Managing Emotional Triggers)  These are real issues that teachers face.  We can't go on pretending that all teachers should receive the same training.  Just like every subject area has its unique needs, low income schools have their own unique needs as well.  Special training should be required.  Lets put a special place on the teaching license: you specialize in low-income education.

The majority of my students are smart, caring, funny, and wonderful people and are from equally wonderful families.  Humans, but they have special needs when it comes to their education.   And there is the minority, that on top of their special needs, are misguided, struggle emotionally/cognitively, are lacking nutritious food, warmth and safety, constantly lash out with negative behavior with complaining and arguing, because that is what they have learned in their homes.  It has nothing to do with me or my classroom, but unfortunately it manifests itself there.  And because I'm a highly sensitive, non-confrontational, super empath, not a single sigh, smacking of the lips, or eye roll goes unnoticed in my room.  On the spectrum of resiliency and thick-skinned teachers, I am at the very bottom.  And if I'm going to continue on this career path, I'm going to have to find a way to cope with that.  (or suffer further consequences.)

I chose this job.  Its not something that I was forced to do, or was the only thing left, or anything like that.  I gravitated toward this situation because of my belief that the skilled, committed, and passionate teachers should be here.  I was attracted to my job because of the incredible music teachers that work here and I collaborate with, and I have the best bosses in the region:  my principals, my fine arts coordinator, my superintendent.  They are the absolute BEST there is.  I have a fantastic room.  I have great equipment and resources.  If I need anything, all I have to do is ask and 99% of the time, I receive.

Someone said to me recently, "They need you."

And my mind screamed "But what about my needs!"  My professional needs include:  seeing evidence that I'm making a difference, walking into a room and feeling respected and liked, being able to create and maintain an atmosphere of positivity, productivity, pride, and fulfillment.  Right now, none of these needs are being met.

Again, the majority of my students are wonderful young people, but they are also the non-disruptive and compliant ones.  The rest of them argue with me, CONSTANTLY.  They complain about EVERYTHING.  They give nothing but negative feedback.  Every day, an interaction with a student happens that would make many teacher's jaws drop on the floor, and I just continue with my day and have to accept the situation.  This is my life.  This is what I've chosen.  There isn't a single thing I can do to change it.  Nothing surprises me anymore.  I've been called more names than you can imagine.  I've been flipped off.   I am laughed at.  I am made fun of.  I am mocked.  I am whispered about.  I am bullied by 13 year olds everyday.  And that's just the way it is.  Eyerolls.  Lip smacks.  Shaking of the heads.  Ignoring directions.  Turning and walking the other way.  There's a point when I can't just brush it off anymore.  And my psyche suffers.  My morale and commitment to the cause falters.   How much longer am I going to force this upon myself?  My life is my choice.  I don't have to stay in this situation if I don't want to.   Is it worth it?  I'm not a quitter.  But it takes great wisdom to realize when its time to move on.


I started this blog a year ago on Feb. 14th!  And on Feb. 15th, I adopted the elephant as my mascot.  :)

Those are some nice milestones to accompany that today was 6-month mammogram day.  All good news!  They took just one set of pictures and let me go.  "Everything is stable" and that I follow-up with my surgeon in about a month.

Woo hoo!

I have to say I was more nervous/stressed/worried about this mammogram than I thought I was.  It wasn't obvious until after it was over and I felt like I was walking on air.

It reminded me of the time when I was seven and I got my first (and only) cavity.  Oh my gosh, the horror!  Then going through the very uncomfortable and emotionally scarring treatment of filling the cavity, and returning to the dentist every time with the fear that they would find another one, even though I very diligently brushed my teeth from there on out.  

Its a silly analogy, but also appropriate, I think.
I took better care of my teeth = no more cavities.
I'm taking better care of my body = no more cancer.


Saturday, February 6, 2016

Tattooed Lady

In celebration of my one year from the date I found I had cancer, February 5th, I had some permanent artwork done.  :)

There it is, folks!  I'm now a tattooed lady!  

So now that I have it, I better get myself prepared to answer questions about it.  I already know I'm going to start with: "Do you want the long answer or short answer?"

Short answer:  The elephant became my mantra in a time of need because of its symbolism of strength, serenity, and wisdom.  The pink represents my battle with breast cancer, during which I found that obstacles can be overcome with Acceptance, Gratitude and Healing.  I wanted it placed in a spot where I could look at it everyday and remember the lessons I learned.

Long answer:  Well...there's this blog.  Start reading... :)

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Career Crisis

Superman has had to talk me off the ledge twice this week.  Its only Tuesday...

January has always been rough on me.  (Btw - Let's take a moment of silence to celebrate that January is now over!!)  But this one has been really bad.   Probably why I haven't written much this past month.  Because, my brain:

 I don't know if its because I survived cancer, or what, but now I'm hyper aware of sources of unhappiness and discord.  I've spent considerable computer time googling career change possibilities and alternatives to teaching lately.   I even checked out a career change book at the library.

Here some career possibilities I've come up with so far.

  1.  Professional panda cuddler
  2. Music Copyist/Engraver/Preparer or Music Editor for a publishing company
  3. Quit working and go back to school to extend my music education credentials to....not sure what.     
    1.   pursue higher education.  Ex - professor of....
  4. Dog trainer or coordinator for therapy dogs that go into schools for literacy programs (kids reading to dogs!)
  5. Writer (ha!  Unrealistic.  Let's go back to panda cuddler)

I've come to the conclusion that if someone would pay me to sit in a secluded area (with some pretty lamps, happy music, and coffee) and create music curriculum, lesson plans, and teaching materials for others, and occasionally let me out of my cage to interact with happy and excited students, that would be my dream job.  I can't find any evidence that this job exists however.

I have found I'm pretty awesome at a couple things:  1. I'm super organized.   2.  I can design the crap out of a music lesson (given time and resources).

I'm not awesome at these things:  1.  Motivating students who don't want to be there  2.  Being consistently interesting and entertaining  3.  attracting respect and creating influential relationships.

Fortunately, today was a good day and I haven't drawn up my letter of resignation yet.  But it has made me feel better to just sit down and look at my options.  If I don't want to, I don't have to spend the rest of my working life being bullied by 13 year olds, which is what the past 3 weeks has felt like.

I've just really felt like, recently, that teaching is a very unnatural profession for me.  I am sooooooo introverted.  Teaching is constantly giving away your energy to others.  It is so.  emotionally.  exhausting.  And my bank is completely empty right now.

I've come across a couple articles on introverted teachers recently, and those have been really illuminating.  This article expands on the idea of how introverted and extroverted teachers perceive their classroom differently.

Reward and punishment

Standing in front of a full classroom can be particularly stressful for introverted teachers, who are quick to pick up on what Little refers to as “punishment cues”. “They will note the kid who’s rolling her eyes in the third row,” he says. “They will worry whether the material is too advanced for the kids or not advanced enough. They will monitor the sounds outside that are interfering with the progress of the kids near the window.”
Extroverted teachers, by contrast, are primarily drawn to what Little terms “reward cues”: the students who are excited or engaged. (He refers to this extrovert condition as “pronoia”: a delusional conviction that other people are plotting your well-being.) “They’ll look out and think, ‘They love me’,” he says. “They’ll be more likely to go on, oblivious to the sounds of projectile vomiting at the back of the class. Whereas the introverted teacher is aware of those sounds even before the vomiting kid.”
Um. that teacher that can't concentrate because a student is rolling their eyes or sighing discontentedly at their neighbor:  That.  Is.  Me.  I am super aware of unhappy students.  And I beat myself up over it.  Now that I know that exists, I think it helps me cope.  But I don't think it will ever go away.  I will be this way, always.  So why do I keep punishing myself by staying loyal to this profession?  Shouldn't I cut my losses and do something else?  Allow myself to be happy?

Yea, this has been my brain recently.  Not that I'm going to get up and leave my job anytime soon.  But I'm allowed to think about it, and consider my options.