Summertime and the living is easy…

Sweet summertime. I am loving every minute. I am finding time to do lots of fun reading, I’m catching up on so much of the housework that was neglected in the spring, I’m taking naps (oh so many naps!), and having all sorts of fun outings with friends and family. I spend most of my time with my two sons, and I am loving our movie days, library visits, trips to the zoo, afternoons at the pool, and plenty more.

Yesterday, I had to take my oldest child to the dentist. As we were leaving, the dentist exclaimed, “Have a great rest of your summer! Er, what’s left of it!” I cringed. I couldn’t believe such a statement was being made. Summer just started! But when I mentioned it to my husband, he cautiously pointed out the small number of weeks I have left.  Really, I am somewhere around the halfway mark of my summer vacation, but seeing the date on the calendar sends me in to a flurry of emotions. What kind of emotions?

Let’s start with the easiest: DREAD! First of all, I am absolutely loving my time at home with my boys. As I said before, we are having all sorts of adventures and creating fun memories, and I’m not ready for the change of pace. But the other main reason would be that I am miserably pregnant. The thought of going back to 5AM alarms and having to put on dress clothes over my ever growing belly in this insane Georgia heat is bringing back the nausea of my first trimester. Right now I am sleeping in, putting my feet up (as much as is possible with two little ones under the age of 4), and living in t-shirts and stretchy shorts. I have no excitement whatsoever at the thought of gearing up for a new school year while being eight months pregnant.

It’s really tough for me to try and plan for this upcoming school year. We have a lot of variables and new challenges hanging over us right now. My husband’s company was recently bought out by a major competitor, and so we are waiting to find out whether or not his department will be dissolved. My oldest child will be starting Pre-K in August, which will be a whole new ballgame for our family. I will have about two months of work in which to build a strong foundation for the year, put on a fall concert, and then hand over the reins to a long-term sub as we welcome baby boy #3 in to the world in October. And is our house ready for #3? Definitely not! I am still waiting on that burst of energy for nesting to kick in.

It has truly been a fantastic summer, and while my dentist and all of the “back to school” ads on tv want to tell me it’s almost over, I am reminding myself that I still have several weeks of fun ahead of me. I’m looking forward to some time on the beach, lots more books to devour, and plenty more naps to enjoy on my couch. Yes, I probably need to pull out my planner and start taking notes on all of those great teaching articles I’ve bookmarked over the last month. Yes, I probably need to start organizing my thoughts and goals for the new school year. But maybe I can also just enjoy being lazy a little while longer.




The Hiatus is Over

It’s been quite a while since my last post.  About three months, I believe. My New Year’s resolution of writing every day? Yeah, that didn’t last. It’s not as if I haven’t had plenty to write about, because I have. But I lost a lot of motivation to write. I have felt incredibly overwhelmed these last few months, and many days just was floating along and trying to keep my head above water.

Professionally, I think it was the best year I’ve had yet. Personally, it was the hardest. As I mentioned in my last post, I lost my Grandmother in December and it was rather sudden. I’m blessed to say that she and I were very close and have been very close all of my life. I grew up next door to her, and as an adult I enjoyed a special relationship with her. She was a wonderful lady, one that I admired and loved to be around.

Then in January, my mother-in-law, after battling lung cancer for almost two years, took a turn for the worst. She had fought so hard, but the cancer had taken over. In February, she passed away. It has been incredibly painful in many ways. Not only is it my personal loss, but it hurts that my children won’t grow up with their grandmother. Most of all, it has been horrible watching my husband lose his mother. I have felt so helpless as he worked through so many emotions and it doesn’t seem to be getting any easier.

And in the middle of all of this, we became pregnant. You know, because life wasn’t crazy enough. Yes, we are expecting our third child. We are thrilled, and I’m really happy that my mother-in-law was able to rejoice in the news with us while she was still here. As exciting as the news is, fellow moms will understand the exhaustion and discomfort that pregnancy brings. Especially with the third. Wow, this body is tired! Baby #3 will be another boy, so while I am prepared with clothes and such, I’m trying to figure out how to prepare to keep three boys in line as well as my sanity for the next 18 years.

God is good, all the time. I couldn’t get through the bad or the good without my faith in Him. I trust that He is in control and is guiding my steps. He is the source of my joy, not my circumstances. I also have the comfort of knowing I will see my sisters and brothers in Christ in heaven one day, where we will forever be in the presence of Christ. The older I get, the more excited I get for that day.
That’s the last six months summarized in a blog post. I promise from here on out I’ll be posting more often and sharing useful, happy stories and reflections. I’m looking forward to a fantastic summer.

I’m Ready for Ya, 2016

Sometime back in November, my brain had started to already believe it was 2016.  I found myself talking to my mom about something that had happened “16 years ago in 2000”, and was surprised when she corrected me.  Instead of writing down the wrong year in January, I had started writing the wrong year in December.  Clearly my brain was ready to take on 2016.

For as long as I can remember, I have made New Year’s Resolutions.  Something in me loves new beginnings and the idea of a clean slate.  It’s one of the things I love about teaching because each year we can start fresh.  In fact, I suppose I make a list of new resolutions twice a year: once in January, again in August as a new school year starts.  I often will look back in my journals to see what my resolutions were from past years.  I really could have just copied and pasted the same list each year and saved myself some time.  I always have high hopes of cooking at home more often, getting more exercise, becoming more organized, keeping a clean house, being more consistent each day with my personal Bible study, and just generally trying to be a better person.  Apparently it is taking longer than a year to achieve, but at least I haven’t given up, right?

Last year, I really tried to create more concrete resolutions.  I wrote down detailed, achievable goals in addition to the new habits I wanted for myself.  One of those resolutions was to finally start my own blog, and here we are.  I have loved having an outlet to write and connect with people, and it has been just one of several writing opportunities I have had over the last several months.  My passion for writing has always been a constant in my life, but has been harder to pursue over the last few years.  So in 2016, I am resolving to write every day.  Every single day.  It’s day 8, and so far this resolution is a success, much more so than my resolution for becoming more organized.  Whether it’s in one of my personal journals, my blog, or a freelance project, I plan on putting words on paper every day this year.  I’m excited to see what I can come up with over the next 12 months.

I’m looking forward to 2016 being spent growing in my career, being involved at my church, pursuing some new hobbies (sewing and Bible journaling!), reading great books, writing, traveling with my husband, and creating new adventures with my crazy boys.  Oh, and cooking all those fancy meals at home too, of course.



Why Train the Students?

It is fairly common to hear ensemble directors talk about how they “train” their students.  Of course, all classroom teachers do this, really.  One of the first lessons taught in classroom management courses is that of teaching your students routines.  You are to train them to know where to turn in papers, where to find passes, how to transition in and out of the classroom, and so forth.

In the music classroom, we train our kids in these same areas, but also in how to be responsible, independent musicians.  I always start my classes with vocal warm-ups, ensuring that they are becoming mentally focused for rehearsal while also creating healthy habits for their vocal use.  I work with them on their sight reading skills so that they can learn music on their own without always needing someone to pluck out notes for them on the piano.  I constantly remind them to give me good posture, always keeping their hands at their sides, feet firmly planted on the floor.  I promise them I’ll wear extra make-up – even paint my nose red – if they will just watch me conduct!

I have a group of students leaders that I have made sure to train for various roles.  Some have taken on the responsibilities of recording attendance, leading warm-ups, or setting up risers.  Recently, I even went so far as to run timed set-ups of the risers to prepare for our annual Fine Arts Showcase, a concert in which we would need to set up the risers backstage quietly and quickly while other groups performed.

The Fine Arts Showcase has been a tradition at my school for the last six years.  We perform a two night show that includes students from dance, theatre, chorus, orchestra, band, and even visual art.  It is a great event, but can be very stressful as there is a lot of transitioning that takes place.  While one group performs, another group quietly sets up in another part of the auditorium.  There is no down time at all so that the audience constantly has some entertainment going on.  I have been a part of it from the start, but this year things were a little different for me.

Last week, my sweet Grandmother passed away.  Oh, what a special lady she was, not just to me, but to so many.  I am still dealing with so much heartache, and when I am ready I feel certain I will have a blog post to share just how wonderful she was.  She passed away unexpectedly the week of the Fine Arts Showcase.  I was in such a fog.  My colleagues knew what she meant to me, and they knew I would need to be with my family for the visitation and funeral.  They immediately jumped in and took care of everything for me.  The band director, who already had a tremendous amount of responsibilities on his plate for the week, jumped in and directed my choirs.  He rehearsed with them as much as he could so they could get used to one another, and then he did a fabulous job conducting them in the concerts.  What a relief it was for me to know my students would perform with everything they needed even though I could not be there.

Through this Showcase, while I was gathered out of town with my family, my students proved to me the value of “training”.  The other directors share how the students came in dressed and ready to go for the concert.  Somebody stepped up and led warm-ups, and all of the students participated.  They lined themselves up to walk on stage just as we had practiced, and the riser team had the risers set up in record time without disrupting the other performances taking place on stage.  They were in their places ready to go with time to spare before the curtains opened.  They performed their pieces beautifully, and when everything was over, they had the risers broken down and put away. They even cleaned the room as if no one had ever been there.

They impressed the other directors that night and represented our choral program extremely well.  They were professionals.  They gave an outstanding performance, and they allowed my mind to focus on my family instead of worrying how to be at the concert to ensure that chaos did not break out.  This was the best gift they could have given me during my time of grief.  They gave a beautiful, impressive performance that allowed their audience to pause and enjoy the holiday season without distraction.  This is why we train our kids.


Motivation for your Monday

Mondays can be tough.  They can be tough for students and teachers alike.  A couple of years ago, I was trying to come up with some different weekly activities to use on a regular basis in my classroom to enhance our rehearsal time.  I decided I needed something for Monday to get us going for the week with our music, and I called it “Motivation for your Monday.”  I would share articles, videos, or quotes with the students on Monday to try and get them pumped up for rehearsal.

After a few weeks, I was running out of ideas and I honestly felt like the whole idea had fallen flat.  I decided to drop it.

Several months later, students began asking about it.  “What happened to our Motivational Mondays?”  “When is our next Monday motivation?”  I decided to poll the classes to see if anyone really cared, and it turned out they did.  They were enthusiastic in their response!  They wanted it back.

So it’s back.  And I am finding it a lot easier to come up with activities, and so far it’s going pretty well.  They aren’t all huge successes, but this week I had a pretty great one.  I decided to give them a short writing exercise in which they answered two questions:

What motivates you in life?  What motivates you in Chorus class?

I was really surprised and impressed at the answers I got.  I found myself very encouraged by their words and it helped me get to know each student a little better.  The responses were really well thought out.  Here are just a few excerpts:

“What motivates me in Chorus is the freedom it offers.  Other classes are fun, but the work involved isn’t usually as relaxing or fulfilling as singing in Chorus.  While in other classes you must be constantly evaluating what you say, in Chorus you are free to sing out loud without fear of discrimination.  This class has a higher percentage of positive, accepting people than my other classes.”

“I am motivated in Chorus by other people’s enthusiasm.  I am a people pleaser so if people expect me to sing strong and work hard, I will.  Enthusiasm is contagious, and it motivates me to work.”

“Learning new music motivates me.  It motivates me to be better and practice more.  Also, having such an excited teacher makes me want to learn more.”

My motivation in Chorus class stems from me simply wanting to better myself, as well as [it being] an outlet for me.  Music speaks for me when I cannot find the words to say.”

Teachers, try asking your students what motivates them.  You might be surprised at what you’ll learn, and you might find some new ways to encourage them in the classroom.

I plan on keeping several of these responses.  Just another reminder that our music classes are valuable places that allow our students to be authentic, creative, and collaborative.