Life Lately

I am home!  I forget what a blessing it is to be here since it happens so rarely now.  I have had the nicest couple of days off from teaching – a full 4 day weekend! (I have off tomorrow too.)  Teaching has been going well, but I am getting antsy for it to be over.  It’s not that I don’t like it because I do, I know that I want to still be a music teacher, but that college degree is so close.  I’ve worked so hard the past 4 years, and graduation is right around the corner.  It’s such a weird place to be in right now. 

I was just telling my mom that I feel sort of homeless right now.  I don’t really belong anywhere.  With student teaching, I don’t have a place to call my own.  I’m just the tag-along who kind of fits in but not really.  It’s like teacher purgatory.  With living in Indiana, it kind of feels like home.  I’ve lived in the same apartment for two years, and it’s a familiar, comforting place.  But lately I’ve been packing that place up because I’ll be moving out of it in three weeks!  It looks pretty empty right now.  And then there’s the home I’m in right now…it’s where I grew up, where I go for almost every school break, but since I’ve left for college it doesn’t really feel like home.  It’s basically a place now full of old memories and a place to put my boxes of belongings.  I’m excited to get a job and get a place of my own that finally will feel like my home!  To get involved in a permanent church, to get a pet of my own, to buy my own furniture and have a garden.  For the past year especially, it’s just been a series of packing and unpacking, moving from place to place. 

Despite these feelings, life has been good.  I’ve been starting to take bike rides since this dreadful, horrid, awful winter seems to be finally over.  I’ve been lesson planning like a fiend and working on paperwork for student teaching like my work sample and non-music observation write-ups. 

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This is basically what I did all last Wednesday: my work sample.  I was dreading doing it, but I knew once I sat down it wouldn’t be so bad.  And I wrote the whole thing in one night, which made me feel productive.  This is how I felt when I was done.

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I don’t think I moved from this position on the couch until I went to bed.  I was so tired.  I always thought that being tired from student teaching was a silly thing, that people were exaggerating.  But it is no joke.  I get home some days and all I want to do is crawl in bed.  I am so grateful I will get my summers off from teaching, because it would not be possible to do year-round.

Here are some pictures from this weekend.  My mom’s garden is beginning to grow and I love watching things bloom.  With basic training last year, I felt like I didn’t get to appreciate spring or summer barely at all, so this is a real treat for me right now.  As much as I am tired of living in Pennsylvania and I’m ready for an adventure somewhere else, it really is beautiful here.

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And here’s a picture of me and brothers from Easter today.  I only see these two a few times a year now, but I love spending time with them.  I love that I have good relationships with my brothers, and I hope it continues throughout our lives.  I got to go to my brother’s volleyball game the first night I was home, and it was a lot of fun.  It was the first game the team won this year!  My grandparents were there too so it was good to catch up with them.

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Also, I’m wearing the dress I made and I feel really proud of myself for that!  I enjoyed going to church with my family and praising God.  I’m not going to lie, it’s been a long time since I’ve been to a church service and I haven’t given God the attention He deserves the past few months.  That’s definitely going to change.  I need His direction in my life, especially for things that are about to happen!

Does anyone sometimes get a sudden thought in their head and it won’t leave?  Like God is telling you to do something?  And its so strong and compelling of a feeling that you know you’re supposed to do something?  That happened to me this weekend.  I was impressed upon to make a phone call to someone that I haven’t talked to in a really long time but I knew I needed to make the call.  Even though I didn’t feel like it, I picked up my phone and called this person.  It was great catching up with them and I knew it was the right thing to do!  I love it when God gives me such clear directions like this.  There is such a feeling of freedom and satisfaction from knowing I did the right thing.  Sometimes I don’t always know what I’m supposed to do in my life, but it is so refreshing to get such obvious directions from God.

What I’ve Learned From Student Teaching

There are so many things that I’ve learned this semester while teaching.  Some of it’s realizations about myself, others are teaching tips I’ve found useful, and some are things I’ve learned about kids and people in general.  I thought this list would be helpful to those of you going out to student teach soon, or it might be interesting for anyone to read more about what it’s like to be a teacher.  Here goes!

1. Wear a watch.  

Doing so is incredibly useful.  At my first placement, the few clocks that were in the school were usually wrong or broken.  I know tons of people use their phones, but in my opinion, it’s not professional to pull out your phone during the school day.  You may really be only checking your phone for the time, but what happens if the principal would walk in at that very moment?  Unless it is used for something like playing a piece of music or relevant video, I think a teacher’s cell phone should stay in a coat pocket or bag until the end of the day.  Just my thoughts.

2. Put an extra change of dress clothes in your car. 

I wish I had done this earlier in the semester.  You never know when you’re going to spill a drink, a snotty kid decides to hug you, or you wear something to school but decide later in the day it’s not comfortable or doesn’t fit right.  It’s always good to be prepared.

3. Keep hand sanitizer and cleaning supplies handy.  

Especially now that I’m at the elementary school, you realize how quickly germs can spread, especially in the music room.  We’re constantly passing instruments and books around, and holding hands for dancing.  I’m a bit of a germaphob, but it’s kept me healthy almost this entire semester.  Also, you never know when a kid is going to throw up or get a bloody nose in your class.  Just this past week, it happened in first grade when we were all sitting on the carpet and a little girl got blood all over the floor.  Again, always be prepared!

4. Pick music you really really like for elementary school general music.  

You’ll listen/sing to that same song or piece dozens and dozens of times.   Some of the little rhythms we sing get stuck in my head for days, and then it makes me want to throw a brick at the sound system.  Sometimes I feel musicked out (a word of my own invention), just so sick of hearing sound in general.  I usually listen to classical radio in the car, but sometimes at the end of the day, all I want is blessed silence for those 25 minutes.  So pick stuff you love, because it’s going to live with you for a long time.

We’re doing Carnival of the Animals with first grade, and that’s a wonderful piece.  I’ve probably heard it at least 6 times in the past week, but I’m not tired of it!  It’s such high quality music and pleasing to my ear that I won’t ever mind listening to it.  I’m definitely not going to be able to listen to it for a long time on my own after we’re done with this lesson cycle, but for now I enjoy hearing it for all the first grade classes.

5. Don’t be too sensitive.

Future student teachers, you are literally going to be criticized for how you teach, dress, and interact with people.  Every.  Single.  Day.  For 14 weeks straight.

After a while, it can really beat you down.  It’s important not to take things personally.  Obviously, you want to improve your teaching as much as possible and it’s important to listen to your co-op and supervisor, but don’t beat yourself up too much about it.  If a lesson doesn’t go well and you get critiqued harshly from it, just nod your head, take some notes, and try again the next day.  This advice is coming from a person who is naturally pretty sensitive, but I’ve learned not to let it bother me.  You could cry, or complain to your friends/parents about how mean your co-op or supervisor is.  Or you could accept that you need to constantly improve, and move on. 

6. Which leads me to another piece of advice: be humble.  

Yes, we’re college students who are up to date on the latest technology and resources.  We’re young and motivated and energetic, but we really hardly know anything yet!  The people critiquing us are usually right, so get over your big ego and listen to them.  There are reasons why our co-ops do things a certain way, and we have to learn from them.  They’ll learn from us too, I’m sure, but it’s more important that we listen to their advice first.

7. Ear damage is a real thing.

When I was at my high school placement, this didn’t bother me a whole lot.  But surprisingly, now that I’m at the elementary school I’ve found I need to watch out for myself more.  I use the speaker system a lot in general music, and my place in the class is pretty much right in the front of the speaker system so I can turn it on and off easily.  After doing this all day, I actually have gotten headaches (which I never get) and I can feel my hearing is deadened.  And we’re not even listening to music loudly, but being so close to it all day is affecting my hearing.  

Also, since I’m helping with my first placement’s musical, I’ve had to drive over there every day for the past few weeks.  This past week we got the rest of the pit at rehearsal, and my head was absolutely pounding after the first night because of the trumpets right behind me and hearing so much bass.  So since then, I’ve worn earplugs to protect myself.  It makes it more difficult to hear myself play, but I’d rather be safe and hear everything muffled than be deaf in thirty years.  

8. Accept that there are seasons in life for everything.

This is something I learned from my mom a long time ago, when I was super busy in high school and trying to juggle 14 things at once, and this advice has gotten me some pretty tough times.  I’ve had to accept that this winter was awful.  That plus being busy equals Monica gaining a couple of pounds from not exercising hardly at all (and still eating the same amount of food I was before).  I’ve decided that it’s okay not to be super physically active right now because my focus is on other things.  Of course, it’s not okay to gain weight and it’s been a wake-up call that I need to eat less when I’m not exercising, but another season of my life is starting and things will change.  

Now that this crazy musical is over and I won’t be doing 12+ hour days, and the weather’s getting nice, I’m going to lose those 5 pounds and get back to where I normally am.  It’s just a season.  I’m learning to just let things go and not get too mad at myself for not being perfect.  I’m only human.  But, now is the season for getting back in shape and getting out in the sunshine!  I love doing musicals, but I love this next part of the year.  

9. It’s okay to change your mind.

I touched on this a bit in my last post, but here it is again.  For the past year or two, I thought I wanted to teach elementary school general music.  I had such strong beliefs about this.  I always really enjoyed doing sample teachings for general music and I thought I was suited for the lifestyle.  But, now that I’m at the elementary school, I’m not sure if it’s for me anymore.  It’s kind of scary to think that all this time I was wrong, but I’m accepting that it’s okay to change my mind.  I don’t think I’m the same person I was 2 years ago, so it’s okay that my preferred level of teaching changes too.  We are constantly changing creatures.  Life would be so boring if we just remained the same.

10. Do things that aren’t teaching-related.

I learned this from a pre-student teaching co-op I had over this past winter.  I asked him if he ever got burned out from being a high school band director, and if so, what he did to prevent/help with it.  He told me he always enjoyed coming to work, and he’s never, ever gotten sick of it.  

Then he said something that really surprised me.  In my experience, when you ask a professor or teacher what they do to prevent burn-out, they respond with something like, “Go to workshops to get your passion back.  Listen to music to re-focus.  Join a community band to play your horn more.  Start a private studio.”  Do more.  More, more, more.

But this pre-student teaching co-op told me, “I have things that I enjoy doing outside of school.”  I have never been told to do fewer music things to get re-energized.  It’s always more.  

So I listened to his advice.  I got my sewing machine out again.  I started growing herbs indoors.  I started this blog.  I wrote to my sponsored kids in Thailand and Burkina Faso more.  I started cooking like a fiend and trying new recipes.

Let me tell you, I have never felt more passionate about teaching music than I am now.

11. Appreciate your parents.

My mom and dad came to visit yesterday to see the opening night of the musical.  It was the first time I’ve spent time with them since my winter break in January!  Yes, I’ve been home several times since then for drill, but those visits usually include me doing a load of laundry then going to bed and waking up ridiculously early for a long weekend of work.

It was wonderful seeing them.  They loved seeing the show and meeting my first co-op as well as some of my students.  It was so good just to talk to them.  And I wasn’t expecting it, but they helped me out with so much stuff.  They came to my apartment yesterday before we left for the show to hang out for a few hours.  I felt bad, but the apartment was pretty messy – as a result of having zero time at home this week.  The next thing I knew, my mom told me to take a shower while she washed my dishes and hung up some of my laundry, and my dad returned the Sound of Music to the video store (I had rented it for the 4th and 5th grade lessons) and took my car to the mechanic to check something quick.  Sometimes, it’s just really nice to be taken care of.

After the show, we went to the Dillweed Bed & Breakfast to stay.  It’s their third or fourth time there, and they love going there.  I had been there for breakfast once, but this time I spent the night too.  It was great getting out of Indiana for a bit, and to stay in a gorgeous little B & B.  We were the only ones there that night, so we got to explore all the rooms to our hearts’ content.  Image

Here’s a view pictures of what the inside of the building looks like.  It’s so homey and wonderful.  The breakfast we had this morning was delicious – Cindy, the woman who owns the B & B, makes great scones.  We also had tons of fresh fruit and a ham and potato bake. (I gave my dad my ham!)  She’s such a nice lady to talk to, full of interesting stories and a great attitude about life in general.  

I feel so refreshed after staying there with my parents last night.  My mom and dad are awesome.  They have never doubted my decisions to go into teaching or to join the Air Guard. (They sometimes think I’m crazy, but they never doubt my goals).  They’re so supportive and I love telling them all of my funny teaching stories or the moments when the kids “get” it.  I know they’ll back me up, no matter where I end up living and teaching.  

12. You will always, always love your students.

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Observations & Revelations

March 28: It has been quite a weird week! PSSA testing has been going on, and my co-op had to proctor the tests every day. So in the music room, there was a sub and myself teaching all week. It was a good experience for me, to teach with someone else’s plans and to get to know the kids, but I’ll be happy when things get back to normal. Due to being sick on both my and my co-op’s part, I really haven’t gotten to see her teach all that much yet! And I’ve only taught a few classes from my own lessons (the rest of the time we’ve been doing filler stuff with the little ones to pass the time), and my first observation is on Monday with kindergarten! Yikes.

Working at the elementary school is not what I expected. I expected to really love it, and for it to be creatively fulfilling and wonderful and fun all the time. Well, being an elementary teacher is not all it’s cracked up to be. I’m enjoying it, and I think I’ll enjoy it more when things are normal next week, but it hasn’t been easy. The kids are wonderful little humans, and sometimes I do love it. Like yesterday, when I was teaching kindergarten, we were singing “This Little Light of Mine.” We made up motions and I was playing guitar, and they were singing so well. Then I went around and let each kid strum the guitar as I changed the chords, and they got such a kick out of doing that. I almost got teary-eyed as I was walking around the room. I loved their energy and their excitement and their joy at doing something so simple like singing and strumming a guitar.

But sometimes it’s tough. Having good classroom management is such an important thing to have, and some kids are really hard to work with. In elementary school, you also have to be constantly aware of the kids’ safety, and never turning your back on them. Something that I didn’t even think about it is what’s on Youtube advertisements when you’re showing a clip or playing a piece of music. My co-op says she knows of an ex-teacher who got fired because of an ad that was on the screen that was inappropriate for kids.

April 1: I didn’t have time to finish what I started last week and I have no idea what else I was going to write, so I’m just going to keep going…

Sunday was my 22nd birthday! It was really normal, basically just like any other day. I worked on lesson plans, went for a run, cooked dinner, talked to my mom – super exciting stuff here people. I’m not a huge birthday person. Even as a kid, I was never big on parties or celebrating. But I can hardly believe that I’m 22! I don’t feel any different yet, but I know that 22 is going to be a big year for me. It means graduating from college, and (hopefully) finding and starting a job!

Yesterday was my first observation at the elementary school, and it went really well! I wasn’t sure how it would go, because the group of kindergarteners in the class are kind of a rowdy bunch and it’s a big class. But they were really well behaved and my supervisor had some very nice things to say about my teaching! She said to me, “Monica, one thing I notice about your teaching, from here and the high school, is that you are fearless. Nothing rattles you, no matter what happens in the classroom.” Well, that’s probably one of the nicest things anyone has ever said about my teaching. I don’t always feel cool and collected, but I’m glad it appears that way!

I was so tired yesterday. In addition to my observed class, I taught three other 40 minute classes that day. And, I have a super long musical practice at my first placement. Their show is this weekend! I think it’s going to go well, but this week is going to be tough to get through. I didn’t get home until 9:30 last night, and I had to wake up at 6:30 so I can do it all over again! But, really, I have it great. I don’t have to be at school until 8 every day – it could be so much worse! I know lots of people who have to wake up at 6 or earlier for their placements, so I’m pretty lucky.

Once this week is over, my life will get infinitely less crazy. I love what I’m doing with the musical, but I’m going to be so relieved when it’s over. I can’t say I’ll mind getting home at 4:30 every day once this is finished! My parents are coming up this weekend to see it, so it’ll be nice to spend some time with them. I haven’t spent hardly any time with them since Christmas, because every time I go home for drill it’s always such a quick visit it doesn’t even count! And I’m always so tired that I’m not even very good company!

I recently had a revelation, and I’d like to share it here. Up until about a few days ago, I had no idea what level I wanted to teach. I just loved being at the high school, and I really like the elementary kids, and I hadn’t been able to decide what I really wanted to do! Back when I was in high school, I did an internship at my district’s middle school with their band program. Ever since then, I had written off teaching middle school because while I enjoyed my experience, I couldn’t see myself dealing with that age level because it seemed frustrating and very difficult. So for the past four years, I’ve written off teaching middle school completely.

But then I thought to myself, “What kids did I really connect with at my first placement? Why did I like it so much?” The school is a 7-12 school, so I was working with a wide variety of ages. And once I thought about it, I realized that the kids in 7-9 are the ones who really liked me, and I really liked them a lot. The older kids were fine and I enjoyed teaching them, but I just had such a blast working with the junior high kids.

God works in such funny ways. Here he showed me all those years ago that I didn’t want to teach middle school (and I was such a different person when I taught in HS, but I never re-considered my decision to NOT teach middle level), but this whole time if I would’ve even thought about it I would’ve found it to be something I really like! I’m not saying I’ll end up teaching middle school, but the more I think about it, the more I like the idea of it and the more it feels right. I’ve been praying and thinking a lot about what’s going to happen after graduation, and these thoughts just fell right into my head. How can I NOT be thinking and praying about what’s going to happen after graduation? Everywhere I go, people are constantly asking me, “So what are you going to do after you graduate? Are you applying for jobs? Where are you going to live?”

I just want to yell at everybody, “Stop asking me that!” Because I have no idea what’s going to happen! It’s really quite scary, and everybody pressuring me is not helping at all. So you could say it’s been on my mind a lot lately. But here God has given me some peace of mind and hopefully some answers to settle my heart. I’m just going to keep teaching and praying and hoping, and I think it’s going to work out just fine.