Musings on Teacher Appreciation Week

It's Friday, and Teacher Appreciation Week is over. It's interesting to see the restaurants that post deals, the Facebook posts, the treats the school provides, etc and see what it looks like for teachers to be appreciated and celebrated (at least on paper).

One of the things I love most in the world are student notes - I keep every single one of them. From "get well soon" cards written in crayons by little ones, to a Thanksgiving card I received from a student that wished me and Bella (my dog) a happy Thanksgiving.

I don't know about y'all, but we are struggling with burn out. I work at an IB school and we are smack dab in the middle of testing - everyone is feeling the stress. I ended rehearsal early two days ago and had students write little thank you notes or appreciation notes to a teacher/coach/mentor in the school. I told them that, as a teacher, I treasure every note given to me and they truly light up my day. I encouraged students to be as personal as they wanted: the letter could be lengthy and heartfelt or something as simple as "your class is funny." Thanks, - student.

I was surprised (and touched) by the fact that several students wrote me a note. I was particularly struck by a few of them:

1. "You make this class comfortable". Scrawled in crayon by an 11th grade baritone who joined choir for the first time. He has struggled to come out of his shell and hasn't fully bought into it, but has definitely perked up these past few weeks as we held solo auditions for our pop show. He is a kind and respectful student and I am thrilled he found us.

2. "Every day I wake up and look forward to coming to choir". Woof. That hit me hard. Depending on the day, the class and how much sleep I got, I am exhausted. Some days I can turn it on and blow them away, some days I am there and we are all struggling. It was a good reminder that for some students, choir might be the best part of their day. It might be the only place they're successful, it might even be the only place they're passing.

3. "Thank you for being caring, supportive and thoughtful, also understanding of the things happening in my personal life". How can we not be? How can I walk into a classroom and see my beautiful, talented, hilarious and over-the-top students and not want to be understanding of the things happening in their lives? I think so often as choral musicians we focus so much on the music and the process that we forget about the youth in the room. I've definitely struggled with that. I've had rehearsals with my chamber group where I push and push and push and look up to see 20 sets of tired, sad eyes looking back at me. One of the realities of my job is that most of my students have complex and challenging roles to balance - some are parents, many are the older sibling/caretaker for younger siblings and almost all of them work part-time. I've had to learn to re-shift my thinking so I'm truly thinking about the person first and not the music. It seems silly to think it, but that's been a massive shift in my teaching philosophy. I walked out of undergrad convinced that the highest quality of music = success. Now, I think about success in my classroom, and know that it looks like students who feel safe, celebrated and get to spend a class period every day singing with others. Good music is a happy side effect of the above.

As we wrap up this week, I feel appreciated for a variety of reasons:

I tried choreographing a ribbon dance for Bella Voce (S/A choir) that was so bad that when I showed them they all politely watched and didn't laugh...until I did (and they we all bust out laughing while we held sad pieces of yarn). Even then, they were kind and encouraging.

Helios (TeBa choir) is doing a very choreographed routine to Stand By Me. They LOVE it. They are all in. The basses choreographed an ooh section and they are rocking in.

Chamber Choir learned the blocking for "Found/Tonight" and sing it so beautifully every time that I don't look up from the piano because I know I will start crying. Musical theater + teenagers = too many feelings.

How lucky we are to spend all day singing and interacting with teenagers AND to call it a job!!!! I am constantly blown away for their capacity for kindness, humor and joy.

Happy teacher appreciation week.

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