Embrace the Flaming Curveball: It’s Coming Whether You Like It Or Not

Several years ago, I was in the middle of a Zoom workshop when suddenly my phone sounded a loud alarm.  Totally engaged in the workshop, I hadn’t noticed the change in the weather and suddenly, we were under a tornado warning.  With polite “sorry, I have to seek shelter” comment in the chat, I shut down the laptop and went downstairs.  Ironically, the workshop was about steps to take in dealing with flaming curveballs.

You know all about flaming curveballs, right?  You’ve made all these plans, you’ve married the right guy, you’ve landed the perfect job, you’ve bought the perfect house, you have the perfect 2.5 children and it hits – the unexpected, the unwanted and yet the undeniable.  Every human being has experienced these, despite evidence to the contrary on social media where everything is “hunky dory” as my dad used to say.  And more likely than not, if you take the time to look outside yourself, the flaming curveball isn’t just aimed squarely at you, it is taking others out with it, making sure the devastation is widespread.

It’s easy to bring the focus all on yourself, all about how the curveball has affected just you. The truth is, the ripple effect can be huge, changing the direction of many lives.  Our reaction may be anger, sadness, disappointment, grief or all of the above, but like it or not, eventually, the curveball is going to head your way and our job is to figure out what’s next.  I tend to react slowly and hold it in until the emotions, whatever they are, explode.  I can be raging against the world or turn into a big puddle but it’s important to know that however we react, it’s ok – we’re human and it’s part of the process.

You see, I believe that curveballs come along when it is time for change.  When we HAVE to change. When something or someone, God, nature, the universe has been giving you hints that you’ve been ignoring. Maybe you’ve been thinking about it, but the “what ifs” creep in and you don’t make the change.  Maybe your mind and heart are literally telling you it’s time to make a change and you keep fighting and fighting it until one day, WHOOSH!  The flaming curveball shows up to give you no choice.  Now, some of us who are stubborn might continue to fight against it, thinking we’re stronger and we should keep fighting to show others just how tough we are.  I think our culture encourages that because, after all, we don’t want to be a loser or quitter. 

But what if we just took a ride on that curveball to see where it took us?  I’m not saying it wouldn’t be challenging or even scary to hang on, but there could be adventure and lesson learning along the way.  I can name several massive curveballs in my life that at the time were seemingly devastating, but with time and hindsight, I can see the lessons to be learned and the lives changed for the better, and not just mine.  Not my idea of perfect necessarily, but in a way you may never have considered. 

It really hit tonight as I was watching the evening news.  Every story was about flaming curveballs.  Conflicts, death, extreme weather, derailments, explosions.  No wonder everyone is stressed out – who knows what may come next and is it coming for me?  I hate to break it to you, but the curveballs will come.  They may be tiny or huge, but they will come. The question is, how do we ride them out?

I’ll be honest in that I’m one of those stubborn people who wants to push through things to make them work.  I’m comfortable with my way of doing things and I don’t like change. However, I also look back on my life when I chose to make the change before the curveball hit and watched things fall into place, truly ah ha moments. Are we listening to our hearts, minds and bodies and being proactive? Or is it going to take another flaming curveball to make us change?

I Did it All and I Didn’t Give Up!

Kindergarteners are like a box of chocolates – you never know what you’re going to get!  That is what makes working with them so demanding, exhausting and at times, so enlightening and so much fun.  On this particular afternoon, I had the pleasure of watching a classroom of kinders in music doing a movement activity which included a lot of large motor skills.  I don’t know if we think about this often enough, but when a child begins school at five, they have only been walking anywhere from 3-4 years.  Movement like hopping, skipping and galloping will take some more time to practice for them to master, so in music, we give them that time.  At the end of this particular activity, a child said out loud with a big smile on his face, “I did it all and I didn’t give up!”.

First of all, kudos to the music teacher (and other adults) for encouraging her students to keep trying.  This is the first step to perseverance.  Life is hard and it would be so easy for a five year old to stop in frustration and say they can’t do something.  But what a joy to see a child finish a hard task and be excited because they didn’t quit.  It wasn’t perfect, there was certainly some awkwardness in the execution, but that’s okay. What a lesson we can all learn from this five year old.

More often than not I hear students say they can’t do something, that it’s too hard.  Maybe it’s learning a new instrument, new vocabulary words or math problems. But it’s not just the students.  In my chosen profession, I hear over and over again how hard something is and less frequently that I can do it.  I have never said that teaching is not hard.  It’s been difficult since the inception of teachers and students.  At this time in our history, it may be a different type of hard, but it’s always been hard. Part of it is simple work ethic – you understand that work is hard, even if you love what you’re doing, and you keep pushing through it.  Sure there are ways to work smarter and not harder, but even them, the cognitive part of work is still – work.

The word “work” has been become a 4-letter word, as though it’s something to avoid and that life could be so much more pleasant without it.  Fine, if you’re retired or independently wealthy, but for most of us, working is a necessity.  It takes time, thought and effort.  Sometimes you get lucky with the people you get to (have to) work with, and sometimes you don’t.  You can change jobs, but regardless, you still have to work to get things accomplished or to progress.  But what we fail to understand is what this young person seemed to already understand – that not giving up and proving to yourself that you can do it is part of the joy and a product of work. 

There’s that feeling of accomplishment when you have worked hard and done a job well, when you’ve seen the fruits of your labor.  When you see how something you did has affected someone in a positive way.  Teaching is a profession where you get to watch another human being progress in the learning and application of subject matter and of life.  We get to watch young humans grow and change, hopefully for the better.  While this is HARD work, there will be those moments, days and years when you can look back and say “I did it”. 

I do not say these things in any way to diminish the difficulty of teaching.  I have had those days when I have cried in my car on the way home, contemplating how I could just walk out.  There are days when you feel like you’re just hitting your head against a wall and nobody is listening.  There are days when nothing you do feels appreciated and you question why you earned a degree that cost more than you’ll ever be paid in your profession.

Then you have that kid who gave you a hard time ask for a fist bump in the hall or surprise you with a hug or ask if they can join choir.  That child you have difficulty understanding because they speak another language, and they look up at you with those beautiful brown eyes that tell you how much they appreciate you.  A colleague who leaves you a simple note of kindness in your mailbox that gets you through the rest of the day or genuinely reassures you that you have what it takes to do the hard work. These things are meaningful because the work is hard.  How much perseverance do we possess so that we can be there for others and how do we encourage hard work and perseverance in our young people?

I was fortunate to have had some teachers who taught me perseverance, because after 32 years in education, I can tell you there have been really good times and really hard times.  There have been times when I questioned my career calling and times when the joy was so tangible, I could have floated out the building.  I have worked with people I loved and some not so much, but I learned how to work with or without them.  It is important for those of us who have persevered to lift up and encourage our fellow teachers through the difficulties and hard times within this profession. I have tried to be honest with practicum students, student teachers and new teachers about how hard the work is in this profession, not to discourage but to prepare them for the good fight.  There’s nothing like being fed a fairytale and then being hit in the face with reality.  Life is hard, teaching is hard, but my hope is that knowing you’re able to persevere, you can push through it and one day say, “I did it and I didn’t give up!”.

The Zombie Apocalypse is Here

People have been preparing for this for years.  Even governmental agencies like the CDC and the Pentagon have been planning for this attack of zombie creatures.  Hypothetical of course, but like most things, we tend to react rather than be proactive and I hate to break it to you, but the zombies are already among us.  Seriously.  I’ve been watching them for years but because they look like us, and not like those scary un-dead monsters you see in movies, I never made the connection.  More and more of them spring up every day, and they seem to be getting younger.  Only these zombies aren’t necessarily out to get others, although others can be collateral damage, they’re actually killing themselves off in record numbers.  Despite that, however, their numbers continue to increase.

They’re easy to spot, once you realize what they are.  They walk or jog or bike, all with their necks bent forward, staring at something intently, not speaking, and seemingly ignoring everything else around them.  They even drive this way. Once simple tasks like reacting to the change in traffic lights or using a turn signal are completely forgotten by these zombie like creatures. What I thought were just rude people I had to look out for are in reality, zombies.

Zombie deaths are coming in the form of drownings, falls, fires and transport related deaths, the highest number coming from India, Russia, the U.S. and Pakistan, with more than 70 percent of zombies being men under 30.  Some are even dying through something as simple as taking pictures of themselves in dangerous places or walking across a busy street without looking.

The scariest part is that it’s not just individuals, it can be families of zombies.  Now that I know what to look for, I notice whole tables of zombie families at restaurants, groups of zombie families walking through stores, and unfortunately, whole families in some form of transport, all with that same neck bent forward, staring, not speaking and ignoring each other and everyone else.  The only thing that might be moving, strangely enough, are their thumbs at a rapid pace.

This transformation into a zombie like state is not only encouraged, but in some way expected, with zombies cultivating other zombies through the media and social media, work and school.  A person who doesn’t delve into the devices and games of those who have become zombies are considered “old school” and behind the times.  Those promoting this transformation don’t seem to want zombies to become aware of their real surroundings, and the more they behave this way, the further away they get from reality, allowing others to make decisions for them and even think for them.

I’m pretty sure someone who has experienced reality could break the zombie hold if they wanted to eventually, but I am concerned about the young zombies.  Someone has to be brave enough to say that little people should never have the chance to become zombies. Especially since we’re finding out that some younger zombies are becoming violent if someone tries to reverse what turned them into zombies in the first place.  Apparently being a zombie is not only dangerous, it’s addictive. Like so many things in this world, it’s sometimes best to never try certain things, at least until you’re an adult and can make decisions for yourself.  Little zombies make life easier for the adult zombies, so they don’t have to deal with what real children do and say as they grow and mature.  Never mind that we can be stunting the growth process when we allow children to play with things, even unintentionally, that turn them into zombies.  Remember the collateral damage I spoke of earlier.

So, what do we do about this?  What if nobody believes that the zombies are already here and thinks this is funny?  Am I going to have to hide in a farmhouse in the middle of nowhere to get away from them? What if people LIKE being zombies?  Is it too late or can we make the change back to people who build relationships and communicate with other people face to face?  Can we be people who care enough about others that we do what’s right, even when it’s hard?  If not, don’t look now – you may be a zombie yourself.

Long Hot Showers and Fuzzy Socks

For years I have been struggling with the concept of Joy.  What does it feel like, should I feel it all the time, is there something wrong with me that I don’t?  As a Christian, I always felt that I was supposed to feel this joy, no matter the circumstances and felt guilty that I didn’t have this sense of joy all the time. However, I think I’m finally starting to get it and it lies somewhere within the bittersweet. 

Bittersweet for me, to put it simply are those times where something is so special, so joyful, that you smile through your tears.  The first time you’ve seen the beach in years, the sunlight falling just right in a room you love, watching someone do something they love, listening to that favorite piece of music at just the right time – the list could go on and on.  The feeling that wells up inside and straight to your tear ducts to the point you feel your chest could just burst with joy. What I’m beginning to understand, after all these years, is that these moments of joy happen all the time, we just don’t always take the time to stop and look or listen.

I think I’ve stopped trying to create joy and work to see what is already there instead.  I saw it in the sunlight coming through the window in a restaurant the other day and I saw it in the conversation my sons were laughing through during the holidays.  It’s in that long hot shower on a weekend and those great fuzzy socks given to you by a friend. There’s a deep, slow breath and for that brief moment, you’re in the presence of joy.  Sometimes it lingers, but most times you can only see it in passing.  Either way, it’s taking the time to slow down, look around, listen and wait for it to come to you. It’s also that childlike wonder at something that you see all the time but for some reason, this time you see it differently and it’s amazing.

I don’t know that anyone feels joy all the time.  I would think that if someone did, it would become hard to discern after a while. I’m thinking that if I had bacon every morning…. Ok, maybe that’s a bad example.  And anyway, let’s face it – life is hard for everyone.  Everyone in this life is touched by sadness, loss, grief, and those little everyday struggles that pile up making  it easy to sit and wallow. But I think it’s those glimpses of joy in the everyday that gives us hope that tomorrow will be better, that life is worth the struggle. 

I wonder if people have lost their joy because we’ve gotten away from the real and have embraced a virtual lifestyle.  I’m especially concerned about children who have been handed devices from almost birth and wonder if they’ll ever experience enough “real” to find joy. Joy only comes through real life experienced through the senses.  Stop taking pictures with your phone and just experience the sunsets, the fireworks, the first steps, the taste and smell of delicious food.  Look at and talk with your loved ones rather than take selfies.  I suppose selfies could last on a cloud forever but experiencing something with a person you love may only happen once in your lifetime.  Try to REALLY experience it and cling to your memories of that moment.

I’ve been making a point of just sitting and taking in all the sights and sounds of places and people lately.  Sure, there will always be the “running away” pictures, but once I get to where I’m going, whether it’s to the local middle school to watch my grandsons play basketball or play trombone, or just sitting on the couch with my best friend, watching him read while I write this blog, I just want to experience the small joys in the moment.

A Boring Blog

What do you do when you hear the child say the dreaded “I’m bored”?  Maybe I just don’t remember, or it didn’t happen very often, but I was very seldom bored.  There was always something to do and if there wasn’t, I made it up.  Besides school of course, my life was full of playing in the dirt, in the rain, in the snow and on hot sunny days.  I rode my bike, went to friends’ houses, went to the library.  I read books, (LOTS of books), rode my bike, played tennis and listened to music.  When I ran out of stuff to do, I rearranged my bedroom or decorated it with things I cut out of construction paper.  Don’t laugh.

I had one younger brother who was a great friend, and we spent hours playing make-believe school, driving toy cars in the dirt, building snow forts or creating music performances for our parents.  There were no screens (other than TV), but other than Saturday morning cartoons, we didn’t watch it much.  Sure, we grew up in the era of “go outside and play until dinner” but I think we would have found something to do even if we hadn’t.

Move now to today’s children who feel like they are bored all the time.  They’re bored at school, bored at home, bored when they go out, UNLESS they have a device to keep them entertained.  It concerns me greatly when I see young parents walk into a restaurant with young children who are armed with some kind of device, who then ignore the kids throughout the meal.  There is no chance for children to learn how to behave in public, have conversation and socialize without a device because the number one objective is to make sure the kids are not bored in the easiest way possible.  And children are indoctrinated so early that I’m seeing parents hand babies devices in their strollers to keep them from fussing.  The reason kids are fussing is because they need human connection for something, sometimes something as simple as a smile and kind word from an adult.  Kids also need to learn how to find something to do when they’re bored.

Before you think I’m just a grumpy old lady/teacher, let’s talk about the research behind my concern.  According to UNICEF, screen time inhibits kids from reading faces and learning social skills, things that people need to develop empathy.  Face to face time is the only way kids learn how to read non-verbal cues and interpret them.  Imagine now a 5th grader who has been on a device the majority of their life and you begin to wonder how much it contributes to unkindness and bullying. 

Being locked into screens keeps kids from observing and experiencing day to day activities which inhibits them from participating in life in a meaningful way.  It contributes to obesity, conduct disorder and oppositional defiant disorder. It can decrease cognitive function and cause repetitive stress injuries.  All this in the name of keeping our kids from being “bored”. 

On the other hand, allowing kids to be bored fosters creativity, self-esteem and original thinking.  What adults need to do is help kids manage their boredom so they can develop independence and not hand them something that takes that independence away. Boredom allows kids to figure out what they like to do and who they want to be. One of the best quotes I’ve heard is that only boring people get bored. 

For those who have children who have been on devices for a while, I won’t lie, it will be difficult to wean them away from something that has literally affected how they think and function and kept them from being bored. Instead of putting a child in front of a screen, how about handing them a good book, or reading to them.  Hand them some Legos or blocks and let them build something.  Provide paper and crayons or paints and let them create something.  Give them music to sing and dance to.  While it’s easy to hand a child a screen and harder to provide materials, in the long run it will pay off as our kids grow up to be more empathetic, more creative and have a healthier self-esteem by allowing them to be bored.

Lunch by the Pool

In a world full of negativity, can we talk – Middle School?  No, seriously. Middle School.  You know, the large institutional type building where during the week, attempts are made to educate people who are suspended somewhere between childhood and adulthood.  Everything is in flux, from their hormones to their vocal cords, one minute needing the adults in their life, the next telling the adults to stop treating them like kids.  It’s confusing for everyone involved.

The media headlines anymore are ridiculous, constantly bombarding us with all the horrendous things people can and will do to each other.  It can make you think that there is nothing good in the world anymore, but I can tell you that there is plenty of good and it’s right there in of all places, Middle School. 

I will tell you that it takes a special breed of adult to teach middle school.  I am not one of that special breed.  But the people I know who teach this group of young people are some of the most energetic, passionate people I’ve ever met.  It takes a certain combination of sarcastic wit and the willingness to do just about anything (like dye your hair blue) to develop trusting relationships.  Add a love for music and a passion for sharing that love and you end up with a Middle School music teacher.

Yesterday I spent the day at one of the local high schools where they were hosting a 7th grade Middle School Vocal Festival.  Students from all of the middle schools attended the day long event, culminating in a concert last night.  7th grade is the epitome of the middle school student I spoke of.  One moment a child, the next a young adult, and I saw a little of both.  But these are music students, students who are taught how to work together, to listen and follow directions and so the morning rehearsal apparently went well.  Then it was time for lunch.

The lunch area was an interesting space.  Folding tables and chairs in a long, thin area of the building with a trophy case on one side and a bank of windows looking in on a pool and bleachers on the other.  Students had left bagged and boxed lunches on the tables in anticipation of their noon break.  You could have heard them coming a mile away, over a hundred students walking from the stage to this space, a space that didn’t really have enough room for them.

In full musician fashion however, the students improvised and adapted to their space.  They grabbed extra chairs, squashing together as close as possible around tables and sat in small groups on the floor.  I heard please and thank you from around the room. There were the loners, like the girl who found a tiny space on the floor among the plants, the two besties who sat together at the end of the table, making commentary about their classmates through their facial expressions to each other, and the big groups of students all talking at the same time. Teachers grabbed their sandwich orders and, rather than find a place away from their students, sat among them. I watched the animation on their faces, the conversations striking up genuine laughter from both teachers and students. For thirty minutes, there was food, conversation, occasional singing and lots of laughter from giggly girls and silly boys. It. Was. Magical.  Soon lunch was over and everyone worked together to clean things up and put things away before they headed back to rehearsal.  Yes, there were some random carrots here and cheese sticks there, but they did pretty well.  Then, as music teachers are apt to do, once students were settled in their rehearsal space once again, they all worked together to finish the job, stacking folding chairs, throwing away trash and picking coats up off the floor.

As I sat observing as much as I could, hoping I could find a way to put this experience into meaningful words, my friend and I talked about all the negative, insane news there is in the world today, and how everyone should experience something positive like this.  There is good in the world, places where caring adults teach young people how to work together in harmony, meeting new friends through the medium of music.  It was a place where people from different walks of life worked together towards a common goal and were successful in their efforts.  They celebrated the occasion together, cheering for their teachers and each other.  This kind of thing doesn’t make the news of course because it’s not sensationalism, but it is sensational nonetheless.  The ordinary made extraordinary, and, as cliché as it may sound, a good memory these students, teachers and families won’t soon forget. 

Beauty in Imperfection

The dishes had a Tuscan air to them, orange, yellows and periwinkles in a slightly abstract floral design. We had had them for years with everything that matched them – canisters, serving plates, the works. It was time for a change. I know that white dishes highlight the colors of the food on them, but white is, well, boring. So, we did a little shopping and found some black dishes that looked slightly wobbly for lack of a better word. They were different, the salesperson said they would withstand my grandsons and I liked them. Something about their imperfection spoke to me. They went home with us.

Our artist son, upon inspecting the dishes immediately said “Oh! Wabi-sabi. Cool!” “Wabi what?” I asked. I soon learned that there was a reason that something as simple as dishes might be speaking to me. Let’s define wabi sabi.

Taken individually, wabi and sabi are two separate concepts:

• Wabi is about recognizing beauty in humble simplicity. It invites us to open our heart and detach from the vanity of materialism so we can experience spiritual richness instead.

• Sabi is concerned with the passage of time, the way all things grow, age, and decay, and how it manifests itself beautifully in objects. It suggests that beauty is hidden beneath the surface of what we actually see, even in what we initially perceive as broken.

(Omar Itani, 5 Teachings From The Japanese Wabi Sabi Philosophy That Can Drastically Improve Your Life, April 23, 2021)

The author lists five teachings that he believes can take us away from the struggles of moving fast, striving for perfection and chasing inorganic forms of success. One of them spoke to me.

All things in life, including you, are in an imperfect state of flux, so strive not for perfection, but for excellence instead.

The black dishes are not symmetrical, the edges are not even, the surface is not completely smooth, and yet they are beautiful in their simplicity. They are strong and make a statement. Not at all perfect, right? But perfection is arbitrary, defined by someone’s idea of what perfection should be. Do you know how many perfect eyebrows I’ve seen in my 63 years? We throw around the word perfect so easily and set ourselves up for failure. There’s no point in striving for perfection because a)it’s usually someone else’s perception and b)it’s not achievable. People work their entire lives in pursuit of the perfect body, the perfect job, the perfect partner and it will never happen. What a waste of time. My husband and I were discussing this the other day. Both of us have changed and grown at different rates over the years. While others may perceive us as having achieved perfection over 42 years of marriage, we’re just figuring out to go with the flow because our relationship changes daily. It’s that flux thing that gets in the way. We’re changing, our opportunities are changing, our family changes, our attitudes change and we age, the ultimate change. However, the fact that we work daily on our relationship is striving for excellence and THAT we can do. We are imperfect and all we can do it our best and be ourselves. In all of our wobbly, wabi-sabi ways. As our bodies shift weight, the wrinkles set in and our memory comes and goes, we’re still a work of art. Most days I have trouble believing it, but you know, I’m being to understand that I’m ok the way I am. Of course, this may change when I look in the mirror in the morning.

In our culture, we’re constantly bombarded with the pursuit of perfection when instead we should work to see the wabi-sabi in life, finding beauty in imperfection.

Serious About Play

Sometimes attending conference in an exercise in extrovertness.  I know that’s not a word, but let’s go with it.  After presenting three sessions of my own, I was excited to attend a colleague’s session this morning, a master teacher in First Steps, a method of teaching music to children.  It’s something that wasn’t taught when I graduated way back in the dinosaur days and it is a little intimidating.  But I thought I would go, knowing full well that this was not going to be a place for introverts, specifically because it was a session on movement in music.  You know you can’t teach about movement without DOING movement.  In front of other people.  People you don’t know.  I am however, secure enough in myself that I no longer beat myself up for sitting against the wall or in a corner and watching and taking notes instead of participating.

Now, the session for movement was not just movement, it was movement for elementary aged students (although you could do it with anyone), so participation means you have to let out your inner child.  I didn’t let out my inner child when I WAS a child.  I wasn’t about it do it now.  However, it is a bit entertaining to watch others who have no problem letting their inner child out and flowing everywhere. I absolutely understand we learn by doing, it’s just a challenge for me.

So, here’s what I saw.  Adults making circles with their bodies.  Circles with their arms, shoulders, and knees.  Adults shaking body parts with a tambourine.  Adults painting circles in the air with paintbrushes to music.  Adults imagining themselves playing twister on the ground or in the air, getting themselves into some crazy position and then attempting to do movement in that position.  The movements that are so adorable coming from a 6 year old are something else coming from an adult.  Why?  Some of the adult movements are just as awkward as a child, but something very important was missing.  There were no smiles.  There was no laughter or giggling.  These people were serious about their play.

This is the thing that always made me crazy about becoming a general music teacher and choosing a methodology or philosophy to follow.  Somehow the only way to learn a methodology for children is to act like a child.  This is hard when you know longer think like a child.  You may understand children, but you are no longer a child.  By the way, if you understand children, will you fill me in? But I digress. Yet somehow, instructors think you have to act these things out as an adult child (or childish adult?) in order to understand how to do the activities.  These are research based methodologies, research done by adults for adults, and yet when they’re taught, we must act like a child to understand them.

I’m not knocking those people who are so comfortable in their own skin that they’re willing to gyrate to all kinds of music in front of others for the sake of educating children.  Shoot, I do it all the time WITH children to model it, but don’t ask me to do it in front of my peers. And I’m not honestly sure of how a clinician/instructor would teach other adults how to do these things without the participants, well, participating.  I just can’t be one of those people.  I’m grateful that this instructor didn’t try to guilt me into participating with her.  I’ve had some who have and then I have this combination of embarrassment melding with really uncomfortable. I actually had a professor who wrote a book about introvert and extrovert musicians, who embarrassed me in front of a grad class by giving me a hard time for not participating in a karaoke activity.  Maybe he didn’t learn anything from his own writing?  Let it go, Judy.

What I think about when I see this is how well this translates or doesn’t translate to a classroom with real kids.  I’ve seen teachers who strictly follow their chosen path and they are extraordinary and others who can imitate in workshops but can’t translate it effectively for kids.  Is it because they focused too much on imitating the activity itself and didn’t understand how to apply to the students?  I know I had issues when I attended my first Orff certification.  Everything worked beautifully when I performed it with 15 other adults pretending to be kids.  Not so much when I returned to 30 5th graders in my classroom.  No one talked much about expectations, procedures and behavior management because the 15 adults all behaved.  And didn’t turn the instruments into weapons.  Or dance in provocative ways to make their friends laugh.  I could go on.

So again, I go back to the participants I saw today.  With no smiles.  Maybe they’re not having fun either but they’re rule followers, doing what they think they’re supposed to do.  Maybe they think they won’t be taken seriously if they smile or laugh.  After all, we’re educators.  We’re not supposed to be having fun and risk being taken seriously as educators.  Music is already considered fluff by some, and music being fun just hurts our cause, right? Or maybe we just take what we do too seriously. 

I’m Not as Nice as My Car Would Make Me Seem

I love my car.  For those of you who know me, I REALLY love my little VW Beetle.  It’s a happy shade of yellow, not an ugly taxi cab yellow or pale shade of lemon yellow.  It’s reminiscent of a smiley face with a black convertible top.  It’s the kind of car that makes people shout to you at stoplights that they love your car or that it’s their dream car.  It’s that good.  I wish, however, that I was as nice as my car would make me seem.

I’m sure that when people look at my car they’re thinking, this person must be as happy as the yellow.  She must be happy go lucky, kind and sweet to match the car.  They couldn’t be further from the truth.  Particularly if they’re the kind of person that likes to break traffic laws and etiquette.  Like, turn signals before brakes.  Let me say that again.  Turn signals BEFORE brakes.  The signal signifies that you are preparing to put on your brakes to turn or get over.  It’s a fairly simple devise on the left side of your steering wheel and not that hard to remember.  When the turn signal comes on AFTER the turn, or not at all, I no longer behave the way my car looks.  Nice sunshiney words don’t come out of mouth.  I’ve been told by others that the driver can’t hear me, but I’m sure they can see me gesticulating.

Oh, and because the car is yellow and happy, please don’t assume that cutting in front of me will not concern me.  My car may look like a hippy bug, but I assure you I am not.  Please use your turn signal to let me know you would like to get in front of me and I will gracefully let off the gas to let you in.  Don’t signal and there’s no way in hell you’re getting in front of me.  I am the consummate rule follower who awards fellow rule followers and punishes non rule followers. My car may be happy, but I’m not.

Can we talk overly large pick up trucks with something to prove?  I mean like they’re compensating for something?  It gives me great pleasure to use my little turbo engine to race them or box them in when they’re being obnoxious.  Yes, this grandma knows how to box someone in, so if you’re going to break the rules, go 55 in a 45 or zip in and out of traffic, this friendly little car is going to race you or box you in.  At least race you until I hit the speed limit and then you can ride off spewing your fumes looking like a fool.

It’s a bit of an oxymoron I’m afraid, this rule following grandma driving something that breaks all the rules.  At my age and status in life (if you believe teachers have status), I should be driving some nice conservative black or white SUV.  But SUVs are boring (no insult intended to all my lovely friends who drive them), and while I am an introverted rule follower, there’s nothing that says my car has to be.  Having the opportunity to something I would have killed for as a high school student is the best kind of choice I could make.  It’s like taking my husband to parties – I let the car do all the talking for me.  Only sometimes it appears a little too nice.

Out of the Mouths of Babes

The last several months, I have started my day eating breakfast and watching “Leave It to Beaver”. The show started in 1957 and ended in 1963. I was born in 1959 so it wasn’t something I watched as a kid, at least not that I remember. I get it a kick out of watching it for a number of reasons, one being that as a mom of boys I can relate to a lot of craziness they get themselves into, but mostly because despite boys being boys, (forgive the stereotype), they are expected by the adults in their lives to be kind, ethical and respectful. Very different from what I see from some young people as an educator today.

I don’t blame the young people. After all, young children especially imitate and repeat what is heard from and modeled by others. Maybe it’s from the adults in their lives, maybe it’s from what they see from TV, the media, or video games. All this to say, somewhere, adults are not being careful about what they say or do around the kids in their lives.  

I’m not just talking about language, although that’s definitely part of it, it’s also sharing information that isn’t appropriate for the child’s age, things that are violent, sordid, unkind, unethical and disrespectful. Things the child takes to playdates, into the public and into school. One of the things that jumped out at me in particular occurred after recent presidential elections where the lack of tolerance for others’ thoughts and feelings are disregarded in class and on the playground. Places where children should be learning and playing. Kindness was thrown out the window replaced by name calling, bullying, anger and fear. Children began saying things that were anything but childlike, mimicking things that they had obviously heard from some adult somewhere.  

Things have only gotten worse as we’ve all dealt with a pandemic, changes in school, families struggling with finances and relationship issues and nobody is protecting the children. Unlike my little Leave It to Beaver family, which works to teach, protect and prepare children to become kind and productive adults, we have allowed ourselves to believe that children are just little adults who can handle anything we can and this is simply not true. Because when children don’t feel safe and protected by the adults in their lives, they act out, and in some cases, they act like the adults they see and hear.

I know there are many young parents and other adults who think I’m living in the dark ages, but these are the same adults who complain their kids are using bad language or talk back to them or don’t follow directions and don’t realize that they are merely imitating what they are allowed see and hear. It’s the whole “do as I say, not as I do” idea. It just doesn’t work. Think about how children learn as babies and toddlers. They imitate sound, watch and learn movement, imitate behavior. It’s how we all learn.  

Over the years, I have witnessed a steady decline in appropriate behavior from some of my students, however in the last 5 years or so, inappropriate behavior has increased to the point where educators now have to focus solely on helping students function in an age appropriate way so academics can be addressed at all. We refer to what students have gone through the last several years as trauma. It sounds a bit over the top, but students are behaving in similar ways to those who have suffered from violence and abuse. They’re not eating correctly, they don’t get enough sleep, and they don’t feel safe because the adults in their lives share everything with them rather than protect them.  

I totally believe kids are kids and I love them. However, I have been called inappropriate names, told no when I give directions, told inappropriate stories/jokes, watched kids push and shove each other, bully, destroy property and not care. This is in and out of schools. If a ten year old is behaving this way, it didn’t happen overnight and changes won’t be made overnight. Teachers who work with students who struggle in this way are being at the very least discouraged and at the very most, being abused. And people outside of education wonder why teachers are leaving in droves. It’s not all about the money, it’s about the constant conflict, violence, abuse from children to others. There’s more to this, but of all the issues I see in education today, after talking with teachers around the country, behavior issues are the biggest reason educators are exhausted and finding something else to do.

What does this say to kids? One, they have the power to push a teacher away and two, when they do push a teacher away it demonstrates to them that it’s just another adult who doesn’t want to deal with them. Kids want adults to set boundaries and set expectations because it creates a safety net for them. And they’ll do whatever they can to prove otherwise. Being an adult in any child’s life is hard and it means we have to be the exemplar, modeling the kindness, ethical behavior and respectfulness we would want from anyone. For those who complain about how awful people behave, it will only change when we as individuals work to make ourselves the best we can be, working hard to keep the worst out of the mouths of babes.