Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Not Just a Job: Part 5— Windy Weather

I remember so vividly being on a long bus ride in Ecuador one summer and day-dreaming about the concert with the kids we were preparing for an Orff Conference in November. I pictured Will Gaines singing I Got Rhythm and then ending with a powerful slow jazz cadence with an “Oh yeah!” ending and 2,000 music teachers from around the country jumping to their feet with a standing ovation. Just imagining it sent chills down my spine and brought forth tears of joy. And when it actually happened months later, it was exactly as I had dreamed it. Exactly. 


This was the life I was used to. Mostly what I dreamed and planned came to happen. Little did I realize what a blessing that is, for sometimes life has other plans. So after countless such dreams about my last year came the tragic ending, with my hopes for one more Spring Concert, one more Samba Contest, one last class playing Old King Glory, one final closing ceremony and graduation all brought to its knees by the pandemic. Where I was hoping for an exclamation point at the end of my 45 year sentence, it now was a question mark, an ellipsis, an unfinished sentence just dangling in the air. The cool breeze of slow and steady change had become a gale-force wind blowing so much helter-skelter.


My training as both a jazz musician and an Orff teacher was useful— plan every detail, but keep open to the needs of the moment, respond to the flow that exists without clinging to the one you imagined. Who could have dreamed that I would end the year and my years giving classes to kids on a screen devoid of touch, smell, group singing, playing and dancing? That my last official day would find me alone in my sacred music room bidding farewell on a machine? That the party I dreamed of was not going to happen and perhaps never would happen? 


Of course, I was far from alone in this and that helped a little. Given everything else that was going down, I learned to be simply grateful that I wasn’t on a respirator in a hospital or dealing with the ashes of a summer fire or having to teach like this for the next two years as many colleagues ended up doing. And now here we are, still masked, yet gathered, able to sing again, this party that I thought never would happen happening right now. 


Now the school is about to undergo another big transition as school head Steve Morris has announced the end of his tenure. Coming out of the pandemic, I hope we have learned to sift through what is essential, what is truly important. For me, it’s the same things that always have been— community, art, beauty, fun, humor, the determination and gift to see, know, value the gifts each of us bring to the table, from the 3-year old to the elder, and organize our teaching around these things. At the crossroads of change,  one last word of advice to the school community past, present and especially, future.


By all means, let us continue to prepare students to pay bills, vote, master the basics of the 3R’s. But don’t stop there. Let’s keep the school as the eccentric relative in the education family—quirky, weird, slightly odd, vibrant, fun-loving, grabbing life by the horns and venturing forth on its wild ride. Getting thrown and getting back up again. We have that rarest of human traits, character! Outside the gates, the lawyers and bankers and bean-counters and rule-makers and risk assessors are knocking on the door demanding that we get in line, but if let them in, we lose our soul. It takes energy, intelligence, vision, determination to stay true to our character, to know that character, to love it, to live it. To organize every decision around it, to protect it, to nourish it. So look over the fence and be wary of who we let in and on what terms.


Notice that I still include myself in that “we.” When I talk about the school in the workshops I continue to give, I still use present tense. Though I’ve haven’t received an official invitation from the school as “teacher emeritus,” I see myself as wholly and forever part of this community. Ready to come in and sub at a moment’s notice, do some guest preschool singing, play my bagpipe if needed, join the camping trip (and thanks to Talia for keeping that going! May the yellow trunk and dip bag lines and night walk live forever!) I still hope I can give Saturday workshops in the music room and summer Jazz courses. Who knows, maybe I’ll even be invited to the Board as an alum teacher!


And speaking of We, let me be clear.  I never was nostalgic for “the good old days” as the school evolved, feeling all the ways that we got so much better at so many things. But an improved curriculum and more efficiency is meaningless if the spirit of our founding principle —"there must be a better way to do this” fades. A better way meaning that which awakens young souls to beauty and wonder, that allows teachers to teach to the edge of their passion and that chooses the pronoun that claims our identity—we.  I love that so many alums have come back to be teachers here and am confident they and these other brilliant veteran and new teachers and administrators are carrying that spirit through. But I worry that they have neither time nor permission to sit around the peanut table and dream together. My parting advice? Attend to the we. Stay Side by Side.


Remember Windy Weather? We have been blown this way and that way by the winds of change— the near end of democracy, the corporate bulldozer determined to flatten us into a monolith, a city unaffordable on teacher’s salaries, a pandemic, the fierce fires and winds of climate change, and more, all of it blowing through the gates of 300 Gaven. But the songs are clear. Instead of the winds blowing us apart, they actually just might be bringing us back together. We stay side by side through all kinds of weather and (all sing) “when the wind blows, we all come back together.” 

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