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Sunday, January 29, 2012

Monday Morning Check In: A Rock in a Sea of Confusion

It’s Monday Morning, and I want to discuss the importance of what we do as teachers and the gift we give to others. I want to share some powerful photographs with you throughout my discussion.

The US Coast Guard photos you see in this blog post depict Tillamook Rock Lighthouse ("Terrible Tilly"). I travel to Oregon every summer and have done so since 1984. I have visited the town of Tillamook and the cheese factory of the same name every year and most of the Oregon lighthouses, but I have never seen this lighthouse. I know it only by photos I have seen in books or on the Internet. When I look at these photos, I experience a lot of fear. This is not a place that I would seek to visit or live. This is a dangerous place. I would eagerly vote for hazard pay for anyone who was assigned to this post. This lighthouse serves a valuable purpose. It alerts others to the presence of danger and serves as a warning. It is a rock in a sea of confusion.

This is a great pictorial representation of what we can become as teachers to those around us whom we may influence. As teachers we are highly respected. I learned about this over a decade ago when I still practiced law (music was my first career, and I added a law degree along the way). Everyone loved to hate lawyers. When my life’s circumstances pushed me back into teaching music full time during my mother’s failing health circumstances, I quickly learned that everyone loves teachers. Teachers are respected, revered, and adored. Lawyers are not. I am reminded of the Nathaniel Hawthorne quote when asked by his mother about his choice of profession as a writer: “I do not want to be a doctor and live by men's diseases, nor a minister to live by their sins, nor a lawyer and live by their quarrels. So, I don't see that there is anything left for me but to be an author.”

As a lawyer, I had already experienced the disapprobation of our times; I say again that people love to hate lawyers, except when a lawyer is needed, usually in the middle of the night to help a parent handle a child’s transgression against society. The days of the respected and trusted Atticus Finch (ˆTo Kill a Mockingbird by Lee Harper) are gone. The picture of Perry Mason as the idealized attorney representing the innocent client who is a victim of police power corruption does not represent our current time.

Instead our children are presented with events such as 9/11 or the Columbine school shooting. I have survived both events and been touched by each of them. (Atticus Finch: "There's a lot of ugly things in this world, son. I wish I could keep 'em all away from you. That's never possible.)

On September 11, 2001, a Tuesday, I was teaching an early day, about 8 am. As I finished up the lesson, my husband called to inform me that someone had flown a plane into the World Trade Center. Huh? Since my father is a pilot, I knew that there were restricted air spaces in that area. Someone must have been incredibly stupid, I thought, to have violated this restriction.

I kept the news station on the radio while I cleaned the studio and waited for the next students to arrive. During that time, I learned about the tragic events in New York. Stunned, I spent a good portion of my day sitting at my desk and thinking (and writing, which is how I glean the most comfort). As the day unfolded, I realized that the businesses near to me were closed or had shut down and it was eerily quiet outside (due to the US flight restrictions).

I wanted to go home and sit and contemplate the momentous import of what had happened that day. But I could not. I was not sure who would come to the studio, and I was not sure how I could reach all of my students to find out their intentions. Instead, I just stayed where I was in the studio and kept cleaning and practicing and writing.

As the day progressed, my students arrived one by one. Their parents would tentatively open the studio door and poke their head around to peer at me: “Are you teaching today?” they would ask. “Yes!” I told them.

They would come into the room, the parents would exchange a tearful glance with me, and we would have our lesson. The students would be a little bit subdued: they knew something had happened but not what it was (and they would not understand the "hugeness" of the occasion at that moment anyway).

What I learned that day was that what we do as teachers is incredibly important. We can be the rock in a child’s life when everything around them is a sea of confusion. We are the stability that allows the child to handle difficulties or grief. We provide the child with the anchor they need so that they can go through the scary stuff. We are something that the child can hang onto when things are tough.

We do not have a 9/11 every day or every year. Still, children experience difficulties in enough measure that we teachers can be called upon to provide strength and support. Perhaps your student is suffering the effects and aftermath of a divorce in the family. Perhaps your student’s family is struggling to recover from a death or serious illness in the family. Whatever the type of event is in your student’s life, you the teacher can be the rock in the sea of confusion or despair.

What an awesome responsibility! What an honor to offer this kind of service!

This week, think about how you give the gift of yourself to your students. You may be the one bright spot in your students' week. 

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This is the last Monday of the month. Time to check in and finish up what we have not done so far to keep our studio running smoothly. Review your checklists from the previous weeks and attend to any items that you have not yet taken care of. Because we are at the end of the month, look ahead to these items:

  • Time to set up your bill paying program. Arrange to pay your next month's bills.
  • Your students should have all paid their tuition by now. If they have not, make sure that you send an email reminder that the tuition is due (plus the coming month), and set a reminder in your calendar to check in with the student's parents at the next lesson.
  • Set up your monthly record keeping system for the coming month.
  • Clean up the studio. I was fortunate this past weekend to have my studio toilet overflow for some reason. The event caused me to mop the floor, but do not wait until a catastrophic event to get around to cleaning your teaching area. You do not need a large amount of time to clean your studio:
    • Set a timer for 10 minutes and run the vacuum until the timer goes off.
    • Swab a mop around the common areas for 10 minutes.
    • Grab a sponge and some cleaner and attack the bathroom with vigor for another 10 minutes (be sure to clean the mirror).
    • Run a dust rag or feather duster around the room for another 10 minutes. Then straighten up the place and throw away magazines or other trash.
    • Take another 10 minutes to put things away that need putting away or filing. There! You have spent an hour (or less) and the place looks terrific.

It is the beginning of tax season. If you have not yet taken care of these items, time to get cracking!

  • Gather your tax documents for the previous year and put them in a folder for processing later when you do your tax preparation.
  • Set up your studio record keeping system so that you can begin capturing your next year's tax records.
  • Make sure to file any tax record documents you may have generated in this current month.
Is there anything you can clear out of your studio space? I like to subscribe to the periodic suggestion from to do a 27-fling boogie. This activity requires you to have a receptacle or large plastic bag and run around a designated area and collect 27 items that need to be removed from the area. What you do with the items is your choice. When I do a 27-fling boogie, I aim to collect items to be given to a charitable organization. I could also designate two boxes: one box for giving away and another box for putting away. Still, I think it is more productive to get rid of clutter rather than file it away somewhere else in an already overcrowded environment.

My catastrophic studio toilet experience this weekend reminded me that I need to organize my files better. I had two boxes of music on the floor, and they needed to be filed away (fortunately, the boxes were unaffected by the extra water, but it was a close one!). I plan to set aside 10 minutes at least every week to attend to any piles of music or supplies that are sitting around the studio and need a permanent home.

Happy teaching week!

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