It Takes a Village

It Takes a Village

Today is the very welcome first day of Spring after what has felt like a brutal winter- even here in Birmingham. I love that just the idea of the calendar changing brings joy and hope to people- a respite from the seemingly endless cold and challenges of winter- what a beautiful thing to know that winter’s veil is finally lifting. Even if the weather hasn’t caught up with the official start date, Spring makes us all feel more hopeful, ready for nature’s rebirth. I was feeling all of that excitement, all of that hope- and then life intervened and I became what I can only categorize as ‘cranky’….something I rarely am. I needed to regain my attitude of gratitude, and fast.

It had finally arrived – my last day of teaching before Spring Break began. I knew it was going to be a busy one, with several lessons and lots of office work to get done before I could even think about the long-awaited holiday. My students are a bit scattered right now- it’s that frantic time of the semester, with assignments flying out like a swarm of bees, and the band leaving for a trip to Hawaii tomorrow. We faculty are scattered, too, with everyone anxious for that blessed week off to recharge (or get caught up). It makes for an interesting period of the semester, where we attempt to keep our students’ feet to the fire…and ours, too.

The day began with challenge, as my VW Bug- the same car that we paid $1,400 for repairs last month, and $200 just last Monday when the battery died- went back in to the dealer to repair the window that went down and wouldn’t come up….that we had gotten repaired last month (when they kept my car ten days). Not the end of the world as we know it by any means, but a frustration not to be able to get around on my own with rain coming. There was also the nagging worry about yet another repair bill right on the heels of our kitchen renovation. Dan, ever my knight in shining armor, dropped me off at school, and I vowed to have a positive and productive day.

I jumped into work, getting in some good practice and taking care of emails and office work. One of my students came in totally unprepared, and I felt something shift. I felt offended that they would think it was okay to come in with such a lack of preparation. The idea of respect is really important to me in teaching the clarinet- respect for the teacher, the instrument, the heritage, as well as self-respect in knowing you did the best you could to prepare. My inner voice nagged at me, “Not all of these students are going to think like you- lighten up!” I really tried, but then I felt my usually very patient Poppins self start to crack open a can of whoop-ass. I have had teachers who have been brutal in lessons- my mentor never failed to make me cry- but I have never been able to teach that way, never have wanted to. I always feel that love and humor are my best tools of the trade…but this had gotten right in my craw and wouldn’t let go. When I saw my student’s hands had begun to shake as they attempted yet again to unsuccessfully play a passage that should have been learned weeks ago, I took a deep breath, and refocused, doing everything I could to encourage the student, but also have a teaching moment about what I expect to change.

When I finally got a little break, I went to the Creative Group at Bedlam Farm on Facebook for some Zen- an oasis for me. I ended up reading two posts by women who have become friends who are special to me and wonderful writers. Each post ultimately dealt with gratitude, and after reading their wise words, I felt my perspective shift back into place, could almost hear it click into its track. The car? Hey, we’re blessed to have two cars so that if one is down we can still do what we need to do- that hasn’t always been the case. The student’s lack of preparation? That is life as a university teacher. The semester has seasons of its own, and we are in the exhausted-over-worked-teachers-are-dumping-tons-of-work-and-I-need-a-break season. I’ve been teaching at the college level for about twenty-four years now. Haven’t I noticed this phenomenon every single year? What about showing some compassion, and find a way to encourage the student rather than lose my cool…which rarely makes things better.

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The other part of my dream team of encouragers today? My sweet Dan, who picked me up at lunchtime and whisked me off to a romantic lunch at our favorite Italian restaurant to celebrate the first day of Spring and my almost Spring Break. And finally, my best friend sent me a Glide video and messages throughout the day, and seeing her positive, cheery self did the job of knocking out the last crabby cobwebs from my brain. I felt a surge of joy for Spring, thought about working in my gardens, long walks with my pups, bike rides, and sitting on the decks in the sun, enjoying the view and the warmth. I powered through my last lessons, laughing and joking with my students, encouraging them, catching them being good and pouncing on it to reinforce with positive feedback- returning to my usual teacher self.

I decided that sometimes it takes a village, those friends and loved ones, who help us find our perspective when we lose sight of what really matters- even when sometimes they have to whack us on the head to get us there. I am thankful for those people in my life. I wake up each day wanting to do my best and be a positive light in the world….but sometimes my wings slip and I become something I don’t care to be. My ‘posse’ knows just what to do, even when they don’t realize they’ve done it. So, thanks to my village, Tess, Lisa, Jen, Diane, and Dan. I hope that I can always do the same for you when you need it. Welcome Spring! I am ready for you.

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