Saturday, March 9, 2013

Teachers: Step Out of the Comfort Zone

"What? You play the flute. Oh, wow, so do I!"

This was the beginning of a conversation that I had with a fellow special needs teacher at my school recently. At the time I did not realize it would evolve into a special opportunity to bond with other students at my school and in my classroom.

The other teacher invited me to play in her room for a few minutes in the morning before school when I could. At first, I wasn't sure because I knew that would mean spending a few minutes more in the afternoon making certain I was ready for my students. However, after she purchased me a flute duet book, I just couldn't say no, and honestly, I didn't want to. Playing the flute is a part of who I am, and when I play, especially with someone else, I feel whole and more at peace.

We played together for about ten minutes for a few mornings. I also practiced at home, so I was getting back into to shape pretty quickly. Then, my fellow teacher dropped a bomb on me.

"You want me to what?" I asked her, as my mouth dropped open.

"Let's play for the kids in the cafeteria in the morning, C'mon, it'll be fun!"

 Just then I realized, we were taking this duet thing to an entirely new level. As a first year teacher, I was panicked. Thoughts were racing through my head like, "What will my students think of me? Will they pay attention to me after seeing me play? Will I be a joke to them?" Beginning teachers work so hard to learn all of the tricks and maneuvers of maintaining classroom behavior, I worried that this one thing might hurt what I'd already built.

But, then my heart said, "Do it, Laura! Go big or go home. Show those kids that it's good to put yourself out there." So, I agreed and we played the following morning.

Well, the next morning, I woke up at 4:30, my palms sweaty. I am going to play today! I was excited and nervous. I hurried with my morning duties and by the time I got to school, the other teacher had our stand and chairs set up. "O.K., here we go."

I sat down with her, and I could hear a few students whispering, "Mrs. Farmer...Mrs. Farmer...she's going to play!" Well, my flute partner and I played about four duets, and luckily we sounded good, and for the most part the kids just continued with their breakfast, not paying us too much attention. I was thankful, and quickly and quietly went back to my classroom.

Well, I must say that I did not expect the reaction that I received at lockers that morning. "Mrs. Farmer, you play the flute? So, do I!" Many young band students came to me so excited that I played an instrument too. I was thrilled that they were thrilled, but I still wasn't expecting what would come next.

That afternoon after connections, a herd of students stormed into my room. "Mrs. Farmer! Mrs. Farmer! We spoke with our band director, and can you PLEASE come play with us tomorrow? Please! Please!"

Oh my, I had not expected this reaction. "Yes," I told them enthusiastically, "I would be honored to play with you tomorrow."

The next day, I strolled into the band room at the appointed time. I winked at several of my students, but not wanting to disturb the lesson I sat down quickly. The flute section had saved me a seat. I guess I would have been considered fifth chair. The band teacher gave me a set of music. I was thinking, "Oh my goodness...I'm totally on their level. It's like I'm a student, too." At first, honestly, it felt a little weird. But, I decided to show these little flute girls, several who were my own students, what being a fabulous flute player was all about. So, I sat up tall. I fingered the notes, while the band teacher worked with other students. I studied the music, making notes when needed. I showed the band teacher absolute respect and attention as she guided us through the music. The kids watched my every move, and followed along. I ended up staying the entire class period.

Many of these students came into my afternoon class, beaming great smiles. They didn't say a word, like they didn't know what to say. And, really, I didn't know what to say either. So, we didn't say anything. We just began the lesson, and carried on as usual.

The lesson that I took from this experience is that as new teachers we can show a bit of ourselves to our students, and find different ways to connect with them. We don't have to be afraid to play along side of them, as I did that day in the band room. There does come a time, when we, as first year teachers, realize that no matter what, we are the teacher. And, by making ourselves a bit uncomfortable, we might just grow a little, too.

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