I’ve been teaching Music Together classes for 4.5 years. Three times a year, before the Fall, Winter, and Spring sessions, MT teachers get together for a day-long workshop facilitated by a highly advanced MT teacher who flies in from somewhere else in the country. In the morning, we discuss some teaching skill specific to MT, and in the afternoon we go through all the songs in the upcoming session’s collection. Various experienced teachers (such as yours truly) will present 2 or 3 songs, demonstrating ideas for how to do the song, as well as some variations that less-experienced teachers might find useful in their own teaching. Because MT teachers (like pastors!) don’t usually have much contact with other MT teachers once a session begins, it’s nice to have these times to get together with other teachers and pow-wow about what’s happening in our classes.
I attended one of those sessions on Friday, but I wasn’t excited about going in the days leading up to the workshop. All I could think about was that I had to arrange a babysitter for as much of the day as possible, and arranging a babysitter is always difficult. (However, thankfully, it turned out to be quite easy this time – Thanks Kate!) Plus I had to get two songs ready to present, although I ended up “flying by the seat of my pants” and going kind of on autopilot. It worked, the songs were presented, and all went well.
For all the reasons that I was NOT looking forward to going to this workshop, thankfully I’ve never come away from one of these thinking, “Well, THAT was a waste of time!” It’s good to get together with other teachers at these workshops, and it fosters a sense of community and cameraderie between teachers. It’s good to hear how other teachers are dealing with the same kinds of problems that you are, and it’s good to get fresh ideas for your teaching. For me personally, it’s invaluable in helping me to get re-energized about my teaching. I know I’m a good teacher, but it’s easy for me to get stuck on autopilot and get, frankly, a little bored. So, even though I don’t look forward to putting forth the effort of getting away for an entire day, at the end of that day I’m always thankful I made that effort.
Our workshop facilitator today shared some research with us that one of the co-founders of Music Together is currently working on. She’s working with researchers at Brown University, researching young children’s musical development and the effect that emotion plays on that development. She is currently working on the theory that emotion has a huge effect on learning: When people are in a calm, relaxed, happy emotional state, they can learn better than when they’re under stress. I’m not sure of the specifics of all this study, but some of the research is being done on people with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). It seems that people with severe PTSD have a very difficult time learning new things. Somehow, she’s trying to connect that research to children.
While I’ve never thought of it in those words, her theory makes total sense to me. Neither adults nor children can learn well under stress. However, how does that actually play out in the music classroom — or in the school classroom, or at home? Our workshop facilitator gave examples of both negative and positive examples, and I found myself coming up with my own examples in my head, examples from my own teaching and my own parenting. Our facilitator also reminded us that children are very in-tune with their emotions; they haven’t learned to control them yet, and that it’s totally developmentally appropriate for them to be that way. That was a good parenting reminder for me, as lately Curious J’s been having mini-tantrums sporadically when things don’t go her way. It may be frustrating to have these happen, but they’re a normal part of growing up, and as she gets older and learns to regulate her emotions in a more adult-like manner, these will go away. (Not that I’m humoring her tantrums, mind you. But it changes my attitude as to how I look at them, and it helps me keep from getting angry with her. Keeping the focus on her emotions rather than on my emotions also allows me to logically focus on what I’m trying to teach her, and it helps me better focus on finding solutions to her problems, rather than just automatically resorting to punishment, which is how I used to be.)
I’ve learned so much about early childhood development from my Music Together teaching. I’ve had hundreds of 0-4 year-olds come through my classes, and I have seen all different kinds of kids. I’ve learned not to judge parents by their children, and I’ve learned not to judge children in general. Early in my teaching, I recall seeing children come through my class displaying behaviors that I promised to myself that I would NEVER let MY children do. Har har. 🙂 My varied experiences teaching MT have assured me that MUCH about children’s behavior is normal, although not all of it is enjoyable. MT has greatly influenced my parenting style, influenced it for the better.
I’m grateful for everything that I’ve learned through my association with Music Together. It’s provided me with so many wonderful opportunities to get out into the real world and to make connections with other moms. It’s provided validation for me as a musician and a professional, and it’s provided me with an identity apart from roles as wife and mother and Pastor’s Wife. It’s provided me my own little world to escape to, and it’s gotten me out of the house many mornings when I probably would have lazed around all day otherwise.
I’m especially grateful for my wonderful boss. She’s so great I almost hate to call her my boss because of the negative implications that the word “boss” carries. She is a true professional, while still being caring and warm-hearted. I’ve observed her management style for 5 years now, and if the Lord ever decides to put me in an “in charge” position in the future, my attitudes and actions will be highly affected by what I have learned from her.
Teaching MT has a few other perks as well: fantastic hours, never have to work holidays, optimal working environment, and the money is … truly a blessing.
I’m so grateful for this job being essentially plopped in my lap over 5 years ago. I never had to look for a job, interview, or do any of that “difficult” stuff. God certainly engineered the circumstances to give me a wonderful place to work my 8-10(ish) hours a week.