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The Song of a Classroom: How music is just like good teaching

September 4, 2010
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I started playing guitar around the time I dropped my music major. Well, play is a generous word. I’ll say strum. I started strumming the guitar about 10 years ago. I have a repertoire of 8 or 9 chords – enough for me to play a few songs. I often slip into my acoustical trance on late afternoons and Saturday mornings (and other times I find myself alone in an empty apartment). It satisfies this corner of my heart that is unquenched by the other things I love like people or teaching or sunsets or shores.

While playing this morning, I couldn’t help but be mindful of students I will be teaching in a few days. Every year, something happens to my heart about 2 weeks before students come. I either get hyper-tender hearted or I turn everything that happens into something about teaching.  I’ve realized it’s my teacher version of nesting, preparing the heart and mind space for the little people that are about to inhabit it.

Today, it’s a little of both.  And because it’s a gorgeous Labor Day weekend and because I should be putting my writing energy into something  I actually need to write,  I’ll go fast. Here are this morning’s random thoughts:

1. After strumming (playing all 6 strings at once) for many years, I’ve just started refining my “plucking” skills. The difference is heavenly -it’s where the heart comes in… a baseline of beautiful melodies with tiny voices singing in and out. Each string plays a part that achieves a sweet spot where each voice is capitalizing on the other. Rather than being dictated by the strum, the melody is now transferred to the individuals.  THEY carry it.

This is teaching. The “strumming” is insufficient at BEST. But when each student is recognized and is given the opportunity to learn and do and BE according to their own strengths, it is heavenly. In the “plucking” classroom, students learn that while each one is different and plays a different role, they are all needed… better together as individuals than together as the same note …and obviously better together than apart.      I could sit in this analogy forever.

2. To understand this next part, you don’t need to be musically gifted. You just need to be able to whistle. Whistle. (yes, do it.  right now.) As you continue to whistle, move your tongue back and forth from the front of your mouth (where the air is coming out) to the back of your mouth. Back and forth. You hear that? You are changing the pitch of the note.  That’s what happens when you tune an instrument. You find the right pitch for each note- and the instrument is in tune so that it can be a part of a community of notes.

When just 1 of the 6 strings of the guitar is out of tune, it’s off.  Off in a way that resembles having a bad taste in your mouth. And no matter how GORGEOUSLY in tune the other 5 strings are, it doesn’t matter because the chord is ruined. It’s not what it’s meant to be.      (Aw, let’s just pause for a moment envisioning that kid who comes in who is having an awful day. ) 😦     When there is dissonance in a chord, a musician’s attention goes directly to the ailing note. You determine what is making it out of tune. It is an outside force? Is your finger in the wrong place? Or does the actual string need some attention and care?

As we start the year, let’s always remember that our classrooms are these beautiful melodies and songs and chords. And if one tiny person is off, we feel it. We need to inquire and restore and love.We also need to be ready to turn our eyes to ourselves. What have we done/not done that may be affecting the whole?

Then we do what we must to restore the beauty.

3. I’d love to take the time here to talk a little about how dissonance can only be discovered in the context of community, but I think that may take another post.

In the mean time, I wish all of you teachers a most glorious new beginning. I hope your community grows into one of BEAUTIFUL MELODIES.

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. September 9, 2010 2:00 pm

    Lindsay Reyes, I feel like you have come alive this summer into fall and i just love it.

    • September 9, 2010 6:12 pm

      oh friend. 🙂 there are no words.

      ya know, Summer of Renewal & Freedom came out of a conversation with a very dear friend who I share a heart soul and bday with. just sayin’.

  2. Allison Spooner permalink
    September 10, 2010 5:57 pm

    Lindsay! I’m so glad I found your blog(s)! You may not remember me, but I lived in NYC in 2007-09 and attended Trinity Grace. Anyway, I was catching up on the Two Writing Teachers blog (which I love) and was thrilled to see your post! This of course led me to your beautiful blog. I have just spent the last hour pouring over your entries, and I’m so glad I did. I’m currently teaching struggling readers at a middle school in Greensboro, NC, and you have completely INSPIRED me. Thanks so much.

    • September 10, 2010 8:31 pm

      Allison, of COURSE i remember you!!! We miss you guys.
      When I read your comment, i seriously got teary. You have no idea how encouraging that was to hear.. I can’t believe what a small world it is. Yeah, i LOVE the TWT blog, too. It’s so great…tons of amazing stuff on there.

      I am honored that you would read more of my words… I hope that you have the BEST year with your kids. It’s those tough years that make redemption and learning that much sweeter. But I wish you all the best.
      BLESS YOU girl,
      Lindsay

  3. Sandy permalink
    September 10, 2010 7:48 pm

    Lindsay,

    You rock – this is such a great blog! I’m so glad I found you – I was just rereading our Ning notes from this summer (Maggie B’s workshop at TC) and thinking about you. Now I can keep up with you and your new adventures (and learn from you as well). Thanks to the Two Writing Teachers for featuring your blog. I think you need to announce it on our Ning, too!

    Hope all is well.

    Sandy

    • September 10, 2010 8:59 pm

      Sandy, I’m so excited to see you here!!! I saw your name in my comments and said, “Sandy from the SUMMER!!!” You are a master encourager–Thank you for your words. Yes, we definitely need to keep in touch. (Are people still on the NING?) I just desperately want a place where teachers can collaborate more often.. those institutes are so powerful, but it’s so sad to only have those connections for a week.

      I hope you’re doing well in sunny California. Best of luck as you are starting the year.
      Lindsay

      • Sandy permalink
        September 11, 2010 6:46 pm

        Lindsay, I’m not sure how current people are with the Ning – I know Maggie’s August class used the same online group, but not much has been posted since. Would be great to keep that going. But on the other hand, we now have this!

        I would love it if we could continue talking about what we learned this summer and how we’re applying it, especially with you close to TC and continuing to attend workshops. There isn’t an opportunity to do that for those of us not attached to TC schools.

        Beautiful here now that it’s Indian summer. Been a pretty foggy summer!

        Keep up the good work and I’ll be spreading the news about your amazing blog!
        Sandy

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