2018-2019. What a year! What a crazyass year of personal highs and lows, professional highs and frustrations, and just an overall blur. Allow me to re-cap.
The fall started out with me preparing to defend my doctoral dissertation. I have to apologize to all of my first semester students because I definitely was not as present as I should have been for them. There. I put it out there. My mind was definitely centered around finishing school. I flew down to Arizona in October and successfully defending my dissertation: "Do I Really Want to Do This Now?" Negotiations of Sexual Identity and Professional Identity: An Intergenerational Collaboration with Six Gay and Lesbian K-12 Music Educators. My committee, Drs. Marg Schmidt, Jill Sullivan, Sandy Stauffer, and Stephen Paparo were amazing. I could not have asked for a more supportive committee.
I’m really proud of this work, despite the fact that every time I take a glance at the document I find a mistake. Every. Single. Time. That aside, I have this thing that I wrote, that I labored over, and finished. It took about everything out of me, but I came out the other side a bit smarter, a bit wiser, and with a fucking Ph.D. To that I celebrated. I flew back to Arizona in December to walk at graduation and celebrate with family and some of my closest humans.
That felt great and I was proud of myself. I also recongize that this is something to be proud of, because it is a lot of damn work. Nobody can prepare you for what doctoral work does to your brain. It mentally screws with you in ways that makes you wonder what the hell you have been doing and what you are doing to deserve this kind of cognitive punishment. (I’m really selling this well, aren’t I?) Perhaps that’s why such a small percentage of the population obtains such a degree (and a smaller percentage of women).
I often pump up the work of my students, because they kick ass. They do amazing things, but I have been working on feeding myself some self-love as well, and there was a period where I was thinking to myself “I don’t deserve this.” What the actual F?? As in, I don’t deserve this degree. Good grief, right? Well, I put in the time, and a helluva lot of work, and I am a changed person (for the better) because of it, so I am patting myself on the back.
Enough about me and my degree (only so much self-congratulations can happen, right?). In November I found out I was awarded a grant from the Give a Note Foundation, which was super amazing. $4,000 to spend in the classroom. I am starting a new class this upcoming year, Sound Production, and used the money to buy some fun new toys for that class. I am SUPER pumped for that class and there is a huge interest from the students (which is why the class was conceived in the first place). However, possibly even cooler than that, was a connection I made via Give a Note to Orangewood Guitars. They saw some social media tag about the work I do and reached out to see if I use ukuleles. At the time I didn’t, but OF COURSE I am interested in bringing as much music making experiences in the school, so they sent me a classroom set of Ukuleles. WHAT? And no strings attached (pun not intended) The kids absolutely LOVED these fun instruments, and I am now completely re-thinking the curriculum for next year, because #evolve.
This spring was a riot. Jazz 2 (previous posts that I haven’t finished writing about) created their entire spring concert on their own. They wrote/arranged/taught their tunes and we played a whole concert of their music. I say “wrote” very loosely because “notation” was per the person. Everything was done by ear. It was the riskiest damn thing I have ever done as an educator, but it was probably one of the most rewarding because they did all the work, and they were more invested in this concert than any other show we had done. Not to mention, let’s talk about community. Their willingness to discuss, offer advice, and be SUPER vulnerable just made this the tightest-knit band I have ever worked with. They are awesome, and I am so going to miss working with them.
To the last point and something that has become a trend in my professional life. I am moving down a different path. I am going to be a full-time secondary general music teacher next year-no performing groups. Meaning no jazz band. This was actually an easier decision than you might think because my passion as evolved to creating as many musical experiences for students as possible, and for that to occur, something has to give. By adding Sound Production, I needed to let a class go, and our admin added .2 to our orchestra teacher’s FTE, so that worked out perfectly. I spent 15 years teaching jazz and while it is one of my foundational passions, I need to let room in for something else. And, I am still involved with jazz education through our state level groups and adjudicating.
I will spend another post talking about this summer, and some exciting things happening, but I wanted to close with my main goal for this summer. Taking care of me and getting mentally healthy again. Teachers are natural givers, and we hear this all the time, but in order for us to give we must allow for some self-love. Therapy is excellent for this and there is absolulely no shame in talking with someone who will listen without judgement, and offer a different perspective. Therapists are great because they don’t know you, so you have to invite them in, and that is where the work starts. My therapist is great and we are working on all sorts of things, but the main thing is loving myself and how to put up boundaries. By boundaries, I mean, allowing myself to say “no” because the activity won’t necessarily improve my well-being at this point. So, this summer, I have a very free and open schedule, which is pretty amazing and causes a bit of anxiety at times, but then I think about how much I get to do with that time, versus having to do in that time. Wow...that is so liberating.
Hopefully I won’t wait another 6 months to write a post! In the meantime, take a walk, dip your toes in a lake, river, or ocean, smile a lot, and tell yourself that you are a badass.
This past weekend I had the pleasure of attending the NIME6 (Narrative Inquiry in Music Education) in Boston. My dear friend and colleague, Nick McBride, and I presented our personal narratives on our reflections on narrative research. I also attended a workshop by Patricia Leavy who shared with ideas on writing and encouraged us to write at least ten minutes every day. So, here I am at school at 7:00 writing. Jazz band is done for the year, but by contract we are supposed to be here, so I guess I will take advantage of the opportunity.
Today’s post is not really about teaching tips or ideas, nor is it about research. It is about self-care. I know. . . I KNOW. Self-care is all the rage, right? Everybody is doing it! BUT WE AREN’T. Today’s post is prompted by one of the conversations that took place after the delightful Tami Draves presented a paper “Class, “FirstGens,” and Music Education.” The paper itself was wonderful, but it was the conversation that took place after the paper that caused me to pause: self-care in music education and for music educators.
We live and breathe in a society that is fueled by the hustle; fueled by 60 hour work weeks, working on the weekends, working during dinner, working all.the.time. In the discussion after Tami’s paper, we discussed how schools of music perpetuate this in a potentially unhealthy way. Undergraduate music education majors attend class during the day. Between classes they practice ___ hours. Evenings are often filled with rehearsals, required concerts, more practicing, studying, and potentially a job to help pay for college. For music education students this often translates to when they come into the profession: during the day they teach, some stay after school for HOURS working with students, or grading. Many music teachers are gigging musicians in their after hours as well. Many high school music teachers find themselves at multiple pep bands during the week, musical rehearsals, district meetings….etc. OH….and sometimes teachers want to have a family, so they have to navigate the complexities of that as well.
Where does self-care fall into place in all of this? I am not talking about the occasional mani-pedi with your girlfriends, or a night of poker with the guys (sorry about the complete gender stereotypes there….). But what about taking time for YOU to bring alignment with your mind/body/spirit? Let’s be honest-this is so far off the priority list for many of us that when we realize that we need to take care of ourselves, it is often too late or we feel completely lost.
Case in point. This year has been a struggle for me. Not with school. Not with research, but with my self-care. I foolishly got myself involved in seven conferences, six of which I presented research or teaching strategies. This is just the beginning of what I overcommitted myself to and around late January/early February my body decided that it had about enough. My brain was going nonstop and my body could not keep up. This stress led me to have a resurgence of hepatitis A and adrenal fatigue. When my doctor looked at me point blank and stated, “you have to rest,” I actually replied “I am not sure I know how to rest.” Seriously. I had backed myself into a corner of constantly going that I wasn’t sure how to get myself out. It was scary. I didn’t realize what I had done because I had thought that this was the norm. It is not. Our bodies were not designed to be a work horse going all day. Our bodies, especially our major organs that deal with stress hormones, do not recognize the difference between mental/emotional/physical stress. I had ALL the stress going on. And I don’t mean “oh shit, I am so stressed out.” I felt like I was THRIVING on this. It kept me going. I felt like I was making a difference in the world. What I didn’t see, and what everyone else around me saw, was that I was starting to fall apart. In the wise words of my CrossFit coach, Logan, "Sarah, you need to chill the fuck out."
SO….self care. I have learned that simple things are REALLY important to the healing of my body, my brain, and my overall outlook. Everyday I take really big belly breaths when I start to feel anxious and that instantly centers me. Sometimes I have to take a few breaths in a row. This type of breathing brings my shoulders down, relaxes my faces, lowers my blood pressure, and reminds me to just ‘be’.
Every night I listen to a meditation to calm my brain. I never make it through because the voice is SO relaxing. In this meditation (there are a bazillion apps out there) I focus on breathing. . . again, breathing is just SO important. We often forget this when we are in the heat of a day of teaching and our shoulders rise up and we become tense.
Yoga. I used to think I needed to go to a yoga studio and get a major sweat on to receive any benefit from yoga. This is so not the case. I really love Yoga with Adriene because she is super real, her practices are very much about no perfection, self-care and self-love.
Therapy. Yep. Therapy. Talking with someone who actually doesn’t know me-someone who can look at me and my life objectively and provide some outside perspective has been super helpful.
Saying “no” and being ok with it. I’ve had the chance to turn down some opportunities recently and it has been empowering. Before I was saying ‘yes’ to everything because I was nervous that the experience would not happen again. You know what, it is ok because we can’t do everything all the time. I realized this in March that, as a perfectionist, trying to be 100% at 100% of the things I am doing 100% of the time is just not sustainable. Something will suffer.
Allowing yourself to just “be”. Damn, it was HOT yesterday. Our basement was nice and cool, so instead of cleaning and being outwardly productive, I watched two movies, stayed where it was cool, and just enjoyed relaxing. Five months ago, I would have deemed that as being lazy. Now I deem it as enjoying a day off.
Sitting in silence. As a music teacher, I spend 8 hours a day (or more) immersed in sound. Sound is everywhere. I have taken to turning off my radio on my drive home so I can just sit in silence. It is glorious.
Taking joy in the simple things around you. I really love the beauty of nature. Each morning I look outside my kitchen window, take in a big belly breath, and thank mother nature for creating such beautiful colors and sounds. This time of year is especially lovely as the birds are up bright and early, it is quiet in the morning, and flowers are starting to grow and bloom. The breath just brings it all together and just grounds me.
Some people find that journaling, walking, reading books, and other forms of exercise can be modes of self-care. As long as YOU feel better afterwards, are refreshed, feel more calm, and centered, I think you can do whatever you want.
But let’s be real here. This is super important. I would hate for anyone to go through what I experienced. I mean, it wasn’t the worse thing in the world, but it was incredibly frustrating and I am still figuring it all out. By no means am I a self-care expert. I am still on the journey and will always be on the journey. I do think it is important that we talk about these things as we can only get by on adrenaline and coffee for so long. I do think that it is important for our profession to understand that we should address these issues for the sake of the humans that are working with young humans. I do think that this is something that perhaps higher education needs to look at in how they model and practice self-care with future teachers.
I would love to hear how YOU practice self-care-even if you are not an educator. We can all learn from each other. Thank you and make sure to give your self some love today :D