I attended my first NAfME teacher education and research conference this year. WOW... what an eye-opening experience. The opportunity to meet other teacher educators and researchers, and to learn about research going on that is similar to my interests lit many little flames in my mind. The energy created by a large group of teacher educators differs significantly from my past experiences of being surrounded by large groups of choral directors in a way that is both fresh and thought-provoking. I experienced the nervous feeling that so many new to our profession must feel when faced with a convention full of new faces. I thrive on new interactions, and I was quite nervous at first! I know many who are frozen by the prospect of having to meet so many new people. I MUST remember this feeling when thinking of ways that those new to our profession can first engage in conferences.
Personal connections with my colleagues will be one of the BEST ways I can continue to grow and learn. Even larger than the superficial concept of "networking," for those of us in artistic careers our friendships fuel and inspire us, encourage us, motivate us, and cause us to strive to do better work. I am reminded of the importance of seeking out those individuals who bring value to my experiences and whose presence can be cultivated into a lifelong friendship.
Throughout my journey through this PhD Program, I have had more "think time" than in all my life to this point! I've been able to reflect on my past self as a teacher and the type of teacher I desire to become. I look back and think of the times with my students where I was optimally effective. I can also think of many experiences when I was less than stellar at classroom management, music teaching, and the like. What I most appreciate about all of this reflection is this: it is easy to get bogged down by the little details - but one MUST make the time to consider the big picture. Without keeping my "eye on the prize" it can be all too easy to be busy for busy's sake. When I measure all my actions with the yardstick of my big picture purpose, I can feel comfortable setting aside those activities that are not meeting the needs of myself or my students.
What is it about full-time public school classroom teaching that was not sustainable for me? I could have been with my students forever; they were the best part! In essence, I desired more time and space for creation. This desire is still a struggle amid my schedule, but I have tasted the sweet fruit of conceptual concert design and of diving in to historical or research literature and birthing a presentation or paper. For me, I realize creation is not a nice extra, but that it is vital to my health and happiness as a human being.
Counter-intuitively, when I pull away from a frantic life and allow space I open up possibility for new creation. When I quiet my mind and heart and go to God in prayer and meditation, I allow healing and change to be done in my spirit.
I often talk to my students about the concept of breath - how we don't have to suck in air, but if we open our mouths the air will just "fall in". This is a beautiful metaphor for our creative lives. We often struggle and force ourselves to do things that might come quite naturally if we released our grip. During one of the first weeks of my masters degree journey in Michigan seven years ago, I took myself on a day trip to explore Saugatuck and Holland. I arrived at Oval Beach in time to walk along the shore and experience the day's retreat as the sun set over Lake Michigan. I felt God's presence and love surrounding me so clearly that day. I came upon this rock that was the perfect size to hold and seemed to be shaped perfectly for my hand. I gripped it and squeezed, as you might a stress ball. The smooth rock felt solid under the pressure, but unlike a stress ball, I couldn't squeeze it or cause any change in its shape. Only when I relaxed MY OWN hand could I hold it comfortably. This moment has stuck with me and served as a perfect reminder in so many of the struggles I have faced in the past 7 years.
As I approach my last few weeks of coursework in my degree and stand at the precipice of beginning my dissertation project I can see that I made the right decision about next year. When I decided to give up my teaching assistantship and all that came with it for next year, I worried - this was the first time I would be "unemployed" in the past 15 years! However, already I am seeing the fruits of creativity and possibility blossom since I created the space for it in my life. I savor the last moments of learning and anticipate what life will be like as a Doctoral Candidate.