June 23, 2016     Melody Potratz

The Important Victories: Making Music and Enjoying It

Coffee with frothy leaf latte art in paper cup on wood pallet table

School has been out for about a week. As I write, I’m sitting in a coffee shop drinking an Americano at 6:00 PM on a weeknight (since I don’t have to wake up at an ungodly hour of the morning!). Reality still hasn’t set in that I made it through my entire first year without any serious thoughts of quitting or meltdowns (none from me anyway). That in itself is a victory for a first-time teacher!

Here’s a recap of the main events since my last post:

The spring concert was on May 24th. Overall, I would call it a success. No major train wrecks, nobody passed out on stage, most of the kids showed up and my mom drove an hour and a half to accompany on the piano! How fun is that?! If I’m being honest with myself, I tend to be a bit perfectionist and self-critical. So although there were so many positives, I had to actively stop myself from over-analyzing every detail of the concert. Which is why the following letter (hand-delivered to the school the next day) was so meaningful to me.

“ Dear Ms. Potratz,

My husband and I switched work nights so we could attend the choir concert. Our granddaughter is a sixth grader. The last concert we attended, I was going to take the time to write and compliment you and your students. Days passed and life got busy and no letter was written. Art and music are so integral to the learning process. Do not think your efforts haven’t been noticed; we have seen them in our children. That is why I am taking the time to write to you and your students.

First, we and others around us really appreciated song and arrangement choices. I personally was moved to tears twice. Their voices were hauntingly beautiful. I also noticed all eyes were attentively on you and your hand movements. This speaks to your devotion to them and to their success.

Thank you for a wonderful concert. The hard work you and your students put in truly shined through tonight.”

Now, it’s not incredibly easy to break me, but I cried in the middle of class. I share this with you not to brag about my accomplishments but to acknowledge that it is easy to get discouraged. Especially when you push yourself to exhaustion and feel like your efforts did not produce the kind of results you wanted. To my point, the next day, I got pulled into the principal’s office because of a phone call from a disgruntled parent. This parent questioned my song choices, disliked my methods of holding students accountable for their behavior and was outraged at my requirement that their hair to be out of their faces because I “can’t tell anyone what to do with their hair.”

I guess some people are just looking for a boat to rock. My discussion with the principal was more of a formality than anything else and it was made refreshingly clear that I am fully supported and appreciated. But regardless of the abundant reassurance, my perfectionist tendencies took over and all I could think about for the rest of the day was that one disgruntled parent.

Intellectually, I know that I cannot please everyone no matter how badly I want to and how hard I try. For every happy parent, there might be another angry one. I’m still figuring out the balance and I am fairly certain that it will be a never ending battle, so for now I am just trying to hold on tightly to the most important victory of all: these kids made music together and enjoyed doing it.

In my first year of teaching, I have learned that the best ways to connect with middle school students are to 1) let your personality show, 2) not be concerned about being too silly, and 3) keep culturally up to date.

In my first year of teaching, I have learned that the best ways to connect with middle school students are to 1) let your personality show, 2) not be concerned about being too silly, and 3) keep culturally up to date. I think I somehow managed to accomplish all three at once on the last day of school where my fellow teachers and I performed a dance to a mashup of “We Will Rock You,” “Thriller,” and “Watch Me” (more commonly known by its dance moves, the Whip and Nae Nae). It was a blast and the kids loved it! It was the perfect way to end a fantastic year and never in my life have I felt more like a rockstar. I am thrilled to have survived my first year so successfully and consider myself incredibly fortunate to be in this profession. Cheers to a good year and happy summer!

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