Saturday, August 20, 2011

Gossip and good deeds

Added to the list of ways Seinfeld made my life better: it made me long to be a mentor, so I can have a protege.

I was honored last year to be entrusted with a student teacher, whom I will call Marvelous.  Marvelous is a young woman with an extraordinary voice and a real talent for music education.  She and I have grown to be friends, but I feel a certain pride in her as one of her instructors, thus, she is my "protege."  (Deal with it.)

In the state of Texas, music educators all receive the same certification: Music All-Level.  That means that elementary music teachers and secondary directors of band, choir, and orchestra all take the same test and hold the same technical qualifications.  (Yes, that means I technically *could* teach advanced orchestra, if there was an administrator stupid enough to hire me.  I will not follow that comment with another.)  This means that younglings looking to earn a degree and a teaching certificate in music must, in the course of their final (student teaching) semester, complete two cycles of student teaching at two different levels.  For vocal majors, this usually means a cycle at the secondary (choral) level, and a cycle in elementary music.

Marvelous did her time in high school and loved it.  She was awesome at it.  My friend Berry, the high school director who had her first, let me know that she didn't want to let Marvelous go.  Marvelous taught private voice lessons, helped organize music and uniforms, helped run auditions, and generally made herself indispensable to the program.  She came to me with friendliness but a lack of enthusiasm I only noticed because I saw her with Berry and could see how much she loved it.

In short, Marvelous believed she had seen her destiny, and it was high school.  She wasn't thrilled about wasting time in the elementary classroom.

I don't blame her!  I was in the elementary classroom and wasn't thrilled about it.  But Marvelous heard that I was "great," and resigned herself to the process.

I really think that we meet people for reasons.  I think Marvelous and I came into each others' lives for a purpose.  Marvelous was there for me at a very busy, crazy time: I had just had my surgery and was adjusting to my new life.  I still wasn't eating solid food and didn't feel great all the time.  At the same time, I was having unprecedented participation in my after-school choir and was trying to deal with that.

Enter Marvelous.  She came to rehearsals, she helped with the fund raiser, and she was there every day.  She took over classes, at first following my plans, then offering her own suggestions.  By the end, there were days when I actually put my feet up (under the desk) as I watched her, because I was so confident that she wouldn't need me to step in.

The kids were upset when she left.  "When is Miss Marvelous coming back?" they would ask.  "She's not," I would whisper.  "But we miss her!" they wailed.  "I do too!" I rejoined.

Now I'm back at the junior high level, but at one where I've never taught before.  Here's my office:

Isn't it cute?  Back to the matter at hand...

I found out today what purpose I am serving for Marvelous.  She's in a very scary place: she's a college graduate who can't find a job.  Texas is like that right now for teachers.  Nobody is hiring.  She has a couple of long-term positions lined up for this year, but the really big questions aren't answered: should I just keep looking?  Should I go to grad school?  What if there aren't any jobs next year?  What do I do?

That's when you need a mentor.  Marvelous came to my school today, and even though it meant I got behind on my preparation for the first day, I'm so glad she did.  We had a long talk and I got to tell her everything I thought she needed to hear:
  • You're amazing.
  • You're talented.
  • You're smart.
  • You're a gifted natural teacher.
  • Did I say amazing?  Good.
After I made that all clear, I shared with her one of the few bits of genuine wisdom I feel I have acquired in my 26 years on this earth.  (Just go with it.)  I know it sounds like a cliche or fortune cookie, but I swear it's true and sincere:

What looks like adversity when it's ahead of you will look like unbelievable luck and opportunity once it's behind you.  I didn't say it like that (I took much longer, because that's how I roll), but that's the most concise way I can say it: sometimes God kicks us a little to get us on the road we need to be on.  Getting fired from or not being able to find a job is devastating, but it makes you consider pathways you wouldn't have otherwise.  Being separated from your spouse, family, or friends can seem like a terrible hardship, but it can strengthen those bonds by making you a stronger, more secure person on your own.  Struggling with infertility or otherwise having to wait to start your family can make you appreciate your children more, making you a better parent than you might have been if you'd had your children easily or at a younger age.

And that's just me.  We all have heard or lived those stories that end, "...and it was the best thing that could have happened to me."  I've heard people say it about everything from divorce to cancer.  Terrible, uncomfortable, horrible things can end up being the catalyst we need to make positive changes in our lives.

Marvelous seemed to like what she heard.  I don't know what she's going to do.  She doesn't know what she's going to do.  But that's the point.

That was the "good deed."  The "gossip" in the title comes from Marvelous letting me know that I had become the hot topic of conversation among some of the other choir directors in our district.  I am, I realized, the oldest choir director in our district (we have 9: 5 middle school and 4 high school directors, and I am the oldest of all of them by two years).  Marvelous said they were talking about me, and Berry pointed out that I am the skinniest one, and then another director (Sonya) said, "Well, Deb told me she's the oldest one, too."

Marvelous said they all agreed that my being older was just unbelievable, because I look so young.  I have a so much energy, and I'm so excited and happy, they said, that it's hard to believe I'm even in my 30's, let alone older than them.  (Sonya and Berry are the next oldest to me; they are both two years younger than I am.)

I'm not sure there was anything Marvelous could have said that would have made me happier.  I love my life.  I love my job (even though it really doesn't start for two more days).  I love my husband and my kids.  I love my family.  Life is pretty sweet.

I guess it shows.