So when I saw the email from his preschool that read “We need volunteers to teach music at the preschool next year; please let us know if you or someone you know would like to help out” I have no idea what I was thinking. I took piano lessons for ten years and French horn lessons for eight years; I had a musical background and figured it would be easy to play the kids some music and dance around.
Almost as soon as I had reviewed the curriculum and participated in the first training class, I started to worry that I couldn't do it. Just because you can read music doesn't mean you can teach it, my doubtful voice mocked me.
The first class felt awkward, from where I was sitting on a blue throw pillow on the floor. One wouldn't think that a class full of preschool kids could make a fully-grown woman nervous, but it's true. At least, it was for me. There they were, looking at me with those eager, adorable eyes. I looked down the barrel of several months' worth of weekly music classes and thought:
What in the world have I done?
But a funny thing happened along the way… not only did I fall in love with the kids, they taught me much more than I taught them. Here I am, about to teach the last class of the season today. I'll never forget these four lessons:
1) You can’t judge a child in an hour. There was one particular boy who was a bit stubborn. When I walked around the room to re-collect the shakers or bells or instruments, I practically had to pry them from his hands. I cajoled and pleaded and then left it to his teachers, who were also in the room, to enforce. This boy had eyes of cornflower blue and when he looked at me, I saw the face of a boy I loved when I was much younger, and it melted me. Honestly, though, I thought he might have been a little spoiled, until the day I heard his father telling the school director that he was taking the boy to his occupational therapy appointment. BAM. Reality check. Humble pie, please.
2) Every kid wants to be seen. It’s easy to make eye contact with the kids who are participating and laughing and singing along, and doing what they’re told. But ALL of them want and need interaction, and some of them need a little push. One particular dark-haired, dark-eyed bilingual boy stared at me during class, but refused to sing or shake a tambourine or dance. I tried speaking to him in Spanish, thinking that perhaps he didn’t understand what I was saying. After several classes with me, he waved to me from the playground when I came in. A few weeks later, he flashed a beautiful smile. When I would see him at pickup, I got to know him and his mother and while he still didn’t like to talk very much, his smile would be wide and his eyes would light up. His eyes lit up. For me.
3) I needed to get out of my comfort zone. Teaching has never been a career to which I aspired, and my first class was an exercise in restraint; I restrained myself from running out of the room. However, teaching a classroom full of three-year-old kids the chicken dance helps you get over yourself very quickly.
4) Speaking of getting over yourself, I needed that too. Far from my life of part-time freelance writing and Listen To Your Mother and TV appearances, and even the more pedestrian things like laundry, making dinner, and so on, there is this classroom. I had to stop, focus, and BE in the moment. Reading the mood of the classroom is important when 11 little pairs of eyes are on you, and if they're not feeling it, when I had to adjust. Sometimes I added instruments, maracas, bells... anything to shake it up (literally).
Every week, my son had his music class on Tuesday with another teacher, and he would tell me all about class and I'd get ready for mine. Now my son and I can sing in Arabic, Mandarin, Ghanian, and Spanish, and we have a much larger musical repertoire to share.
And we can do a wicked chicken dance.