Make Real Contact by Giving Thanks, and Meaning It
By NAfME Member Lori Schwartz Reichl
A similar version of this article was originally published in the November 2018 teacher edition of In Tune Magazine.
“No duty is more urgent than that of returning thanks.” ~ James Allen
As Thanksgiving approaches, we are grateful for family bonds, friendships, health, and happiness. As educators, we are thankful for a chance to hone our craft, positively influence our youth, and make beautiful music. But how often do we give thanks for these gifts? Do we make showing gratitude a priority?
Take some time this season to consider your “fall” into education. How did your professional journey begin? Who motivated you to become a musician? When did you aspire to become an educator? Who ignited this spark within you? Whom do you credit for your knowledge? Who continues to offer you wisdom? And how can you offer thanks?
Reflect on the most influential people in your educational journey. Are they former teachers from elementary, middle, or high school? Is one a professor from college or a private instructor? Has a certain administrator guided your path? What about a parent, relative, friend, or colleague? Have any parents of your students been an inspiration? Has a particular student had a lasting impact on you? Now, think about the last time you showed gratitude to these people. What did you say? How did you express it? When did you communicate it?
Our profession is inundated with multiple duties, which at times disconnect us from human interaction. In addition to teaching, our days are crammed with assessment, data, emails, grading, meetings, and planning. Often, only a half hour is dedicated to our lunch and that includes squeezing a bathroom break in there, too! We are in the business of human beings, but sometimes our human contact is diminished by a sense of urgency to achieve.
We are programmed to respond with a quick “Thanks!” or “You’re the best!” or maybe a high-five, a thumbs-up, an emoji, or dare I say—no response at all. What if we slowed the tempo a bit? What if we made a conscious effort to show gratitude? What if we gave thanks in a way that underscores how we really mean it?
I like to send thank-you cards. Many of my family members, friends, and I still do this on a regular basis after we accept a gift, experience hospitality, or simply want to express appreciation. The act of composing a sincere message brings fulfillment to me and joy to others. I try my best to do this as often as I can throughout the school year, too, for students, parents, volunteers, staff, colleagues, administrators, and supporters. Some notes are as short as a few lines and others are longer in content. Regardless of the length, the intention is genuine.
It feels appropriate that American Education Week is scheduled the week before Thanksgiving. This year’s theme is “Reach. Educate. Inspire.” Consider ways to give thanks to those who have supported, educated, and inspired you. It should be a duty to choose the most influential people of your educational journey and write each of them a meaningful letter this month. You may have done this before, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do it again. Kind remarks are worth repeating.
It has been a while since I’ve sent messages of appreciation to the amazing influencers along my educational path. I’ll start this attitude of gratitude with an open letter to my most influential teacher:
Dear Mr. Schwartz,
You are the greatest teacher I ever had. My friends continue to mention you fondly, too, as many recall you as their most influential teacher—ever. From the moment you began teaching saxophone to me in the summer before 4th grade, I knew you were amazing. Your presence had a lasting impact on me as both my elementary and high school band director. Your lessons were filled with high behavioral expectations, musical brilliance, and wit.
I knew from a young age that I wanted to do what you did—even if I denied it at times. You ignited a musical and educational spark within me. You taught me musicianship, citizenship, perseverance, time management, service, discipline, modesty, and unity. You did so with humility, integrity, musicality, and humor. You always had the best interests of the student, school, and community at the forefront of your mind.
Once I began studying music in college, your influence continued beyond your classroom. When I feared my lack of piano experience and sight-singing skills would hold me back, you simply said, “What you don’t know—you’ll learn.” When I started my first job as a band director you were my “go to” mentor on the phone. You even visited my classroom to observe, adjudicate, and assist. As I experienced rejection by not being offered what I thought were my “dream jobs,” you responded with, “So what?!” Most recently as a 40-year old educator contemplating if I should continue in the classroom full time or pause that path to take child-rearing leave, you offered one pertinent question: “Who’s going to teach your children?” And, you’ve become a staple in our home when a decision is looming, with my husband coining the phrase “What would Frank Schwartz do?”
I thank you for helping me attain high musical and educational standards as a young musician and now as a professional, as well as for helping me realize that being a teacher doesn’t mean one has to be physically in a classroom every day. You support the belief that teaching can take on many dimensions. You have supported my decision to remain on leave from my school system to teach my own children at their young ages of 3 and 1. While doing so, I have been able to engage in educational opportunities outside the constraints of a single classroom. Never could I have imagined the numerous opportunities that would emerge, such as adjudicating ensembles, developing resources, guest conducting honor ensembles, interviewing educators, mentoring colleagues, presenting professional development, producing program notes for composers, supervising collegiate interns, teaching privately, writing articles, and creating new educational and musical possibilities for myself, colleagues, and students. You have encouraged my creativity to forge my own unique path.
Thank you for expecting the best of me as a student, educator, and parent. I’m the luckiest daughter in the world to have you as my father.
P.S.: Mom’s letter is coming, too!
About the author:
Lori Schwartz Reichl is an active adjudicator, clinician, conductor, educator, speaker, and writer. She is the author of the series “Key Changes: Refreshing Your Music Program” published monthly in the teacher’s edition of In Tune Magazine where she provides resources to enhance the music classroom and rehearsal space. As a journalist for Teaching Music Magazine, she interviews master educators. Lori also serves as Coordinator of Howard County Public School System’s Secondary Solo & Ensemble Festival, Executive Director of the Regional Repertory Wind Ensemble where she collaborates with prominent composers, Music Education Intern Supervisor at Towson University, and instructor of her private saxophone studio. Since 2001, Lori has worked in rural, suburban, and urban public schools. Her bands consistently receive superior ratings at county, state, and regional adjudications. During her tenure as the first full-time band director at Daniel Boone Middle School in Berks County, PA, she received the Superintendent’s Award for Excellence in Teaching. As band director of Oakland Mills Middle School in Columbia, MD, Lori was a finalist for the Howard County Teacher of the Year and Parents for School Music Educator of the Year Awards. Under her baton, the Oakland Mills Band received an Honorary Resolution from the Howard County Council and performed as the featured middle school band at the 2014 Maryland Music Educator’s Conference. Later that year Lori was asked to develop the music program for the county’s newest Title I school, Thomas Viaduct Middle School. In its opening year, the band received superior ratings at county and regional adjudications and was invited to perform at the state band festival. Learn more about Lori here.
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