I am weary right now, typing this. I have had two HUGE days to start the week. But even though I am weary, I am hugely pleased. Let me tell you what I’ve been up to….

I teach in two Sydney Catholic Schools. The principal of school A moved to school B at the start of the year, and invited me to start a music program at school B. Year 6 at both schools djembe drum. So it was agreed that all the students would get together (at school B) for a drumming workshop. We had a big enough space. But getting (and storing) all those drums were hard – I needed 60. Both schools have 20 – but I needed another stash. So a complicated system that involved removing drums from school C (no longer used), storing at my local yoga studio (a HUGE thank you to the gang there!) and then carting said drum stash back-and-forth was hatched. (If I never move another bloody djembe again I won’t be sorry….)

I have never taught 60 drummers before. 35 yes, but 60 no. But do you know, it’s actually not much louder. I have to bellow a bit to be heard. And I had all the kids sitting in a circle, so I had to talk-and-spin as I delivered instructions. But it was really fun. And most importantly, the kids LOVED it. They loved the noise. The sense of being. All kinds of friendships were struck up. And by the end of it, we had a piece ready to perform. It was a fabulous day. That was Monday.

On Tuesday, I was at a different school. We were visited by the founder of the ACMF (the charity I work for), Don Spencer, and 8 visiting Chinese businessmen, looking to support Don and his work. This visit involved me teaching five of Don’s songs to the large senior choir (over 100 kids) so we could perform together, and then coming up with a music lesson for all of year 6 (nearly 40 kids) that we could share with the visitors (so they’d sit and join in). Again, it was a huge amount of work (not just for me – also the school – getting permission slips for filming (did I mention the two cameras?) and jiggling around the timetable) – but again, the kids LOVED it. Actually, not just the kids – but also the visitors. A few times I stepped away from myself, and managed to look at what was going on. People singing, or playing, or passing claves to the beat. Grown-ups and children. Lots of different coloured skin. Los of academic abilities. Shy people. ‘Out there’ people. And all smiling together.

Music is a great leveller. It’s a great friend-builder. It’s a great way to have a huge amount of (legal) fun. God knows the world could do with a bit more of that at the moment.

Because I’m regularly in four schools, I see a lot of teachers. I talk to more than I see. And not just primary teachers, but high school teachers, support teachers, yoga teachers, instrumental teachers, uni lecturers – my life is full of people who teach.

Before I go on, let me say how much I admire these people. Well, most of them. I see loads of really good teachers – and I appreciate them. Most of them go above and beyond. They love their job, and do it with all their heart. They are passionate about giving what they know to others, and opening doors of learning. Nearly all of them aren’t paid enough.

I was talking to a teacher in a school last week that I like a lot. We were talking about how he sees his class in music, and the steps that kids are taking. “You know what makes a good teacher, Rach?” he says. “Connection. It doesn’t matter what you are teaching – if the child feels a connection to you, you can teach them nearly anything.”

I’ve been thinking about this – and you know, he’s right. Substitute his ‘child’ for the more generic ‘student’, and I think he’s hit the nail on the head. How do you get that connection? I think learning names of the people you teach is really important (some others don’t – but I do. I practise names all the time – I look at class photos, read newsletters from schools and test myself. I work at it. I’ve been told I’d be a good card counter…). Laughing is another thing I use to make connections. I clown around. I use not-so-normal-for-a-teacher language. I poke fun at myself. Other teacher do it other ways.

I was thinking about the teachers I’ve loved. And all of them I thought I ‘knew’. And that they ‘knew’ me. Maybe they did. Maybe they didn’t. Doesn’t matter – the important thing here is I thought they did. I also thought they liked me. The best teachers I see have their students thinking they are all liked. Loved, even. And then students will accept criticism. And allow you to take them out of their comfort zone. And grow. And that is teaching. Well, I think so….

I’ve had a few great moments teaching over the last few weeks.

One I wrote about on Facebook getting a group of difficult kids to kazoo instead of sing. They are too cool to sing. In fact, they told me they HATE singing. But they kazooed over and over. It was excellent.

I gave different group of kids different kazoos, and watched one little girl who is generally really passive in music class (shy? can’t work out if I am friend of foe? haven’t worked her out yet….) absolutely kill herself with laughter as the rest of her class kazooed a children’s song. Thigh-slapping, red-faced guffawing. It was excellent.

I had another group of children perform ‘Advance Australia Fair’ in a combination of Dharug, Dharawal and English to their school principal yesterday. They sang so very proudly. As far as I’m concerned, this is the way our National Anthem should be sung, until we get another one. First in the local Indigenous language, and then in English. I watched these children stand like a professional group of singers and just let rip. It was excellent.

But best of all was probably a lesson I taught to a grown-up student. I don’t have many of these (as in grown-up students), and I like teaching them a lot. I was feeling inspired after a series of yoga classes. I realise that I’m taught at yoga with no judgement (everyone judges. All the time. I’m not writing about judgement again. I’ve been accused of it a number of times (judging – not writing about it). And I do judge. But mostly me. Did I teach the best I could do today? Did I play as beautifully as I could just then?). Sorry. I digress. Back to teaching with no judgement. I’m asked in yoga to experience. But not judge. So I tried it in a cello lesson. I don’t think you could do this with children. At least not little ones. I asked this student to play. And then listen. What was wrong? Not good, or bad, but just inaccurate. How was it inaccurate? (Not what did they do to make it inaccurate – see the difference here? It’s quite liberating!) And I watched this student really enjoy themselves.

It was strange for me, as a teacher. I was fairly passive. I felt a little bit like I was directing a river, but not interrupting the flow of it. It was great for me to experience. I’ll probably do it again. Not all the time, mind, as I didn’t impart much actual nuts-and-bolts knowledge, but it was a great process.

So today I’ve judged my teaching.

I’ve judged music-making.

I think everyone should do it all the time. In a non-judging, kazooing, proud sort of way.

I realise that if you are reading this it might sound like “That’s it – I’ve had enough. I am fed up.” Taking my bat and ball (actually, if anyone is reading this who knows about my sporting prowess (Em? You there?) you’ll know that I wouldn’t have had a bat and ball at all. Maybe a book and some knitting?) and going home. But it’s not that at all. It’s about stuff. As in possessions.

The house across the road from me in Sydney was auctioned for an outrageous amount of money the other day – and it still wasn’t seen as enough. I hear about friends of mine working all week, and then coming home to ‘do the garden’ or renovate some room or another. I watch ABC’s ‘War on Waste‘ with interest. I talk to people who are ‘decluttering’ all the time.

How did we get to need so much stuff? And why do we need these enormous houses? Or perfect houses? Or multiple houses (ahem, politicians?) Or huge cars?

I was sitting thinking the other day, whilst staring out the window (I read about this the other day. You can also see a lovely little video about it here. I’ve tried to do it more since reading about it.). And I think I have enough. What would I do if I had more money? You know, I’d probably give it away. I’d probably give it to the ACMF, so that more kids could have music in their lives. I really believe in that.

You see, I have a beautiful cello. I have excellent clothes that I love wearing. I have a tablet that I can watch my Netflix subscription on. I have an excellent little car that I share with my husband. I have a bike that goes as fast as I can pedal it. I have a really wonderful relationship (none of this is in order, by the way!). I drink really good leaf tea, and nice wine whenever I want it. I drink French champagne often. I have a job and a concert series that I love with all of my heart. I go to yoga a lot, and can afford to have really good teachers guide me. I don’t own a house. I don’t want to endlessly renovate. I don’t want to be mortgaged to the hilt and worry about things all the time. (OK – I don’t have children I need to get through school – but that has also been a very deliberate choice.) In one of my staring-out-the-window musings I realised that I was happy. I have an excellent, loving partner. I have a job I love. I have a wonderful group of friends who are loyal, and loving, and tolerant (yes – I know. They’d need to be around me. And Ben will be nominated for sainthood at some point).

And I have enough. Probably more than enough. It’s pretty liberating to feel like this.

I thank my Timorese friends for showing me this. Mostly.

Will it always be like this? Who knows? But now it is.

So, according to Hot Chocolate, everyone’s a winner baby. Apparently, it’s no lie. But that’s the thing…. everyone doesn’t win all the time.

It strikes me as strange, in a country obsessed with sport where someone always wins and someone doesn’t win, we aren’t better at not winning. I play a game in my music classes that is a variation of musical statues. Everyone gets a tambourine. When the music plays, everyone walks around and hits their tambourine (hopefully to the beat of the music – but this doesn’t always happen. It’s also a good chance for me to see what children do this instinctively – but that’s a different story). When the music stops, they must freeze, balance their tambourine on their head, and put their arms out like an aeroplane. If the tambourine falls off their head, the child is out. It’s an excellent self-policing game, really, and everyone likes it. I use it as a hey-we’ve-all-just-had-a-pretty-demanding-music-lesson-and-here’s-something-a-bit-fun-now type of ending to a music lesson.

I played this in three different classes last week. In every class I had at least one tantrum when someone got out, sometimes more. (It was exhausting. I felt like I was herding cats at one point.) Lots of sad faces. One child told me that I was the WORST TEACHER EVER. Now, I know everyone likes to win something. But this was pretty interesting. It got me thinking…..

I was pulled up once when I was training teachers, because I advocated saying ‘no’ when a child got something wrong. Let me clarify – this was quickly followed by a ‘yes’ when the mistake was corrected. You can’t say ‘no’, I was told. It wasn’t ‘positive learning’, or some edurubbishtoopcspeak. Why can’t we say ‘no’ to children? They will get ‘no’ in the rest of their lives. I am often told ‘no’. They will have this said to them too. They will lose in things. Everyone isn’t always a winner, despite what we are told in disco songs. Shouldn’t we be able to deal with no, or losing in a game? And shouldn’t we be teaching children how to do this too?

I’m happy to wear the ‘worst teacher ever‘ hat for a bit. My little friend was genuinely devastated. But do the children I see get praised too much all the time? All the ‘high five’s and ‘great job’s may be doing more damage than we think.