Fighting the Fear and Finding ‘I am’

I joined the school choir in Grade 2 when I was seven. I was a part of the choir at three different schools throughout my schooling. That’s eleven years of school choirs. In my final year of school I was in both the main choir and the twelve-member madrigal choir and I played the Scarecrow in the school production of the Wizard of Oz. This performance garnered me a scholarship from a local theatre company (of which I was a member) for a year of singing lessons.

I was a member of a church singing group for more years than I can be bothered going back to figure out.

I spent eight years performing musical theatre with a local amateur group.

I’ve been a member of community singing groups for the past twelve years.

And yet, you won’t hear the phrase “I am a singer” come out of my mouth.

(Yes, those of you who have been following this blog long enough may think this sounds familiar. I had similar issues with calling myself a runner until I successfully completed my first marathon. What can I say? My psyche is not built for self-confidence.)

I had piano lessons as a child/teenager and I can, to varying basic levels, also play guitar, ukulele and banjo. At various points in my life I have picked up and then discarded the flute and harmonica. (I also learned to play the recorder at school but everybody does that so it doesn’t deserve a mention.)

Not just a Jack of All Trades but a Jack of All Players.

But I’ve never sat a music exam. Ever.

Why not?

Good question and one I’ve had to ask myself a bit over the past several months.

And?

And it comes down to fear as these things usually do. For me, a fear of judgement and not living up to expectations.

My mother informs me it has always been this way for me since childhood.

Sometimes the genetic lottery gives you a messed up hand of life-cards.

My fear and dislike of judgement is so deep, I have to walk out of the room during those TV talent shows when the judges make their comments. I can’t even bear it for a total stranger.

So how was it that on Friday 21st June, I found myself standing in front of an examiner about to try and prove myself in a Grade 5 Modern Singing exam?

Another very good question.

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How did I get here?

Last year, when the opportunity was offered via email from the leader of my singing group to sign up for preparing for an exam in March this year, I declined the offer on the basis that I would be away at that time. Devastated, I was. [cough]

Then, one night I messaged to confirm my participation in a singing technique workshop the next day only to find out that my booking had been misplaced and the workshop had in fact been cancelled with only one other participant having signed up. I was informed that, however, there was the first workshop for the Grade 3 exam candidates. Maybe I’d like to come? I could always do the exam at a later date if I was going to be away. Or, I suggested, maybe I could come with the agreement that I didn’t have to actually do the exam.

This is my ideal situation – a chance to learn but no commitment to prove it.

It was agreed.

But you did the exam. What happened?

To be honest, I’m still trying to figure that out. My singing leader, also a dear friend, is a champion button pusher and she knows exactly which buttons to push and when. At some point – I think when I was in the middle of solving a problem on her laptop – she suggested that really I could do the Grade 5 exam.

Firstly, it turned out the exam would actually be in May or June, it was just the deadline to sign up was in March. So I didn’t have my absence as an excuse.

Secondly, I am both pathologically obsessed with knowing everything about a situation and chronically dedicated to ‘doing the right thing’. So, about to head overseas and out of reach of any sort of contact, I was aware from my research that the closing date for exam applications would come while I was in the Himalayas of Nepal. Of course it was tempting to disappear overseas and then return to the online world with a ‘oh shucks, sorry’ but my need to always do the right thing meant that I pointed out before I left that I would need to answer the question of doing the exam before I left.

Okay, so my other failing is a weakness for pushing myself outside my comfort zone.

In the way of the universe, this quote had also floated across my online vision a few days before:

Neil Gaiman quote

 

“Are you happy for me to enrol you while you are away?” I was asked.

“Do it,” I replied. Then I flew away to Nepal.

Did I wonder what I was thinking? You bet.

Even more so when I got back and headed straight into final training for Oxfam Trailwalker and after that the Great Ocean Road Marathon. Seriously, what was I thinking? Did I plan to permanently live outside my comfort zone??

Of course, the addition of a blood clot in my lung that made breathing painful (let alone the deep breaths needed for some of my singing exercises) was a complication I didn’t expect. I suppose I was grateful that when the exam date came it was some weeks afterwards when I was on the mend but my preparation was definitely compromised.

I prepared as best I could. On days I was stressed, I would undertake more ‘academic’ work – I would write out all my general knowledge answers or research all the musical terms in my sheet music for my songs. It was calming for me.

Exam day came. My exam wasn’t until 3.20pm which was somewhat painful. Then, when I arrived, they were running late and so I had to wait even longer. Here’s me trying to be cool about it (while a jelly of nerves inside).

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If you’re thinking the person I’m talking to looks calm that’s because she’s already done her exam. Lucky duck.

 

I think I should point out that this exam was like a Sara Lee dessert of all the worst things for me – layer upon layer upon layer. I had to:

  1. be the centre of attention
  2. sing solo
  3. sing solo to a total stranger
  4. be judged on that singing

I thought the worst thing was having to sing to a stranger but in fact, I found it easier. I wrapped myself in my invisible theatre cloak and put on the act. And, somehow, pulled it off. My singing leader/teacher/friend came in to accompany me for my last song (the previous three songs being performed to a backing track) and gave me an enthusiastic thumbs up as she came in.

Even now, with the results in my hand, I can’t believe I did what I did.

And? What were the results??

It was an anxious wait for the results but not as fraught as you might think. In order to help me try and stay calm in the lead up to the exam, I had decided to put it into marathon terms. I was, I decided, happy to just cross the finish line. For the exam, this meant just completing the exam to the best of my ability. After all, I’d never done a music exam. Just going through the process was an achievement of which to be proud. A ‘respectable time’ or in this case, a pass was just a bonus. A PB was an unimaginable flight of fancy.

And after the exam that’s how I felt. I was proud of myself for going through the exam and completing it to the best of my ability. Obviously, a pass would be appreciated but I had no ambitions beyond that.

Oh, for Pete’s sake! What was the result?!?

Okay. Okay.

I achieved Honours. A score of 89%. (Embarrassingly, I will confess that the over-achiever in me was a bit annoyed I didn’t crack the 90. Some people are hopeless….)

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It was interesting to note in the report that most marks were lost because of tension in my chest, neck and jaw. Well, let’s see. I am in the process of recovering from a pulmonary embolism and I was undertaking my first ever music exam. Imagine what I could have achieved without those….

And so there you have it. I not only undertook a challenge I had not intended to entertain but achieved a grade unimaginable.

Will I do another?

Not on your life.

However.

As part of preparing for my exam, I did some music theory study. I found it fascinating and helpful in so many ways. So that is my next challenge. I’d like to tackle a music theory exam. How’s the weather out there in that Uncomfortable Zone?

Some people are hopeless…

Addendum

The wash-up from this exam – not only for me but for the other six candidates – has left me thinking about the value of external validation. To be honest, some of the impetus for signing up for the exam was yearning for proof that I can sing. I guess I got that. I guess that maybe I can start rehearsing the line “I am a singer”.

In the end, however, the judgement of someone’s singing ability is subjective. It sits in narrow parameters and disallows the additional factors that make a singer’s contribution to the world that represents true musicality and impact.

I now possess a piece of paper that says I can pass a Grade 5 Modern Singing exam but does it show that I can work as a team member of a group and support my fellow singers to produce the most pleasing sound? Does it really represent the emotion – the joy, the sorrow, the frustration, the confusion – that I can experience in the act of singing? Does a piece of paper truly represent the hurdles that each of us has had to overcome? More importantly, does the lack of a piece of paper dictate the lack of value of a singer?

No, it does not.

I am incredibly blessed to be tutored by some immensely talented and generous singers. Would a professional organisation value the skill and love these singers impart to we lesser mortals to the extent they deserve? No, they wouldn’t. The reality is that exams are a narrow qualification of skill and talent. For me, the selfless sharing of talent, knowledge, care and support is unassessable. Someone out there ought to create a qualification that evaluates the impact someone has in terms of fostering a love of singing, especially in those who have been told for too many years that they should not sing. There are beautiful singers out there just waiting to be discovered by the right spirit. It’s an incredible gift to give the world and too unappreciated by the ‘powers that be’. I have personally witnessed the awakening of amazing singers who have hidden away since being told as a shy twelve-year-old to just ‘mime the words’. I have also witnessed the encouragement of an incredible teacher reveal those reluctant singers to be powerhouses of talent.

I would not be where I am without those incredible people. They are talented and knowledgeable singers but more importantly, generous sharers of that talent and knowledge.

I am a singer.

But only because I have been blessed by knowing such talented people as my singing teacher friends. You people rock and are the rock of my singing life.

 

A Master of What?

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This blog began some three and a half years ago and at the time I couldn’t really put a finger on what I was good at and hence the title.

Over these past years, kindly folk have suggested various masteries I could claim as my own but I’ve usually shrugged them off.

I’ve always struggled to say “I am good at…” and always wondered why.

Recently, I realised that perhaps it is because I possess no socially acceptable standard that I am a master of anything. It is hard to claim something for which you have no proof.

If you can say in society, “I have a degree in Literature/Creative Writing/Journalism. I am a good writer”, everyone around you will nod their heads, admire you and agree “You are a good writer.”

If you can say in society, “I have a Masters of Education from [name your own prestigious university]. I am a good teacher”, you will be regarded as an asset to any classroom.

If, however, you possess a degree in Mathematics but do not work in the field, what is it worth?

If you are qualified to teach science and mathematics but teach in an area where those skills are irrelevant, what good are you really?

And yet, I know I am a good writer. I know I am a good teacher. But my evidence for such claims is circumstantial and personal.

It is the people who tell me, “Write more blog posts, we love your writing”. It is the staff who smile happily when they realise you will be teaching in their classroom.

Fine for me.

Not so much for society.

One of my (pathetically) prized possessions is a photocopy of the front page of a training manual I once wrote which was reviewed by the upper management Training Manager (for some reason that I do not recall).

On the page, he had written “This is the best training material I have ever read in my 13+ years of training”.

Like all positions of employment I’ve ever held in my life, I had neither the qualifications nor experience to be employed as a training developer but for some reason they gave me the job anyway and I got this review within my first year on the job.

But it doesn’t look as significant hung on the wall as a Bachelor’s degree.

I’ve never even sat a music exam. So I have no proof that I can sing, play piano or guitar or write music. Well, I do have a school report from Year 9 Music that says, “She has a good working knowledge of music theory at this level and in the end-of-year examination scored an impressive 100%” so there’s that, I guess but I’m not sure how that would play out.

“So, what Grade level did you reach?”

“Me? Oh, well, none. But I have this great report from my Year 9 music teacher. Want to read it?”

“Probably not.”

The prompt for this post was a comment that found me consumed with jealousy for those who can claim a qualification to legitimise their obvious skills. I’d offered some assistance with a task on the basis of believing I possessed some relevant skill but was countered with the explanation that the other person possessed a high level qualification in the area in question and would therefore not require my unqualified help.

I can’t argue with that.

Of course, if it concerns me so much, why don’t I go out and gain such qualifications? Because I’m a Jack of ALL Trades. Which qualification would I pick?? I’m not sure I’ve got enough time or energy (or money!) to pursue a degree in literature, journalism, music, fine arts, computer programming, IT support or a Masters/PhD in Education, Science, Mathematics or a trade qualification in building, carpentry, painting, textiles, electronics, costume design, cake decorating or car maintenance.

So I think I’ll just go on as before, having a stab at anything that takes my fancy whether qualified to do so or not, and live the life of a Jack of All Trades.

And hope that someday someone introduces a Master of All Trades qualification.

I’d like to hang that on my wall.

MofAT certificate

 

Coming Up For Air

Up For Air

In case you were wondering where I’ve been lately…..

I’ve been working full time for the past two weeks.

All the full time working readers: So?

Well, I also have kids.

All the full time working parent readers: So?

Well, I’ve also been sick. In fact, one day I felt so sick, I actually thought I might have caught man-flu.

All the sick full time working parent readers: Sss….. Yeah, okay, that’s probably fair enough.

To be honest, I felt pretty wimpy. I mean, people do this all the time. At work, I’m surrounded by working parents teaching full time in a challenging environment. And, being full time teachers, they also have all that other accountability stuff like Professional Development Plans and reports and checklists and planning and…. It exhausts me just thinking about it.

Even allowing for the added challenge last week of spending each day fighting off a headache and trying not to cough up a lung, it concerned me that I was so tired at the end of each day.

But then I thought, maybe working is like any other physical activity. It takes fitness. Just as I used to be able to run 10km without really thinking about it, now that I haven’t run in months, even a short 4km is an effort. Maybe working full time takes training.

Apart from the occasional short stint, I haven’t worked full time since I had the kids. Prior to that, I was working full time on an IT project in a large corporation. I was commuting by train for over an hour each way and I was working long hours. And I really mean long. Six o’clock train in the morning, 7.15pm train home was the standard day. A 9.30pm train home was not unusual. Then there were the days I’d catch a taxi home at 3am. (The trains stopped running at midnight.) Or the one memorable day when I caught the 6am train to work and then came home at lunchtime the next day.

It’s been over twenty years since that mad stage of my life. There’s no way I could sustain that now. And it’s not just because I also have children who need me at the end of the day. I just don’t have the fitness for it any more.

But unlike my running that I do need to get up and … er … running, I’m not sure I’m ready to put in the training for full time work just yet. So I’ll stick with the casual relief work and take each option as it comes. And hopefully I’ll still find the time to hang out here in the blogosphere for a while yet.

Have you ever felt like you’ve lost your fitness for something?

I’d like to dedicate this post to my friends and colleagues who work full time in challenging environments. You rock.

 

 

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Is This The Real Life?

Or is this just fantasy?

I’ve never been a real anything.

Well, okay, yes, I am in fact a real person.

However….

As I have explained (ad nauseum) on this blog, I tend to flit from one activity to another, pretending to be whatever it is that takes my fancy at the time. Currently, I’m pretending I can play the banjo.

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Maybe I’ll be as good as Kermit one day.

This pretend life has not only applied to my leisure activities. Every job I’ve ever held, I’ve spent the bulk of my time pretending I know what I’m doing.

And that’s because for every job I have ever held, I possessed neither the qualifications nor the experience for that particular position. They gave me the job anyway.

I know. I don’t understand it either.

But something changed recently.

At the beginning of February, I was given a fixed contract of three days a week for an eight week term in the school where I’ve been relief teaching.

I filled out the required paperwork and the bureaucratic wheels began to turn.

First, I was given an employee ID number by the Education Department. Having never held an official teaching position before, I’d never had one of these. Apparently this one will follow me all of my days. Mine to keep.

Along with the employee ID, I was given an official Education Department email address. Apparently this one will not follow me all of my days. Mine to give back at the end of my contract.

As far as the Department was concerned, I now existed as a teacher.

[It’s worth just noting here that all potential teachers in this state, even those only undertaking relief teaching, must be registered with the state Institute of Teaching before they are allowed to teach. We do have some standards.]

More was to come.

I was called to the office to collect my badge. A real name badge, not the paper and plastic one I usually wore as a relief teacher. This one even said “Teacher” on it.

Could this be? Was I becoming something real?

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Two weeks ago, the photographers showed up and I had my photograph taken. My first ever official school photograph as a member of staff.

It was like the last piece of the puzzle. I was a teacher.

Being a real teacher has also meant three meetings a week and writing reports.

Pretending can have its advantages.

The term ends this week. After the following two weeks of school holidays, I’ll no longer be a ‘real’ teacher.

I feel a bit like the Blue Fairy has jumped out and said “Only Kidding!”

 

 

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The No. 1 Buzzword Schools Love And Parents Hate

Is your child being bullied by other children? Your school has a fix for that. Is your child struggling to understand mathematics? Your school has an answer for that. Is your child having trouble getting along with the class teacher? Your school knows what’s wrong.

So what is this magical cure-all?

Resilience.

If your child is being bullied, they just need to be more resilient. If your child is having difficulties with mathematics, they just need to be more resilient. If your child is not coping with the class teacher, they just need to be more resilient.

Schools love to use resilience as an answer to anything. Yes, children need to learn to be resilient. Unfortunately, the true meaning of resilience has been lost in the easy fix-it of putting any problem back on the child.

These days, the use of resilience in schools has come to mean:

“I really don’t want to have to deal with those kids’ parents. Can’t your child just put up with it?”

“I really don’t have time to go over everything again. Can’t your child just work harder?”

“I really don’t want to adjust my teaching methods to suit your child. Can’t they just get along?”

When my eldest child was seven years old, I went to pick him up from school and a parent informed me there had been an incident during a Physical Education class and I should go and talk to the supervising teacher. Apparently my son had screamed and cried at a group of boys who had been teasing him about his skipping abilities.

The teacher’s advice? “He just needs to be more resilient.”

What this teacher didn’t know and obviously didn’t care about, was that my son had been subjected to teasing by these same boys every day for several months. We had not reported it to the school, preferring to work with him to help him navigate and deal with the situation. We knew he would encounter difficult people all his life and we were trying to teach him strategies. Clearly, on this day, he’d had enough. Who could blame him?

It always astounds me that the kind of treatment our schools expect small children to endure in the name of resilience, were that same treatment to be meted out to a teacher by colleagues, would result in disciplinary action against the perpetrators for harassment.

Too often schools seem to think that being resilient means a child should not feel anger, sadness or frustration. But that is not the meaning of resilience. Resilience does not mean that we do not suffer hurt, confusion or doubt as a result of a situation. What it does mean is that we go on and try again, even when we do.

“Why do we fall down, sir? So that we can learn to pick ourselves up.”  – Alfred, Batman Begins

A resilient child gets up and goes to school each day even while knowing they will be teased. A resilient child sits down to do their mathematics homework even while knowing that it will be difficult. A resilient child continues to try and communicate with the class teacher even while knowing they will not be understood.

I look at my eldest son now, ten years later, and I see a young man who loves school and has a large circle of friends. Has he got to this place by compromising who he is? By hiding his true self so as to fit in? By ignoring his feelings? No. He is still the same beautiful, quirky, sensitive soul he was when he was seven. He has just given the world time to recognise that and accept it.

That is resilience.

Resilience

 

 

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My Child, My Teacher

I taught you how to walk but I learned from you the meaning of persistence.

I taught you how to read but I learned from you that a good book can be read a hundred times and still make you laugh.

I taught you how to cross the road but I learned from you that sometimes you have to stop and marvel at the shape of the clouds first.

I taught you how to write but I learned from you that made up words can hold the most power.

I taught you how to tell the time but I learned from you how to spend time.

I taught you how to handle conflict but I learned from you the true nature of forgiveness.

I taught you how to do algebra but I learned from you how to be patient.

I taught you how to ride a bike but I learned from you how to conquer my fears.

I taught you how to be safe but I learned from you that sometimes you have to take risks.

I taught you how to use a computer but I learned from you that I will never know as much as you.

I taught you about the world but I learned from you about life.

 

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Written in response to the Daily Post Weekly Writing Challenge – Student, Teacher.

 

 

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