I have decided to share my most public and yet most private moment to encourage others who Teach MAM (Music Art and Movement).
Being named the recipient of the GRAMMY Music Educator Award was a fantastic thing but receiving this honor amid significant personal loss is a part of the story that few know.
I think educators across the profession will connect with this personal testament. It not only attests to a painful year for many teachers and students alike, but it shows there’s more to all of our collective stories than what meets the eyes. We are all in the midst of what indeed is a pivotal moment.
From coast to coast and class to class, we all have to pivot while struggling not to take things so personally that we lose ourselves personally in the process of persevering in the pandemic. 2020 has been a pivotal moment for so many to recognize and learn the lesson that the most significant gains in life can often reside in the feelings of our most tremendous losses.
My teaching, my classroom, and most importantly, my students recognized nationally by one of music’s most influential organizations was a pivotal moment indeed. Still, I had no idea how pivotal it would prove to prepare me for what we face today.
It was January 2020, and I found myself named as the GRAMMY Music Educator Award Recipient. However, winning came with tremendous hurt.
I worked tirelessly over nearly two decades, developing my craft to create a better classroom experience for the children I teach. My work and passion were finally recognized and validated professionally on the music industry’s largest stage. This moment was a pinnacle moment professionally, yet marked by pain personally.
The GRAMMY pictures never told the whole story…..
In the 12 months leading up to that moment, there were seven funerals. I experienced even significant losses in 2019. Collectively, I lost a mentor, a brother, a friend, and multiple beloved family members. The most challenging loss was my cousin Lisa. Lisa was that sound adult who believed in me both personally and professionally since I started in music, and as long as I can remember. When I came up short in 2019 (finishing as a finalist for the second time in 5 years), I wanted to quit, but she made me promise not to give up and to KEEP ON GOING (which is the title of my song and Children’s book). She alone is the reason I threw my hat in one more time for the GRAMMY Music Educator Award.
After seeing me lose six years in a row, Lisa died six months short of seeing me receive the GRAMMY. I was grateful for the GRAMMY but grieved that she died just shy of sharing the moment with me and our friends and family.
I think we all can understand loss more than ever this year. What an unprecedented year this has been for us all! As educators, I believe we can all appreciate the responsibilities of carrying pain while carrying out professional duties for the education itself.
For me, the holidays hit different this year.
For those of you struggling with the loss of a loved one or the loss of your sense of normal – I have promises that served me well this year:
I promise this will not always be the first thing you think about in the morning.
I promise you will not always feel that hard lump in your throat like grief is a rock that cannot move. It can.
I promise those waves of grief that knock you off your feet will become smaller, less violent. You will be able to stand and let them wash around you, not over you.
I promise walking won’t always feel like you’re dragging your legs through treacle; breathing won’t always be something you need to remember to do. You will do both these things effortlessly again.
I promise you won’t always reel at someone else’s happiness – their social media updates and photographs. You will smile and feel glad that they have something so unique and that you once had it too.
I promise you will be able to say their name without crying. That you will share a memory and feel wistful; sad, but not broken.
I promise you will not always have to take the day off work on anniversaries because you cannot function. You will find something special to mark it, or you will treat it like any other day, and either is okay.
I promise it won’t always hurt like this.
I received these promises from my counselor Tiffany Dupre and an author by the name of Clare Mackintosh. At the time, I didn’t fully believe either of them. I would sob silently in my pillow while being told by my beautiful wife and fellow musician and educator, Eugenia Smith, how time would heal the hurt (not remove btw). In those moments, I would think to myself, “that is impossible” because my grief felt so immense.
Someone reading this will think as I did too, but in time – you also will realize that the impenetrable rock of grief will slowly remove itself, and hopefully, you will remember and make these promises to someone else. You, too, will realize this is a pivotal moment. It’s not the pinnacles or the pits but the pathways, the process, along the way that are the genuinely pivotal moments.
Understand that the word crisis derives from the word sift. A crisis is neither good nor bad. It merely is a pivotal moment that can process us or pummel us. During the process called 2020/21, remember to give yourself the grace to grieve the losses and be gentle on yourself during these unprecedented times.
You cannot rush grief.
You cannot deny gain.
Never lose sight that this year (2020) is a tough year to suffer a loss of any kind, but the loss is never a loss. It’s only a lesson.
Music teaches me that rarely is something presented on a platform that has not been perfected (processed) in a practice room. The mistake is not a mistake until it becomes a “missed-take”, a missed opportunity along the way. Don’t miss this opportunity to innovate the way you educate and the way you see your students. Every opportunity is simply another opportunity for another opportunity.
Music is such a powerful and personal thing. We teach from it, and it serves as an extension of ourselves. If we are the instruments of instruction, then the way we teach is our “sound.” Losses can sour our sound if we are not careful, but if we are aware that there are no losses, only lessons, then we can take that lowered sound and learn to put it in the right place to create a sound that touches the soul. Music has taught me that we can even find joy in the sound of blues. Those lowered sounds create a presence and an essence that strikes a chord with our hearts and minds and resonates powerfully in the lives of others because it says “I was There Once,” and it encourages us to “Keep On Going.”
Yes, we all have a sound. Our sound is our presence, our essence, our unique, personal-significance. In short, it is our signature, and we must never lose sight that all things work together for our good as we discover our sound.
Your sound can change the world if you keep on going, but you must keep on going against the resistance to find the significance.
Remember, just like in music, life is better when we band together. 2020 has shown us all the power of the ensemble.
Winning the GRAMMY was not the pivotal moment of this year or even my life. The crucial moment was the process of realizing who I was and who I could be for others in the darkest of times and how my classroom is a stage, an opportunity to help others discover their sound both musically, professionally, and personally.
I hope every educator who reads this understands that winning sometimes feels like losing, but we are merely undergoing growth and change in the process. Please know that despite it all, music holds power to remind us all that we are loved, valued, and wanted. But we must create moments as we are undergoing growth and change to hear and receive the message that music offers. Take time to use music not just as a subject matter but also as a tool that reminds us that WE matter. This use is a primary key to building resilience amid crisis.
I send much love to all my brothers and sisters in this noble profession called teaching. Take time each day to tell yourself that you are loved, valued, and wanted so that you can give that same powerful life lyric to those in your care in the classroom – your students.
A sound founded in love is faithful.
Just remember, this too shall pass.
Don’t panic, just pivot because:
This thing called life is a class (a lesson) that develops our craft (our sound), and the world we live in is simply the classroom.
Make your classroom sound,
your teaching epic, and
your legacy significant.
Don’t give up.
Like Alicia Keys told me at The GRAMMYS, “We need you.”
Let’s be the sound to change the world.
This time is a PIVOTAL MOMENT for us all.
Please find more about Mickey and his SOUND180 EDUCATORS community at www.MickeySmithJr.com.