I have been on a path toward healing for many years - or it seems that way. Have you?
Not long ago I was speaking with a colleague about a frustrating situation - a "behavior issue." That's teacher talk for "Why can't this student hear the words I'm saying?!? I don't know what else to do!"
She did something for me that a real friend should not be afraid to do - she challenged me.
She said, "You have a unique opportunity, Sarah. You teach a subject that offers success to students who might not be succeeding elsewhere. It's an inroad. You can use that!"
So, I have spent the last several months searching for these unique inroads.
It has changed me.
Recently I found myself toe to toe with a child wondering, "Does this situation demand some kind of traditional consequence?" I believe that in years past I would have gone for it - the traditional prescription: write me some lines during recess. But I found the answer in the eyes of my student, as I so often do now . . . "I need a grownup to talk to me like I matter and to speak to me about the kind of person I can be if I want to."
That's what I did. And it was a beautiful moment. Who knows if it will solve one problem or no problems or ten problems? It was a beautiful moment - a human moment.
A few days later I saw this wonderful student again for class and as I asked questions, this child raised a hand to offer answers . . . volunteered to be a leader for the class. I could see my own child-self in all of it.
I was an awkward kid. I had trouble being in social situations. I struggled in school. And some of these memories (especially from elementary school and early middle school) are so painful that I still cringe when they are called to mind. That feeling of being a bother to other people is still lurking in there somewhere, peeking at me from around a corner.
But music was an inroad for me. I found my friends in youth choir and piano master classes. I saw hope in the security of learning an instrument in the school band and singing in the chorus. Maybe even more important than this - when my academic work was a complete failure (and when I finished the 6th grade it was a complete failure) music was NOT a failure. In fact, I was flourishing with music.
The importance of this safe spot with music has not diminished over time. Actually, I think it has become even more important. Even more soothing, steadying, and encouraging. It's part of my academic identity. Part of my expression of faith. Part of my familial connections. Part of most of my primary friendships.
I see it in my students, too.
They are trying to figure out how to be themselves - what is the best way to be themselves? They want to know the answer to this question whether they can verbalize it or not. And they want to be useful. They want to be needed and included. Music isn't the answer for everything. But it's a good starting place for lots of things. Music teachers - we really can't afford to forget this.
I can feel a subtle shift every time I take a moment to regain perspective and meet a student where they are. Every time I choose the less conventional path to a student's best performance/behavior/intention I perceive a change in my own character. A healing. And the added bonus is 4th and 5th grade classes full of children who are not afraid to perform traditional folk dances, sing South African freedom songs, and otherwise share the joy of being collectively immersed in things that have nothing to do with popular culture.
Why is it so easy to forget this?
Why is it so easy to revert to the fussing?
I know many teachers who speak about it this way - a sort of exhaustion that creeps in after so many hours of trying to achieve perfection with a schedule, a rubric, a test . . .
But we are not working for schedules or rubrics. We are working for people - for young people, specifically. And those young people are the future of our communities. Don't we all want them to be healthy, whole people? I know I do.
Of course I'm writing this mostly for myself, as always. And for my son. And for other people's children. And for teachers who are teaching because they love children.
None of us are perfect. I say this to my students all the time. But all of us have the opportunity to choose things that will bring life and joy to other people, and even though it's harder to choose that than the alternative we will be happier if we do.
The above picture is the inside of a pipe organ that is just about 80 years old, but the parts were put together from other donated pipe organs around town . . . and all of them were old already - so collectively, who knows how old this thing is! It looks a mess on the inside. And the music comes right out of the mess. What a great image.
Take heart, teacher people. Especially music teacher people. We can contribute to a whole and healthy future with our teaching - and we can receive healing along the way.