Lessons I’ve Learned

By: Jane

Mar 12 2011

Category: Public Education



I remember a little boy named Joshua. The students in my room at that time sat in groups at tables. There were lots of kids, and not enough books to go around. I’d asked Josh to share a book with the little girl next to him, but he refused. Normally I would chalk this kind of behavior up to 7 year old immaturity, and insist that the student grow up and learn to share. But for some reason, on this particular day, I asked Josh to just step outside with me for a moment. Out in the hall I asked him why he didn’t want to share his book. This honest little boy, who knew himself better than some adults ever learn to, started to cry and said, “I don’t want her to know that I don’t know how to read.”

Thank God I didn’t show my usual impatience that day. I wish I would remember this experience more often as I go through my teaching day. I always enjoyed school, and remember wondering as a kid why it got such a bad rap among students. Now I know that, for some students, school is a painful place to be. Lord, in the short time that I have left, show me what to do about that.

So, what’s the lesson?

There are kids who say “I won’t do what you ask” because they’d rather say “I won’t” than “I can’t.” Josh was one in hundreds who, in private at least, was willing to tell the truth about that. The lesson for me is to not pass judgement on a little kid just because he or she seems to be deliberately trying to be a pain in the backside. There’s a reason for everything. Even if I can’t fix it, the least I can do is try to find out what it is, and do what I can to make school a less painful place.

They are, after all, just little kids trying to cope in a big world with immense pressure. More than ever today, they live with pressure to perform, to meet and exceed the standard, to hit every learning target, to raise their score on the next standardized test. Very subtly we place on their shoulders the responsibility for keeping our schools from being taken over by the state. Oh, no one ever says that to them, but in reality, that’s where the buck stops. The Federal Government tells the State Government how it’s going to be. The state tells the local school district. The pressure to perform is handed to the superintendent and upper administration, who pass it to the principal. The principal reminds the teachers of our constant need to make Adequate Yearly Progress, and once that pressure makes it down to kid level, there’s no further it can go. Ultimately, they are the ones who must perform.

For some….no sweat. For others, it can have a negative effect on who they think they are for the rest of their lives.

It’s a situation that is not going to change.

I teach music, a subject area whose basic reason for being is aesthetic enjoyment. Yes, it’s a discipline. Yes, it does have a massive effect on brain development and brain function. Kids can learn a ton about math from subdividing beats in as many ways as creatively possible. They can learn science from observing what happens to vibrations as they pass through instruments of various sizes and materials, and what happens when that vibration reaches their ears, and how it gets to their brain. They can learn how to work together as a team to create an end product that no single voice or instrument can create. They can learn to understand other cultures and societies, or the history that they came from by listening to, learning and performing music from other places, societies and times. Obviously, being able to read makes learning anything easier, and they get a lot of practice at that in reading the same words again and again, each time a bit more fluently, as they learn a song. Their vocabulary expands as they learn to understand what they are singing about.

But the bottom line, for me, is that music is my vehicle for giving everyone a safe place to enjoy school. Can’t read it? Don’t worry – we’ll practice. And by the way, you’re not the only one who can’t read it. We’ll all practice. Having some trouble recognizing and writing 16th and 8th notes? We’ll keep working on it, and I want you to get as good at it as you can. But guess what? There’s no standardized test that you must take to save the school. Can’t tell a bassoon from a cello? I’ll teach you to, and how to listen for them. The reason is so that you can understand and enjoy music – and life – because you know how to listen and what to listen for.

I’m still not getting my point across. Music is a gift for everyone. I can teach kids how to enjoy it, how to perform it, how to create it. I can bring joy and relief to a day that, for some, is filled with frustration . I can be the last bastion of fun and enjoyment in a place where even recess time is dwindling in the face of the almighty state test. I can give some students the basis for a lifelong career. I can give all students knowledge that they will USE, every single day, for the rest of their lives.

I can help make life good.


7 comments on “Lessons I’ve Learned”

  1. I wish you had been my music teacher. 🙂

  2. Sigh…I could have been….kid.

  3. she WAS MY music teacher and I now I am wishing she was my daughters music teacher 🙂 I actually told my daughter that when she was singing with beautiful pitch at breakfast the other day 🙂

  4. HeatherFeather, I’m not at all surprised that your daughter, your very young daughter, I might add, can already sing on pitch. Somebody’s been singing to that girl! (I wonder who?) :0)

    • oh, don’t get me wrong, jane…she doesn’t sing on pitch on a regular basis. and her mother, who does sing to her 24/7, has never sang on pitch a day in her life. BUT she did learn A LOT in music class many years ago 🙂

  5. […] control…and I’m supposed to teach them something too. And, if you’ve read “Lessons I’ve Learned” you know that it my world, music class has to be enjoyable. (My boss doesn’t let me […]

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