Friday, August 3, 2012

Student Teaching Part V - Crying Freshmen

This is the fifth entry of my student teaching journals (Part IPart II, Part III & Part IV).

What makes a teacher?

What is the distinguishing characteristic that separates teachers from others in society? I believe it is love. Love in teaching is unique, it’s about, courage, strength, persistence and the belief that people can be better then they are.

Today we had an afternoon rehearsal. Mr. S had chosen to utilize a day off school to rehearse the marching band. An hour before the rehearsal the saxophone section leaders had called a sectional. Mr. S was leading a section leader meeting at this time. He felt it would be good for me to work with the saxophone section during the sectional. The first thing for me to do was to take attendance and call whoever was absent. Jack one of the freshmen was not there so I called his house from which I found out that he was on the way over.

The mom came into the office and Jack was outside. I asked her if everything was ok and she said things were definitely not ok. She asked where Mr. S was and I told her he was in a meeting and I asked him if he wanted to talk to her but he was busy with the section leaders. I came back to the office and asked her if she wanted to talk to me. She said she felt it would be good for me to talk to Jack. I was surprised to find that when she brought Jack into the office to talk to me she left.

Part of me was surprised that she left me alone with Jack. The kid was crying, not crying, bawling. In addition, like most boys his age, he was embarrassed to be crying. I talked to him and asked him what was wrong. He proceeded to explain to me that he felt very bad. He was stressed about marching band and how hard it was. I reminded him that there was only three days left and that he should hang in there for concert season. Jack quickly explained that this wasn’t an issue of him wanting to quit band. He said he loved band. The problem was that he felt like everyone in band hated him and that he could easily name 40 people in the band who did.

Jack explained how people in the hallways would say “really nasty” things to him. He said it wasn’t during band and it wasn’t people telling him to march better. It was outside of the band room by band people. At that moment, I told Jack that if he felt that people were going over the line and harassing him that he needed to tell the dean, Mr. S or some other teacher. And I further promised to him that if anything that he was describing happened in the band room or during band telling Mr. S would guarantee that it would never happen again. That didn’t comfort him at all which proved to me, that things were not as bad as he saw them.

If Jack was honestly harassed, having someone say that they would protect him would be a like an angel coming down, but it wasn’t. He just went on about how tough it was. And I explained that I could relate to how hard being a freshmen in high school but you just have to focus and do your best. What I really wanted to say to him was “suck it up and deal! Be a man!” Instead I focused my energy in explaining to him that he was letting a couple people, a couple weak and insecure people shade his entire view of the band which is the most accepting and caring group of teenagers I have ever worked with. He said he understood that when people made fun of him it was their insecurities, but I just could not get him to believe that the people in the band in general were a positive group that did not hate him. I tried and he nodded in head but his eyes showed me that he thought I was telling him a fairy tale. It was hard not to take that personally.

His mom asked me what I thought. I told her I felt like that he was focusing too much on the negative side and that he was clouding his own view of the band to make it as bad as he wanted it to be. She told me that she didn’t think that he was going to be back next quarter for band. That was the issue she saw, and I found that odd that this was not the issue that I felt Jack was expressed to me. Is Jack’s special needs really his biological and developmental issues or is it his mom? Jack had anxiety issues and motor control difficulties. That much was obvious. It was when his mother proceeded to tell exactly the same things Jack was that I really started to question what really is going on with Jack.

She told me that she was disappointed that band wasn’t the safe haven that she felt like Jack needed. In the exactly same way, Jack explained, she told me how hard and stressful band was and how kids didn’t like him. And just like Jack, I don’t think she really believed me when I told her how great I felt like the kids in the band were. After I explained my feelings about the band, she said, “It’s really frustrating, isn’t it, dealing with Jack?” And I told her firmly, “Jack is not frustrating, he’s challenging.”

Jack came back from the bathroom and his mom asked him if he was going to stay for the whole rehearsal. He said that he would and that he had a responsibility and a commitment. His mom suggested that he only stay for part of the rehearsal. I told Jack that he needed to make a decision for himself, and he told me he was going to stay. Jack left soon after. I headed out from the hallway into the band room and another saxophone player who came in late explained his situation to me. I started walking out to the field with him and Jack caught up to me and told me that he was feeling sick and wasn’t sure that he was going to stay. I told him again to make his own decision as an adult. I told him to go inside and get his horn. I went out to work with the saxophone players and he never came out.

I wonder if those couple minutes when I left Jack and his mother alone in the hallway if she convinced him to leave. I could have been harder on him. I know that in some ways his Jack and his mom wanted me to put my foot down and give him an ultimatum saying that he HAD to stay. I’m not in the position to make that kind of statement and I wanted to challenge him as a adult. But perhaps he wasn’t ready for that. Was I wrong to not push him harder to stay? Perhaps, but was I wrong to challenge him to make his own decisions like an adult, no.

I worked with the saxophones and the bigger band later in the rehearsal and on the drive home I found myself not so much frustrated but angry with Jack’s mother. First reason: I appreciate that she made Jack come to rehearsal but the kid was crying and it would have been so embarrassing for Jack if this was a regular rehearsal and not an early sectional. If it had been a regular rehearsal there would have been other kids everywhere, right outside the office and in the band room. I know you have to push your kids but is it worth it at the risk of only making Jack feel worse.

Second reason: what kind of parent leaves their kid alone in the office to talk to a student teacher when the child is crying? I understand that maybe Mr. S would have another perspective or some better advice to give him. But I’m not Mr. S. I’m the student teacher and I’m flattered that she felt that I could help him, but I am also very surprised that she would trust me, someone who doesn’t have the credentials and the background of a hired teacher to basically parent her kid for her. Teachers can be a great resource for parents to better understand their own children. But at this stage in my understanding, bringing a child who is having a breakdown into a teachers office and leaving him or her to talk to someone who is not a consoler, and not even a certified teacher to pull a kid together does not seem like something a parent should do. If anything a teacher should be handing students off to their parents during a breakdown, not the other way around.

Third reason: I know Jack has special needs. But the fact that there were so many similarities to the attitudes of Jack and his mom makes really wonder which of challenges are from his environment and which are from his own biology. I feel a need for a case worker to talk to about Jack. If I could find what problems Jack has that come from his special needs and which ones come from parental influences then I could work with him better. The things from the family, the attitudes and viewpoints on life can be worked with. I can show him a better way, a different answer, a brighter light. The challenges that come from his own special needs are things that I need accommodate and accept to a certain extent.

Fourth reason: Jack’s mother complained that band wasn’t the safe haven for Jack, she hoped it would become. People make their own safe havens in life. It angers me that Jack’s mom has placed these blinders on Jack so that he cannot see the greatness around him in the band. I feel like Jack is trying. I believe he loves being in band. I believe he can find the positivity, but unfortunately, he’s fighting a force a negativity from his mom that blinds him from the light that is the soul of this band. I think in some ways, Jack’s mom wants him to quit more then Jack actually does.

What’s the point? Why bother work with Jack and his mom? Jack will probably never be a music major, he will never sit first chair. Why not give up on him? His potential for greatness is no different then any other student. You would never think to give up on the exemplary first chair clarinet player because there is true greatness there. Jack has greatness I can see it in how he works and he tries. The kid has heart. He can achieve a greater self.

The deeper reasons why I find it impossible to give up on Jack is that in doing that it would be giving up on me. To say that Jack is not worth the effort would be say that I am not worth the effort. The hours my teachers spent on me weren’t worth the effort. The time I spend trying to better myself, as a person is not worth the effort. Giving up on Jack, saying I no longer believe in his potential to be better man, is giving up on my own belief in me and my belief that the greatest potential in hearts of men is for love.

Great teachers harness the power of love to change lives. It takes courage to reach out to students. It takes strength to not let the negativity of life pull us down to our baser pessimism. It takes persistence to not give up on when challenges arise that we may have no idea how to deal with. Most of all it takes belief, believing in lost causes, believing in the positivity of the youth in a world filled with anger and hate, and most of all believing in ourselves, that we can make a difference in the world and in ourselves.

Today didn’t discourage me from wanting to be a teacher. If anything it made me even more sure that this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I know this because I still want to go back tomorrow. Do I think I have what it takes? I’m not sure but what I do know is that I have the love. And I think if I got that I’ll be ok.

I guess we’ll see.

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