Friday, May 27, 2016

Year 6: Week 36 – Students Of Color, Music, and Glory

A saxophone player takes his instrument home for the first time this year to practice.

A band student asks to sing a vocal solo, which has never happened before.

A boy who previously had not shone interest in choir works hard on a vocal solo.

A quiet band student comes out of his shell and performs a rap in front of the entire school.

A girl who expresses little enthusiasm for choir, asks her teacher to come to music class to watch her perform with the choir.


All of these 8th grade students did these unexpected and remarkable things for two different songs “Glory” from the film Selma and Bruce Springsteen’s “American Skin.”

All of these students were students of color.


The 8th grade choir teacher and I wanted to do some songs that were about social issues this school year. Studying issues related to social justice is in the fabric of our school and we thoughts that if we did songs that had deeper layers of meaning our students would be more invested in class.

Initially, only the choir was working on “Glory.” This song reflected topic the students were studying in their history class and the kids really like the song. So I arranged a band part to go along with it. “American Skin” (which I wrote about teaching in this post), wasn’t as enthusiastically embraced initially, however the students were respectful and interested in the background. Over time, both the band and choir students came to really enjoy this song.

Then the choir teacher and I noticed that students we didn’t expect were taking ownership of these songs by volunteering for solos, and putting in extra time to work on these songs. All of these students were students of color.

For some of these students, these songs were the favorite songs they had ever performed in their middle school career and they expressed this openly to us as teachers. Their pride in their work inspired their whole grade and us as their teachers.

Today the choir teacher and I agreed that we have to choose some music every year that speaks directly the experience of our students of color. These students like all people of color in America feel degrees of marginalization, and discrimination. This combined with the social issues of middle school and their development of their racial identity, makes their lives challenging in unique and profound ways. These songs validated these students’ feelings and life experiences and music class became a place they felt validated and understood.

I’m proud that we were able to reach these students through music, but more than that, I am proud of these students. They put faith in us as teachers, made themselves vulnerable in front of their peers, and displayed bravery in front of the entire school community performing these songs with meaning and pride.

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