I found a note today. It was on the floor of the chorus room and had fallen out of a middle schooler’s backpack. It said (names have been changed):
To Mr. Slate,
I got a detention from Mr. Allet when you were absent because I was “not quiet” when we were putting stuff away. In my opinion I said one thing to someone. Then the sub gave me a thumbs up for effort in a drawing I did when I was done with work which caused a chatter. As I put my work away Mr. Allet saw everyone trying to talk while I was putting it away and thought I was talking. I feel as though he is singling me out and accusing me and one time I told everyone to stop talking but I got in trouble by Mr. Allet because I was talking. And I am confused to what to do and I feel I will get in trouble either way. What can I do?
From a Confused Student,
This letter is certainly admirable...she’s in a sticky situation and seems to want to be proactive to fix it. Pretty mature for an adolescent! It’s possible that Jessica is either unaware of her actions, or how other people perceive her actions. She also seems to feel like the teacher is singling her out while her other classmates are behaving the same way. She is clearly frustrated, probably upset and admittedly confused. And then she walked into chorus class. Jessica was clearly distracted today and I couldn’t figure out why...that was until I found the note on the floor.
There is so much we don’t see...so much we don’t know. Often we are too caught up in our rehearsals and teaching our content that we forget that these kids come in to class with baggage. Sometimes their baggage is light and a good music rehearsal can be helpful for them to get through something troubling. Other times, their baggage is heavy and they can’t concentrate at all. Sometimes their attention is not in your classroom and when a student is struggling, instead of solely addressing the behavior, get curious and look for the “why.” Sometimes this means a chat after class to find out what’s going on, or maybe giving them a knowing smile, acknowledging their bad day and granting them some time to collect themselves and regain their focus. Whatever it is we do, we must provide an emotionally safe space for our students and be understanding of their feelings. It is this very environment that helps make the music classroom a place where students want to be.