I continue to both observe/ mentor and co-teach 7th grade with a colleague at his school and isn’t that a pleasure! A challenging situation with 24 kids for an hour, two classes back-to-back with different repertoire and meeting three times a week. He’s handled it so well. But of course, they’re 7th graders and he’s outnumbered 24 to 1 (a perplexing situation to people in cultures where all ages hang out, I might add). It isn't easy.
Today was the next-to-last chance to review pieces and prepare for a performance. A kid who I had noticed the first class was, shall we say, a bit off task, less than fully with the program today. But in that first class, I noticed he was a good dancer and gave him a moment in the spotlight that was just what was needed. So my friend and were talking about him at lunch just as he happened to pass by. On his own, the child told the teacher that he would try harder tomorrow and that was my opening. So I said:
“Thank you for noticing that you needed to apologize. We needed better from you in today’s rehearsal. But I just want to let you know I love kids like you, the kind that drive us teachers crazy. You have a lively and strong energy and while most teachers might tell you to put that away in a drawer, I’m telling you you wouldn’t be you without it. I don’t want to give the impression that we don’t like it. The question is what you do with it and where you place it. Our recommendation is to put it into the music, to use in to serve the group, elevate the music, bring some spirit to the upcoming performance.
Most teachers would love kids to just be quiet and obedient and believe me, there are moments when that’s very nice for a teacher! But especially with music, we want to see your whole spirit. If great artists were simply polite, nobody would want to see them perform. We want to see their extravagance, but not in a random, self-involved way. They have to combine it with the discipline of artistic control.“
This might be a conversation that this kid forgot about two minutes later or it might be one that sticks with him and echoes far into his future. Who knows? My job simply was to say it, to tell him something a little different than what he probably expected or usually gets. And yes, the energy Martin Luther King needed to do what he did in service of truth, beauty and justice for all is the same energy the Wall St. mogul turns towards his own selfish ends. We should celebrate that energy while educating the people who have it to aim it at the right place. And start them young.
Just a thought.