My specialty is sight singing. I teach it to my beginning middle school students from day 1 of sixth grade. By eighth grade, they are fluent and competent at a level higher than my own when I was a freshman in college. Scheduling limitations cause it to be impossible for me to have a beginners choir for 8th grade.
Inevitably, in a school of 1600 students, an issue will arise in which I must consider bending the rule that beginners can't join the advanced chorus during their 8th grade year.
I've tried it. It doesn't work most of the time. They get frustrated. They never catch up, and they leave without the solid understanding of the material. It's simply too much for them to absorb.
When I'm asked to consider bending that rule by counselors, administrators or parents, I always say this: "Do you speak fluent French"? The answer is always "No!". So, then I say, "Joining chorus in 8th grade is like dropping off a 13 year old in France without parents and with no money and being told, 'Figure it out!' How do you think that will make him feel?"
The crystallizes it for everyone involved and leads to a productive conversation in which the parent, administrator and child either check in or check out. If they check in, the parent is on board to support the child in this major commitment of catching up. If they check out, fortunately, I share with them that our feeder high school has a beginning chorus program as well as an advanced one and their child can start there.
So, in walks Faiz who just moved to the USA from Afghanistan with his family of 7.
This eager 14 year old boy with a changed voice walks into my room during the 4th week of school and he says in broken English, "I want to join chorus. I want to be a rapper."
Well...you can imagine the thoughts that ran through my head. I thought to myself, "There isn't a snowballs chance in..." Well, you know the rest.
I promptly created obstacles. "I need to talk to your mother and you at the same time before I'll even consider it. ...And we don't rap in here. Sorry. It's just not my thing."
With his bright eyes, he said, "Ok".
Well, long story short, it took it about 4 failed attempts (misunderstandings due to his poor English), but he got his mother, dressed in traditional Muslim clothing, into my room during my planning period.
I thought...Wow. He really wants to do this.
His mother speaks no English at all. He told me that she understands it, but she cannot speak.
So, I rattled off the difficulties he would face if I let him join 5 weeks into his 8th grade year. I shared that he would be in a class of 85 children who were fluent sight singers and that I would not be able to help him or slow down for him. I told him that if he failed the quizzes, he would need to accept the grade.
He didn't flinch.
He translated for his mother. She said something to him. He translated, "She says that she knows I really want to do this."
So, with 300 students in my program...and knowing that he would likely fall between the cracks....I relented and let him join.
One of my top students volunteered to meet him each morning to tutor him. I thought to myself..."He'll never show up".
...and with each passing day for three weeks, he did.
He struggles. He isn't caught up...I mean...You can't possibly catch up on this much material and so many skills that are built with steady, daily work in just three weeks....but this child keeps coming and keeps working. It's amazing and it's inspirational.
...and he still wants to be a rapper. I told him that Atlanta is a great place for it. I may just have to start trying to help him connect some of those dots.
Here is this child...this child who has probably seen more horrors than I could ever see in my lifetime. He is 13. The US invaded Afghanistan 13 years ago. He has only known that life.
...Here is this child who is so excited to be in this country....the same way my ancestors were excited to be here...they wanted a new life free of something that they felt restricted them in the country from which they came....This young 13 year old who is pushing to better himself and take advantage of all of the opportunities that he has here.
Well...all I can say is that is renews me.
Faiz renews my spirit, and his story will help me continue to hold all of my students accountable.
There are no excuses.
If you want it, you will find a way.
That's all. Less talk. More do.
...and when you don't "do", consequences occurs. By not implementing them, we are not doing our students a favor. In fact, we are doing the opposite.
Should we encourage? Yes. Should be try positive solutions? Of course. They are middle school children! It's our job to try many types of solutions when we try to awaken them.
But ultimately, consequences have to occur when our students, regardless of circumstance, don't meet a clearly stated criteria.
We cannot be afraid to state it, expect that they will meet it and follow through when they don't.
It's up to us.
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