Derek was having a bad day. He was barely responding to my questions, and not following directions. When I asked him to make a change to the crash cymbal part he was playing, he moved very slowly to the back of the room to get his music. This, of course, irritated me because he was holding up the entire class and bringing our rehearsal to a grinding halt.
“Can you move more quickly, Derek?” I asked. “Why don’t you have your music at your music stand?”
“I’m sharing with Trenton,” he said.
“But,” I explained for what seemed like the hundredth time, “I’ve told you before to always have your own music out so you can make notes in it when needed. This kind of delay is costing you participation points,” I told him, feeling my frustration mounting.
“I don’t even want to be in Band!” he snapped.
“Why don’t you wait in the hallway? We have one too many drummers, anyway,” I popped off, instantly regretting it.
This wasn’t the first time in 20 years of teaching that I have spoken carelessly. And, sadly, it probably won’t be the last. But I have always had the policy that if I mess up like this in front of the Band, I will apologize in front of the Band. So…
“I’m sorry, Derek. That was inappropriate, and I shouldn’t have said it. Now, will you please wait for me in the hallway?” Derek headed for the door.
Turning to my student teacher, I asked, “Mr. Z., will you please lead rehearsal for a few minutes?” He came right to the podium and took over while I, too, headed for the door.
Once in the hallway, I asked in a quiet voice, “What’s going on today, Derek? I know you occasionally have an off day, but you aren’t usually like this. I don’t believe you want to quit Band after three years. Is there something you want to talk about?”
Derek’s attitude changed completely. Instead of being difficult or defiant, he was respectful.
“Me and my sister gotta go to CPS today to talk about our mom,” he said. I had to think for a moment, but I realized CPS means Child Protective Services.
“What’s going on?” I asked.
“My mom’s been doin’ drugs, and now CPS wants to ask us about it ‘cause she’s been doin’ drugs in front of us.”
It’s still hard for me to believe there are kids – a lot of them – who have to grow up in these kinds of situations.
“Well,” I offered, “there probably isn’t much I can do, but if there is, please let me know, even if you just want to come by and talk.”
“In the meantime,” I continued, “you can stay out here in the hallway if you want to. I would understand. But I’ll bet you would rather rejoin the rehearsal. Let’s get your mind on learning this music and doing your best. It will help you get this other stuff out of your head for a little bit.”
He nodded again.
“And, Derek, I really am sorry for my comment.”
“It’s o.k.,” he told me. “I’m sorry for what I said, too.”
“No problem. Let’s go back to class.”