Boundaries and why we love them

Tuesday was a tough day, and reminded me why my job is hard. I’m not sure exactly what it was, I am of the opinion that the closer you get to Christmas the harder it is for kids to focus in school. At the same time, I realize that we are expecting something phenomenal out of our students and more specifically out of their behavior.

By the time we get our students they have been in school since 7:30am, some of them get up at 5:00am to get on the school bus. As of our most recent enrollment numbers 25% of our kids are in special education, some in full day special ed. Two of our students have TSS workers who accompany them to their music classes. All of our classes are mixed grades, mixed ages, sometimes siblings end up in the same room. So it makes sense that it is sometimes extremely difficult for the students to focus.

I realized early on this year that someone needed to be the swift arm of justice, and as the director that roll falls to me. Paul and I often play a well planned game of “Good Cop – Bad Cop” with the kids. He’s a great good cop, I might be an even better bad cop. It’s funny, I’m 5’5″, I have a high voice, I look like I’m 12, but to the kids I’m the big scary disciplinarian. I’m the person who’s been punched this year, had a chair thrown at me, pulled a kid out from under a desk who told me to “shut my ugly face”, Paul and I call moms, get yelled at by grandmas. But we are also the people who often get the biggest hugs, we get to hear the chorus in the hallway of  “its time for music!”, children come to us to show off and let us know how well they are doing. I have the privilege of giving out so much praise because each child knows where my boundaries are.

Tuesday was hard. Our wind and brass students just could not focus. Their teachers were hard at work, doing a great job of trying to engage them but it was clear that we were not going to be able to get anything accomplished that day. I stopped the class. We had a 30 minute quiet time where every student wrote an essay about their behavior, how it could be improved and what it is that makes them believe they can improve *. I locked up all the instruments and no one took them home that night.  It was hard, I felt bad, the kids felt bad but I knew I had done the right thing. Everyone had violated our classroom rules and they needed to be reminded that we expect more of them.

If what we are searching for in these programs is “social change”, we have to teach our children what is socially acceptable. It’s not that I expect to walk into a silent classroom, but we do not serve our students eventual success by having low or no expectations on their behavior. Some of our kids have some really rough, heartbreaking life stories but if we want them to be contributing, amazing members of society they need to know that we love them and care about them by us (the adults in their lives) endlessly reminding them that we have insanely high expectations of them and that we believe in them.

As I said to the kids on Tuesday: “We believe in you too much to let you act like this.”

Wednesday, I got big smiles and hugs.

* Most of the essays were your run of the mill “I need to stop talking. I will raise my hand.” But one special essay included this, “I want to be a professional musician, so I will improve my behavior”.

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2 responses to “Boundaries and why we love them

  1. It doesn’t make it any easier for kids to start putting out Christmas decorations right after Halloween. By December, even adults have trouble focusing. You are doing the right thing being the “bad” cop. The kids really need you to do this.

  2. Great post, Delia! I know what you mean about how hard it can be to get people to focus when break is near. I teach at Temple (and I am also 5’5, so I know what you mean about size), and the week before Thanksgiving, it was brutal to try to get people to pay attention, even though finals were coming up. Still, it’s amazing to see what happens when you get through.

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