I work at a music school. While my primary position is that of an early childhood specialist, I also run a slew of other music classes as well as private lessons for all ages. I’d like to preface this article by saying I love my job. I truly love my job. It is a dream position in a field I intrinsically understand and care about and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Also, in relation to this article’s theme, I have fun and laugh every single day without fail. However, what I want to talk about in this article are the times I don’t have fun. The days I wake up and don’t quite feel like dealing with children. The hours I spend with children that are disrespectful, challenging, lethargic or defiant. The classes that leave me feeling like doing anything other than laughing, and the ways I’ve found to cope.
Challenge: You just said WHAT to me?!
My Glee Club is full of bright, talented young girls who all are 7 dreaming of 17. They walk into my classroom in the latest styles, gossiping with each other about nail polish and sleepovers and they mimic whatever television show, song, or movie is of the moment. Most of the time this doesn’t pose a problem, and I’m still young enough to remember the way it felt to be part of a group at that age and feel as if nothing existed outside of that social experience. However, one particular evening a coworker interrupted rehearsal to ask an important question. One of my most pretentious young ladies turned to him and in her witchiest voice said: “Get out of here, brownie.” This comment was particularly jaw-dropping as my coworker happens to be African American, but aside from that, having a 7 year old dictate what happens in a classroom will make any teacher – or parent – fume. Disrespect is something my parents never tolerated 20 years ago, but it still seeps its way into our circumstances.
Happy Solution: Know when to fight and when to walk away
In this certain case, I obviously made sure right away that my coworker was okay. I rushed out of the classroom after him, infuriated and embarassed, to find him doubled over in laughter. “She called me ‘brownie’!?” he shrieked. “Did you hear that?” He assured me he was unoffended and I walked back into the classroom to find my disrespectful culprit sitting on the floor with the rest of the girls, unaffected. She was ready to work when we started rehearsal again, and she didn’t cause any more problems. I realized at that point she had no idea that what she said was wrong. I also realized it was not up to me to teach her a lesson in racism or respect, at least not in the middle of rehearsal. I spoke with her mother on the phone the next day and haven’t had an issue with her since. Sometimes, picking your battles makes you just as brave as storming the castle every time.
Challenge: Can you at least ACT like you care?
Kids, like adults, can wake up with attitudes. They drag themselves to their obligations with sour faces, sneering lips and bratty phrases: “I don’t care.” “I’m tired.” or my personal favorite: “This sucks.” A 14 year old voice student of mine seemed to get joy out of everything “sucking”. If it were up to me I’d ban that word from the vernacular. The worst part of the situation is that every week I found myself dreading teaching this girl. I actually called in sick one afternoon to avoid her. The breaking point came when she walked past a group of kids rehearsing, with all of their parents within earshot, and scoffed: “Wow. They suck.” My initial instinct was to respond with “you suck, you sullen jerky child!” and that’s when I knew I had to adapt a different technique.
Happy Solution: Use it
After that night, I decided the only way I was going to be able to handle my anxiety with this young lady was to use what she was saying to get to the root of what the problem truly was. Remember Alexander and the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day? Who among us hasn’t woken up and thought moving to Australia would be the solution to all our problems? Well, with this child, it wasn’t that she was having a bad day. She was having a series of bad days. As a matter of fact, she was having a series of bad months of being bullied and ridiculed at her own school. She confided this in me when I found a song that she could relate to – trust me, it took a long time for the song to not ‘suck – and she eventually turned a small corner in her tendancy to lash out. Unfortunately, I no longer teach this girl but I walked away with my own solution to a sullen kid – take what they are saying and use it. Look deeper. There is often a less topical reason why they are acting what we’d call irrational.
Challenge: Sit Still! Listen! What are you doing? Seriously, what? Stop!
I teach an early childhood class called “Rock City” at my school that focuses on rhythm and instrument exploration, while using rock, classical and pop music to motivate and break up any kind of boring lectures or tedious drills. Like many parents and teachers I’ve spoken to, I’ve found that the 3-5 year olds of this generation are wildly different then they were when I was growing up. Not only has technology changed – I have young students who own iPhones and tablets – but the demand for information is higher and their span of attention is shorter due to their high demand for stimuli. My students cannot be left alone for one minute or they are banging the piano with a rhythm stick or trying to put their entire head in the kick drum. I’ve heard other teachers yell or blame the parents for the child’s “apparent ADHD” and I’ve also found myself looking at a classroom of wild-eyed children with screaming voices wondering how much more my brain can take.
Happy Solution: Silliness
When all else fails, I resort to being silly. I get down on the floor, and I play with the kids. I put on “Happy” by Pharrell, or an uptempo appropriate pop song, and I dance. 9 times of out 10 they will drop whatever they’re doing and dance with me. Then again, if Jimmy wants to make rhythm with sticks, I grab him a drum (while subtly closing the piano lid) and let him go to town. If Samantha is intent on experimenting with body contortion inside the hole of the kick drum, let her. If they aren’t hurting the equipment, themselves, or their neighbors, what’s the harm? Take a cue from the world’s most popular movie right now and “let it go”. Laugh at it. It’s funny. That child is trying to put her head inside a drum. It’s funny! They’re curious. They’re kids. Play with them. One of my company’s mission statements is “It’s called play for a reason.” It’s at a great thing to keep in mind not only when dealing with children, but in life. Isn’t it much more fun to laugh and play than stress the day away?