Haim G. Ginott said:
I’ve come to a frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It’s my personal approach that creates the climate. It’s my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher, I possess a tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated and a child humanized or dehumanized.
As I read and reflect on this quote, I shamefully share the following story.
I am a member of the #compelledtribe. We have been charged to share our “my bad” story as novice educators. Though I am not proud of what I am going to share, it is important. If others can learn from my mistakes, perhaps I can spare the heartache of students with inexperienced teachers. I was once that inexperienced teacher who hadn’t quite learned to honor and respect the needs of her students.
I was a High School Band Director and it was time to audition for “chairs”. First Chair of any section was a coveted position. It meant recognition, solos, and leadership amongst fellow band members. As a novice teacher, I was proud of the way I was going to handle auditions. I knew all there was to know about auditioning, after all. I was a teacher and a performer. It was very equitable. Students were assigned a student identification number per section as well as a musical selection and some scales they would be performing. They also received a rubric with expectations and specific points awarded for each performance category. I was READY to assess them and determine who would sit which chairs for the beginning of the school year.
In addition, students received solo or small group lessons prior to the audition. I wanted each student to have the opportunity to be successful. I figured if they were willing to practice and work hard for first or second chair, they’d be willing to strive for their best this year and be invaluable members to the band’s overall performance.
The day of auditions arrived and students were nervous and excited. I was too. It was my opportunity to be organized and run a very fair and equitable audition process. “Blind” auditions commenced. I listened to every student who was interested in auditioning for a chair. There were many. I was a new teacher and they wanted to impress me just like I hoped to impress them. I used rubrics and rated what I heard.
When the tabulations were done, I began aligning student identification numbers to individual students. As I finished, I discovered “Jennifer” who was a senior and, from what I understood, always sat first chair. But according to my results, she was NOT ranked first.
To this day I am embarrassed by my actions. I completed the tabulations and posted the chair rankings on the instrument closet door, throwing caution to the wind. My thoughts were, “Oh well. I know what I heard.” When the students arrived, “Jennifer” was hysterical.
She lost first chair to a sophomore.
This caused complete havoc in the band. What I had hoped would unify the students and gain respect for me, completely backfired. My “process” was not effective. Students took sides. Parents were angry. Administration was involved.
There were several options I could have chosen. For a true, appropriate audition process, another music teacher should have listened with me, or even a third. We should have listened, discussed, reflected, and agreed on each chair candidate as they were auditioning. This also would have assisted in defending my process. With the way I did things it was “my ears” against student performances. Imagine the criticism of the new music teacher – me!
If “Jennifer” truly did not get the top spot, a meeting with “Jennifer” and a call home to her parents before the rankings were posted surely would have been appropriate.
I lost credibility that day. But more importantly, I crushed a student. It was awful.
I share this story in the hopes that novice teachers will learn. Maybe this post will find its way to “Jennifer” and she will understand what a foolish, inexperienced teacher I was and forgive my careless act toward a talented young lady.
Go forth and be cautious in your teachings, for you have the ability to shape a child forever.
Seek opportunities to show you care. The smallest gestures often make the biggest difference. ~ John Wooden