Once upon a time, in a land not too far away, there once was a high school music teacher named Mr. Edwards. Now, Mr. Edwards was unlike any other or let’s say unlike most high school music teachers. He realized long ago that Johnny-student was more important than the Key of B-Flat. Mr. Edwards truly believed in people first and music second. He was so sure of this that he constantly shared stories about people, not about the music…about people. As I am doing with you today.
Mr. Edwards started teaching when he was super young. Five years older than his students! Super young. He would read stories to his students. Usually on Wednesday (Mr. Edwards would refer to that day as “we-day,” Mr. Edwards would sit in front of his band or jazz band or orchestra, open his CHICKEN SOUP FOR THE TEENAGE SOUL book, and read a short story or a poem to his high school music students. He would then talk to his students about the moral of the story and how knowing that moral would make his students better people. Mr. Edwards truly believed that better people would make better music. There are stories how mean people who were great musicians would be fired because they were mean people. For some strange reason, people who do what they are asked and are nice are usually forgiven for their musical mistakes. We like to be with people who follow rules and are nice.
Well, as Mr. Edwards got older the CHICKEN SOUP dried up. Reading to the students wasn’t as cool as it was when he was younger. Mr. Edwards noticed as he got older, the same inspirational “wow” message at twenty-three-years-old was now – just another lecture from a man who is the same age as his students’ parents and that inspirational “wow” message twenty-seven years ago is now Charlie Brown’s teacher’s voice. His students would respond to him when he pulled out a story, “Mr. Edwards, all we want to do is play music.” When at twenty-three-years-old, “Mr. Edwards, could you read us a story? We really like that.” As Mr. Edwards got old, his cool motivational stories were treated just like the toys in the TOY STORY movie when they go under the bed; so did the CHICKEN SOUP books. Mr. Edwards would even show these cool inspirational six minute videos in the hope that the students would continue to understand that better people would lead to better music. Now, the criticism was turning hurtful, “Mr. Edwards, you’re wasting our time. We don’t care about that stuff. It’s stupid.” Parent complaints led to meetings with administrators about inappropriate / unprofessional use of class time. And so, what made the twenty-three; thirty-three, even forty-year-old high school music teacher cool was being put under the bed.
Mr. Edwards noticed he was getting old and there was little he could do about that. When one of his students approached him and said, “Mr. Edwards, you know when you said when we problems with a friend we should talk to them?”
Mr. Edwards looked at this teenage boy / one of his students and said, “Mark, before you go on, I hope you don’t think I am your friend and you are going to tell me you have a problem with me as if I am your friend?”
“Well, you did say, if I had a problem with a friend I should talk to him.”
“Mark, I am not your friend. I am your teacher. There’s a difference,” responded Mr. Edwards.
Mark was devastated. Mr. Edwards was confused by Mark’s devastation (Mark’s parents’ word). How did this teenage boy think this forty-seven-year-old, fat, bald high school music teacher was his friend? Sure enough. Following that meeting, the relationship decayed. Mark was never the same with Mr. Edwards, to the point of anything Mr. Edwards would say would now be hurtful or wrong. Mark’s mom and dad also were shocked that a teacher would tell his student, “We are not friends.” My goodness. Parents! You believe that teachers and students are friends?! How did this happen? When did teachers accept this role of “friend?” Is this healthy? Is Mr. Edwards out-of-the-loop? So many questions.
There was a time when the twenty-three year-old Mr. Edwards was probably a “friend” to his students, but at forty-seven? Why would any teenage boy or girl want a friendship with a forty-seven-year-old man? Why would parents want their child’s teachers to be “friends” with their students? Ah. You’re correct. The word “friend” has changed. The meaning of the word “friend” has a different tone / context. As we get older, we cherish that word friend. As we grow, a friend is someone you would share your most intimate thoughts with and someone probably only has one or two best-friends. For gosh sakes, some folks believe Jesus Christ had only three friends: James, John, and Peter and one of those friends – three times, denied knowing Jesus Christ. A friend is someone who is more worthy than a click on the “accept” button. In today’s FACEBOOK world, it is understandable for this teenage boy to think that Mr. Edwards was his friend. Inaccurate. But, understandable. Also, in 2016, more and more adults are becoming “friends” of children. Look at how some parents are making “deals” with their own children as if to say, “We are on the same level.” Students, more so than ever, truly believe that children and adults are on the same level. More and more adults are encouraging children / teens to address them by their first name instead of using titles, such as, Mr. or Mrs. Mr. Edwards has to constantly remind his instructional staff, “you are Mr. Smith, not Jimmy!” Students need to have distance between themselves and their teacher and frankly — most adults.
Mr. Edwards knew he was getting old when he would confront wrong / unacceptable behavior and that confrontation was now labeled … an attack. Mr. Edwards – the man who read stories, gave motivational talks, watched inspirational videos is now … an attacker. How did this happen? He got old! That’s how it happened! Today’s student has a difficult time when he / she is confronted. Look at the word “confront.” Confront: to present for acknowledgment, contradiction, etc.; set face to face. Now look at the word “attack.” Attack: to try to destroy, especially with verbal abuse; to blame or abuse violently or bitterly. I love that when one checks http://www.thesaurus.com/browse/confront?s=t one will not read “attack” listed as a synonym! When one hears “attack,” one immediately thinks he / she is out to hurt someone. Nothing Mr. Edwards did was done with the intent of “attacking” his students or anyone, but it is so easy to say, “Mr. Edwards attacked me” when, in fact, he confronted you. When one hears “confront,” one immediately thinks he / she is sharing his / her side of the topic. When a teacher holds a student accountable for their work, the teacher needs to be sure to watch their tone / body language and such. When Mr. Edwards holds the student accountable, it is the thin-line between “confront” vs. “attack.” And believe me when I tell you, Mr. Edwards confronts his students because he loves his students. Words are important. Choose your words wisely. Know the difference between confront and attack. Also, understand that when a person is put on the defensive, I bet that person does feel attacked, oppose to being confronted.
So, does this fairy tale have a happy ending? No. No? Come on. Every fairy tale has a happy ending. Disney shows this to be true! Ah-ha! Go do some research on how Disney changed those fairy tale endings. The “real” Pinocchio is brutal. This fairy tale has no happy ending because … it isn’t over. Mr. Edwards continues to teach high school music. He goes to work wanting to change lives, but those lives are content with being who they are. So, Mr. Edwards just wades through the muck of the “I-know-better-world.” I-know-better-world includes anybody but the teacher. Teens know better. Parents know better. Administrators know better. The I-know-better-world will say from time-to-time,”Mr. Edwards attacked me!’ And since they know better, they will be correct! However, you (teens / parents / administrators) don’t understand, in the end, you attack Mr. Edwards and many other teachers. Think about it. Attacking someone who is holding you accountable is a natural response. Your response to a teacher’s admonishment may including trying to destroy that teacher (we want Mr. Edwards fired; we want Mr. Edwards gone; don’t sign-up for Mr. Edwards’ classes; Mr. Edwards is unprofessional), especially with verbal abuse (Mr. Edwards is mean; Mr. Edwards doesn’t know what he is doing; Mr. Edwards is an awful teacher); to blame or abuse violently or bitterly (fuck you Mr. Edwards; I hope Mr. Edwards dies; leaving feces in an envelope and putting it in Mr. Edwards’ classroom). Those teachers, like Mr. Edwards, who are attacked continue to love their students and have huge hearts and shoulders. Teachers are amazing. Teachers are the closest to practice “agape.”
Teachers live happily ever after (most of the time (smile).
Hope you have a great Summer vacation.