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Thwarted by a Tennis Ball…

I have this one class… We all have the one class right?  Well, in this one class, my students are doing terrible in school. I mean TERRIBLE… Not all of them, but more than 50% are about to fail their freshman/sophomore year. It’s not really a class, it’s more like a homeroom, but even so… I see them every other day for anywhere between 45 minutes to an hour and a half, and I feel a sense of responsibility to help them. So, last year, I noticed that they were struggling with school and I was really frustrated. Because the thing about this homeroom time is that teachers are supposed to use this time to remediate students who are struggling. But some of my students were never being requested by anyone, even though they were failing nearly every class.  Two of them completely failed 9th grade by the end of the year.  I tried so much to reach these students last year, but nothing worked….

Eye Roll

Counseling – One by one, I would bring each student into my office for a meeting on their grades, their future plans, and to find out in general, what was going on in their lives. I found out some interesting things and was able to help a few with little things. For example, I found out that Benni (no, that’s not his real name…), wasn’t hardly ever eating. I asked him if we could get him paperwork to be on the free and reduced lunch program and he refused over and over again. Finally, weeks later, he came to see me and asked for the paperwork. He brought it in the very next day. He has actually been doing better since then! But … for the rest of my students, these counseling sessions ended in me being more frustrated with their lack of response and their disrespect for me, frankly… And being an orchestra director, I was NOT used to being treated that way… It really surprised me and I found it really difficult to relate to them…

Building Rapport – Then I tried just sitting with them during this time and inquiring about their lives, letting them ask me questions even though they didn’t have anything to do with school. I thought this would help, but I actually think it made things worse.  At one point, one of the students said “You don’t curse?!?!?!  Man, you are NOTHING like us… You just don’t get where we at.” Another student asked if I’ve ever done drugs and I said no and he said, “I don’t know anyone who’s never done drugs…” Try as I might, I just couldn’t relate to these students…

One of these is not like the other

                By the time this new school year began, one of my students had dropped out of school over the summer, another had completely failed 9th grade AND summer school… So he was repeating 9th grade while everyone else was in 10th grade. And then, they placed two new students into my class. The first, Jose (NO, NOT HIS REAL NAME!), kept bragging to everyone about his time in Juvi and how he went there for stabbing a teacher with his pencil… The other one was suspended during the first week of school for talking back to her teacher and then talking back to the administrator.  And there I was, Orchestra Director of the Year, at a complete and utter loss… How in the world was I going to reach these students?

Finally, I realized what I needed. We needed something, anything, to be able to build a relationship upon. So, like any music teacher would do, I turned their class into a musical ensemble… I decided that I would bring them together by forming a percussion ensemble.  We started on boxes and the students DESTROYED them by banging on them, but they seemed to have a lot of fun with the boxes… So then, I spent a ton of time emailing music teachers, begging for supplies for free because, let’s face it, my school didn’t have the money for me to buy all this new equipment.  My music teacher friends were incredibly generous.  They were so happy to help me with this brilliant idea!  I received more than enough drums and mallets, and other percussive equipment.  So, we continued our drumming but on real drums.  At first, I noticed a slight improvement.  Things were getting better with their grades, attendance, and motivation.  Then, as the school year picked up, the students got busier and less and less interested in drumming… Fast forward to just a few weeks ago when we weren’t playing at all during class.  At the end of the first semester, I took a look at students’ grades and once again, the ones I was most worried about were failing.  So, I thought, okay, let’s try to get back into drumming.  It worked before, but we stopped and now these students are struggling again.

SO I tried, but nobody was all that interested.  Then, some of my orchestra students started coming in and drumming with me.  A few of my homeroom students joined in… And THEN… And THEN… THIS KID THROWS a tennis ball into the circle… I was sooo incensed!  How dare he throw a tennis ball at us!  My first reaction was anger and frustration but then….


One of the students started bouncing the tennis ball on the drum… (Not at all what I had wanted), but then, all of a sudden more and more of my students wanted a drum… We are basically now playing drumhead tennis… And it’s working… They LOVE it!  When the ball goes out of the circle they even beat a pattern on the drums and increase the tempo until the ball is back into play. It has actually become really fun and has now even encouraged the kids who are failing to join!

Since “TRUMMING” (Tennis Drumming…), attendance has improved in my homeroom and my students have even willingly shown me their grades. Jose (my bragging about being in Juvi kid) has since been sent to another school. But before he left, he came to see me and said he plans to come back. He even said “I don’t care what classes I take when I come back, but I told them… I am NOT coming back unless they give me you as a homeroom teacher…” My eyes brimming with tears, he actually hugged me… This enormous, Juvi-bragging kid, hugged ME… I couldn’t believe it…

ugly cry face.jpg

Anything we can do to build rapport with our students is a step in the right direction… And so, even if my drumming was thwarted, I think we have discovered something (as ridiculous as it may be) to finally build our relationship together so that my students will come to school, will have some kind of a mentor and confidant, and will know that some aspect of school can be enjoyable. And remember, it wasn’t specifically the TRUMMING that built this relationship, it was the openness to trying something my students wanted to do. It was me constantly trying to relate to them. If we try enough times, we are probably going to get there eventually… And even if not, the students, they will notice our efforts and eventually, they’ll appreciate them.

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