Last week, driving home from my singing lesson, I stopped the car to take the photo that appears at the bottom of this post. I needed that intervention because a couple hours before I had left one of my classes frustrated by the fact that only seven out of seventeen students had turned in their first drafts of a research essay. Singing, I realized much as I had declared to my students that I would never come to a class unprepared, I had arrived at my lesson without the requisite practice necessary to make it worthwhile. Humbled, I found solace in the view of the lake as I drove home.
The following Tuesday, my students arrived no more prepared—and in utter frustration I sent them off to the library to work on the missing drafts. That night, I awoke at three so upset—at their seeming lack of regard for the course, for their utter lack of preparedness for college level work, for my lack of pedagogical wizardry or imagination. If only I knew what I could do or assign or say to engage them. The next day, I attended an instructors’ meeting and confessed my frustration to the program coordinator and a research librarian who works with our course. I kvetched, ranted and asked for guidance. The librarian offered to meet with students to assist them with their research and the program coordinator extended condolences for the poor luck of so many unmotivated students in one class but I left unsure what to do.
As grace would have it, I had made a date for Thursday at noon to meet a woman I had read about in a local magazine, who teaches singing and improvisational music. She invited me to her house to play banjo and get acquainted. She took me upstairs to her music room where I got to play with her drum and hear her play instruments I had never met before. I left so invigorated I knew if I just carried my joy into the classroom it would help. I stopped on the way to school and got a yummy soy mocha and when I got to the classroom and found it empty, I wondered if I had scared the students away. Thankfully, they trickled in, most with drafts in hand. “We need to recalibrate the energy,” I said. I felt at ease and we met on that alluvial plain of forgiveness (it is a course in forgiveness and reconciliation after all) because goading does nothing and what mattered most was connecting so that I could find out what was going on in their eighteen-year-old minds.
I went to my car and got my banjo. One of the music ed. majors ran back to her room and returned with her flute and guitar. I wish I could tell you we made beautiful music together but we did not. She strummed and scrolled on her laptop looking for the right song to play and I noodled on my banjo as we chatted and by the end of class I loved them all again, the tall boy whose skills are so lacking and the rakishly good-looking fellow who reads his Facebook page constantly in class. I loved the often absent girl who might be dating the handsome young man (who told me Tuesday he works according to his own time frame, not due dates). I loved the girl who said “Everybody needs to see Harold and Maude,” after I mentioned it in response to a query why I play banjo. I loved the quiet young woman who had turned in her draft on time and dressed as Audrey Hepburn for Halloween. I loved the loquacious guy wearing shorts on a cold day, his shirt buttoned up like Artie on Glee. After they’d promised to bring their second drafts on time, they tromped out, all except the girl with the guitar who asked if I’d look at some of her poems. In that moment of shimmering light, it was enough to simply behold.