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In which a xylophone changes everything

I have a student (let's call him Max) who has been giving me trouble all year. He is often defiant, refuses to participate or to follow any directions, and stirs up the other kids to make mischief as well. On multiple occasions, he's started running in circles around my room screaming to avoid doing what he's supposed to be doing. Nobody has known what to do with him: not the classroom teacher, not the principal, and definitely not me.

Last week, after a particularly rough class, I kept him after class to talk about his behavior. I tried to explain why his behavior was inappropriate and unacceptable while he kept dinking away on a xylophone he'd pulled off of my shelf--without my permission, I might add. I was getting frustrated that he wasn't listening when he suddenly looked up at me, no trace of anger or defiance on his face, and said, "Mrs. E, I just really love playing instruments."

Well, I was floored. I wasn't aware that "Max" loved anything at all except causing mayhem. To be honest, I had long ago stopped seeing him as a child and instead thought of him as more of a...chaos machine. But here he was, a kid with way too much pain and sadness and confusion in his life, who just wanted a chance to play some musical instruments.

So we made a deal. If he could follow directions, participate, and be respectful in music, I would let him come hang out in my room during my prep time and play any instruments he wanted. It's been a week since we started this system, and he's earned "instrument time" twice now. While I mostly leave him alone to explore the instruments on his own, I've taken a little bit of time to talk to him and get to know him as well. And it turns out that "Max" is a really sweet kid. He loves action movies, he adores his little brother, and he wants to be a police officer when he grows up. He'd rather be in school than at home, and he wants to learn how to play the piano someday. When I showed him how to play one of the songs we'd been learning in class, his face lit up in the brightest smile I'd ever seen.

I don't know how it happened, but in just a week I've gone from feeling nothing but frustration for this kid to loving him so much it feels like my heart is going to explode.  I had been seeing him as a problem, an obstacle toward my teaching. He will probably not have perfect behavior for the rest of the year. I will probably still have to struggle to help him make better choices in class. But for just a second there, I was given the chance to see him as a person, as a child of God. And that has changed everything.

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