To explain, I need to provide some context. For the past few years I have been assigning students to listen to various songs. They are eclectic--some of them have significance in music history (for example, a Gregorian chant). Some have historical or cultural significance (for example, in January, we listen to songs of the Civil Rights movement). Some are assigned simply because I think they are good songs that an educated person should hear. Essentially, though, I'm hoping to broaden the musical horizons of my students, and I am constantly telling them to be open, to not focus on if they like it, but on why someone else might like it.
The second part of this assignment is that they have to respond to the song, usually by answering four or five questions. The questions focus on helping them understand and appreciate the song (as opposed to "liking" it), and also on learning to articulate a thought, then supporting it with evidence. They can't say, "I didn't like it." Instead, they have to say, "The vocal style is not something I enjoy. It's too loud and strong."
Well, yesterday, I heard some students talking about Justin Bieber. I rolled my eyes and said something snarky. These students immediately jumped on my comments. They were very respectful, but reminded me what I've said all these years. They used my words about being open to new musical styles, to trying to understand why someone else might like a song, and so on.
It hit me really hard. Part of me felt a lot of humility, realizing I had been rather hypocritical. Part of me felt incredibly proud of them, both that they could articulate a logical argument in a respectful way, and because they have clearly listened to what I said.
So, I agreed to go home, listen to a song of their choice and answer five questions (using complete sentences). I listened to a song from Justin Bieber's new album and was surprised by the depth and meaning I heard in the lyrics. Answering five questions ended up yielding some very poignant reflections that have given me much to think about in my roles as a husband, father, and teacher. It also got me thinking about my walk with God.
I next listened and responded to a song by Ed Sheeran, that got me thinking a lot about how I'm doing as a husband, and how I can improve.
I learned a lot about my students. It is easy to see the younger generation as not being as [whatever] as we were--diligent, focused, engaged, etc. etc. etc. But I have to say that I was impressed. These songs have some depth to them, and the fact that my students like them tells me something important about the depth inside of them. I understand these students better, I think, which means I can better see their potential and try to help them achieve that.
One of my favorite writers wrote these words: "It's a very ancient saying, but a true and honest thought that if you become a teacher, by your pupils you'll be taught."
That statement is truer than I ever would have guessed before becoming a teacher. I learned something yesterday, something important and profound from thirteen year olds. Most of all, I was reminded to listen. It's important for people who do a lot of talking, such as parents and teachers, to listen.
My students taught me something. And I'm just a little different--and, I think, better--today.