USA in the Morning

Mr Mike's Musings

Category: School

Yet Another Almost Fight

I have seen a lot of arguments over the years as a HS teacher and marching band coach, and I knows a thing or two about how to get it to stop before it really gets started. In fact, before practice just the other day, a row broke out between two band members. As with most kids, it was probably over a trivial matter at best. It always turns out to be nonsense although to the participants at the time, it is the most important thing on earth. There is an innate desire to win in some teens. In others, they like to pick a fight out of boredom. They like the dynamics. On the other hand, I try to anticipate problems and keep problem people away from each other.

It is not always easy to stop a fight midstream, but I have a few tips you can use on your children. If you want more, see this blog: Above all, stay calm and do not enter into the melee. Do not yell or shout orders. I believe in victory without violence. I remember in the Old Rascal movies, the teacher would take Alfalfa by the ears and drag him away. If only it were that easy! I prefer the method of de-escalation that is taught in every martial arts studio across the globe. It is a principle of self defense that avoids aggression. This is an acquired skill and it comes in mighty handy when things between your students start to become physical.

It is not just a matter of “walking away” although that is an option. In a real tough situation, you can be followed. In true martial arts, it is not the honorable move. Practitioners learn how to reduce the level of intensity of an encounter that may result in considerable aggression or an “escalation” of a fight. For example, verbal attacks can result in pushes and shoves, then the fists begin to fly. I have seen it all. My job is to nip it in the bud. While a little band member tussle is not what you might encounter on the street, it does show the power of de-escalation. A teacher wants to avoid using force and relies on the use of reason to appeal to the students’ good sense. I don’t threaten either party and I don’t always know who started the trouble. You don’t want to enter into the fray. I try to solve the issue at hand.

In real life, I wouldn’t challenge an attacker which means a verbal come down, finger pointing, or a come-on gesture. With kids, you can command them, but if they are in the midst of it, it might not work. You can grab them by the shoulders while repeating “calm down.” Above all, you must gain control. Remind them who the boss is. I try to de-escalate the situation while maintaining their self respect. I always tell parents that your mouth can get you into trouble, but it can also get you out.

Teenagers’ Sense of Humor

As Mr. Mike, I love directing the band. The students are at that age when they respond to you and sometimes there is even a bond that forms over time. This happens when some kids are part of the band year after year until graduation. We are joined by the music and by the experiences we encounter over the school year. I enjoy the group activities, and sometimes they get out of hand; but overall the kids are a good group and behave appropriately as needed. They don’t give me a rough time. That is not the nature of a school band. Most of all, they enjoy practice and participating as agreed. I rarely have a no show or a bad attitude.

We all understand our roles and perform them to perfection. Meanwhile, I get some ribbing from the students as they feel comfortable with me. They tell me their favorite family stories and share personal experiences. It is very healthy to have an outlet at this age—at a time when parents don’t often listen. And then there are those times when our relationship spills over into the realm of jokes and tricks. They hide things from me just to get my goat. They whisper among themselves knowing that I want in on the information. If they don’t get a reaction, they will continue on until I beg to be told. I would describe band practice and performance as a wonderful time for everyone without exception. Kids tend to stay with it as a result and they get better and learn to hone their skills.

Sometimes the joking is rather benign. In fact, most times it is and it is never meant to hurt anyone’s feelings—mine or other students. Sometimes it is playful and just lets me know that they are paying attention to my presence. They like to tease or mess up the field formations now and then for a little harmless fun. For another example, they have named my tactical LED flashlight that I found at, Tacki. Not too imaginative, but I get the point. This tells me that they have noticed its frequent presence, especially early in the morning during practice when it is still a bit dark out. They associate it with me. I also use it late in the afternoon as the light grows dim—as the sun sets on the field. It is a beautiful time of day but we all need a bit of illumination to find our way around.

I am sure that I will have other stories to tell, but for now the existence of Tacki amuses me and tickles my funny bone. I can’t say enough about how I enjoy the band and each and every member. Each student has his own talent and personality. In the future, I am sure you will hear more. Individual emerge as they grow more comfortable with me and the mentor relationship. Then groups also form as friendships blossom.

My Nemesis

I have my turf at school. Others have theirs, and often never the twain shall meet. But one time it did, with some interesting consequences. A music teacher and the glee club coach have a lot in common. A music teacher and the home ec variety do not. What’s more, in that individual, I met my “nemesis.”

Nemesis comes from Greek mythology. (See, I know more than stuff about bands.) She was the spirit of divine retribution, a concept that was rampant in those ancient days. Now it has toned down to mean an opponent or rival; and in my case, it was of the female kind. It was kind of like a feud between a sewing machine and a guitar amp for the prize of best electric device, or stitching versus drumming as the best manual skill.

It all happened one sunny spring day when things were otherwise quiet around the campus. The band was deep in practice, and I imagine that several sewing machines were whirring away on the other side of the school. A student office worker came into my room with a note from the principal. There was to be a special day in the coming week in which certain subjects would be “combined” to show interdisciplinary teaching. I was to be slotted in with Miss Home Arts.

I was not thrilled, but not entirely displeased. We all were in the same boat with this cockamamie idea. The day drew near. Having discussed some lesson plans with the happy homemaker teacher, we decided to discuss equipment in our fields. I dutifully started to pull out some items.

On the day of the teaching exchange, she and I grouped ourselves and our students the larger of the classrooms: mine. I had drum set components, reeds, an electrical keyboard, a few instruments in the brass category, and other odds and ends. She brought in a brand new sewing machine, a knitting machine, a set of crochet hooks, and assorted scissors. We had the tools of our trades lined up.

This one does this… and this one does that. It went on for almost an hour. You could feel the tone in her voice, “mine is better. Everyone should learn to sew. It is more practical than music.” Yikes. Were we competing for status in the students’ eyes? She went on, “you can mend your clothes, save money making new ones, help out a friend….” What can a tuba do?

Music is the staff of life, everyone knows that, so I was a bit appalled. I was also at a loss for words. She could see the fear in my eyes. Would she convert any young minds? The stares were not blank, however, and the kids were listening intently.

“Music makes the world go round,” I spewed platitudes. It can’t fix a ripped seam, but it can fix a broken heart, I explained. It doesn’t have to be practical, but rather useful in its unique way. At the end of my mini tirade, the home ec gal gave me a wry smile. “Yes, of course,” she cooed. “You are so right. This has been a good game, hasn’t it?” So, it had been a ruse all along! She paused for a moment to think, and added a final thought before the bell rung. “Come in and use our sewing machines anytime. Next year, let’s make the new band uniforms.”