Teaching Trust With ... Skrillex?
Have you ever heard of Skrillex? No!? He's only the most awesomest electronic musician on the planet! But don't take it from me, let Edmond (not his real name) tell you. Edmond is one of my brilliant but socially awkward 6th grade science students, and for days he had been asking me if he could show me a music video during recess. His recess is my lunch break and my scramble-to-get-things-done time, and with the pressures of report cards weighing on me, I wasn't in the mood to watch YouTube videos. So I told him "Nope, maybe tomorrow." And then the next day it was, "Sorry, Friend, maybe tomorrow." Seeing his disappointment after day two, I made sure to carve out time for this Skrillex guy on the third day.
The song was actually a remix of Skrillex's "Cinema," and there was nothing to watch but a logo. Instead of letting me listen to the music alone, Edmond stood over my shoulder making sure I listened to the whole song (if you can call it that), pointing out his favorite parts. The music just got weirder and weirder. You really start appreciating the bizarreness of "Cinema" after about 1:20 minutes, but Edmond's best part was at the end.
Edmond's mom is a delightful and passionate Chinese American woman, but she initially didn't like me when I first taught him in the 4th grade. She was frustrated that I didn't understand the uniqueness and the challenges of her child—which I didn't—and she was annoyed that I wasn't addressing his social and behavioral needs with enough sensitivity—which I wasn't. But after many phone and in-person conversations, his mom and I became partners, even friends. I used a daily behavior chart for the bulk of Edmond's 4th grade, and it was enough to set him on the right path ever since. Adapting to Edmond quarks took lots of time and teacher effort, as it does when dealing with most students with unusual gifts.
Today his otherwise grateful mom laments to me that Edmond values my opinions over hers. I can believe it: He always finishes his work with lightning speed and then follows me around the classroom asking for more work. And if I give someone else the same follow-up assignment I gave him, he is visibly disappointed. His mom admits that she is a little jealous that Edmond never shared his love of Skrillex with her.
So on the last day of school before Thanksgiving break, I spent a tender five minutes with Edmond listening to Skrillex. The music sounded like something from a sci-fi movie about video game playing robots that danced to digitized heavy metal music on a planet in another galaxy in the year 3001. To say I didn't like it is an understatement. But I cherished seeing Edmond's toothy smile and watching his head bobbing side to side in pure ecstasy as he finally got to pair the great Skrillex with the great Mrs. Rhames. This was a teachable moment, more for me than for him.
At the end of the day, Edmond had drawn me a lovely Thanksgiving message on notebook paper. He called me his favorite teacher. He even bent up black pipe cleaners into the shape of smoke stack of a nuclear power plant and taped it to the note. In case I didn't get the connection, he wrote and verbally explained that the design illustrated that I was the "bomb" science teacher. Not to brag, but he also wrote "Awesome!!! Hooray!!! You're so kool I'm going crazy!!! Ahhhh!"
So yesterday while I was eating lunch at my desk, Edmond walked into the science lab with his coat on. He told me that before he went to recess he wanted to pull up on my laptop "Monsters and Nice Sprites," another creation by Skrillex. It gets really good about 50 seconds in, he told me. But this time he wasn't going to stick around to watch me listen to it. He'll ask me how I liked it later. He trusts me.