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When the Teacher Becomes the Student

by ETM Staff

Meghan Cornett-Mayes is a second-year ETM teacher at P.S. 154, a partner school in Fresh Meadows, Queens. Meghan teaches band and general music.

Like all elementary school teachers, Meghan spends a significant amount of her energy on classroom management, making sure that her students are engaged, safe, and respecting their classmates. During her time at P.S. 154, she’s found that band class can settle even the rowdiest of students.

However, last year, Meghan had one student who we’ll call Jacob, a fifth-grade trumpet player who never quite connected to the class and was often distracted and inattentive. Meghan tried everything she could to engage him in class and make him feel like a valued and critical part of the band, but Jacob remained easily distracted and detached.

“Maybe band just isn’t his thing,” she thought, and so she switched her tactics: she focused on making sure that Jacob was safe and secure and not distracting his classmates, but otherwise accepted that band might not be his favorite class.

In the school band, each instrument section has group “pull-out” lessons, during which Meghan works with students on instrument-specific skills and rehearses difficult musical passages.

During one of the trumpets’ pull-out lessons, Meghan was shocked at Jacob’s mastery of the music! “He was so good!” she exclaimed. “It was clear he’d been working really hard,” and absorbing everything that Meghan had been saying in class, despite seeming inattentive. She confirmed with Jacob’s parents that, yes, Jacob loved band and was dedicated to practicing at home.

Meghan was surprised and gratified to see this new side of Jacob, and it showed her that she had to start thinking about Jacob—and students like him—a little bit differently.

As Meghan has gotten to know her students this fall, she’s kept Jacob in mind. Students who appear to have barriers may be as passionate about music as her most outgoing and talkative students. This year, “I’m assigning different roles for those challenging students, ways for them to engage in a manner that is comfortable for them.” While she’s proud of what she was able to teach Jacob, Jacob in turn has taught her a lot about how to be a more thoughtful teacher, and how to tap into a child’s strengths rather than being discouraged by their challenges.

To learn more about our teachers and the tremendous work they do in 70 NYC schools, please visit ETMonline.org/about.