This past week, as I was taking a brief break between my music classes, I began flipping through the journals of my students. I have assigned a journal to each of my students in my 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th grade classes, asking them to write various assignments for the different sections of popular songwriting structure (ex. chorus, verse). The first couple of weeks consisted of simple rhyming exercises, with lines such as, "I have a cat/It is fat/And it ate a rat/Now it is flat." Cute, but just a stepping stone to the real goal: for the students to find a safe place - an outlet for their struggles, their happiness, their imagination, their stories.
After searching piles of pages and words, I stopped short at the sight of one student's lyrics. This particular student had written words of deep pain and struggle in her life - not exactly what I am used to seeing in the writings of my students. Lines such as, "crying out and no one hears me," and "nobody's seen the things I have/sometimes so hard to get through this," caused me to bring my evaluation to a complete stop. Was this a cry for help? How much do I ask about? Do I pry or just sit back and wait for her to talk, if she talked at all? Can I include this in the summer song project or is it just too personal?
The next class time, I had the students write more verses and they were given the opportunity to sing, rap, or speak their writings in the last portion of our time together. I was amazed at the line of students willing to voice their work in front of everyone at the end of class. (Typically when I ask about a public display of their work, you would think that I had asked them who wanted to get their teeth pulled out). I was especially impressed when the student who had written such personal lyrics was the first in line to share her work. I watched as she poured her whole self into every word, every note of a melody she was creating out of a desire to finally be heard.
During the next class, I pulled her aside and talked to her about the deep value of expressing our innermost frustrations and hurt through writing and song. I made sure she knew that a pen and paper is there for the purpose of talking about things that you feel like you cannot verbally communicate, but that, at some point, it's also important to find someone you can trust to talk about it to. As her class was lining up to go to their next class, she walked up to me and said, "Hey, I just needed you to know that this song is about my dad. I haven't seen him in six years." Then she walked away.
I have since then heard her make comments to other students about her hatred for her father - the things she would do if she saw him, past experiences of disappointments, etc.
I am completely aware of the broken world that I have entered when I walk into my classroom. I realize that a consistent, present father figure is rare among my students. I know that there are situations of hurt and abuse everywhere. The process of healing and change is a long, blurry road. I am not expecting lives to completely turn around within a summer's amount of time.
But if one child expresses herself through songwriting and finds a creative outlet there, I know that I have, in some way, helped to pave the way on that blurry road. That need is discovered and I pray that I can be used to meet it as an encourager; a healthy enabler of expressing oneself through creativity. And I pray that this child can find the source of creative outlets, the true Creator of life breathed into our expression of art - that this child can find the mender of our brokenness and the healing that our needy lives so desperately cry out for.