I am only human. I have only ever professed to be human. What I am about to give to you is an account of my thoughts and actions this week towards an Ethical Dilemma. I do not know how I emerged- on the side of ethics or the side of ignorance.
6th grade band never has a set class list when school starts. I have ideas about the number, who’s interested, what my instrument lending stock is. I am never able to turn in a concrete list of names in June, and start the school year with 6th year band without amending the list.
This year, I said scratch all of the preemptive letters and summer stalking. I will have my spring introductions to instruments. I will have a rental night and set up rentals. Beyond that, if they are borrowing from the school, we’ll go through the mess of signing up the first week.
So we did. I didn’t worry. I guessed 15 to 20 kids would join and that was that. Once school started, I passed out letters. I gave every 6th grader a letter. It did not matter if they were favorites, though honestly I don’t think I have the time to develop those when I’ve only known most of them 4 months. It did not matter if I secretly disliked their behaviors or attitudes. Every. Last. Child. Received. A. Letter. (Well, okay. Barring absences or new enrollments)
Yes, I admit some of the children’s shinning eyes, reflecting images of drum rock stardom, made me think, “Oh God no, not them!” Or had me explain forcefully, “Remember, you have to earn the drums through practice and responsibility on a wind instrument.”
Then there was A.
A is a student with Autism. Before you say it, my brother is undiagnosed with Asperger Syndrome (It’s a long story why he was not officially labeled). I’m pretty sure my father is too. I am not a person that goes “! Autism! Run!”
A is a good child at heart. A has extremely violent tendencies. A has put hands on me and left light marks. No, I don’t think A realizes how strong A is and no, I wouldn’t dream of pressing charges. Yes, because of A’s identifier I do treat A differently, if any other child put hands on me, I would have done more than called the office calmly asking for assistance. (No,I would not beat anyone down, but I might have tried to get away / defend myself better. I was worried I would hurt A if I tried.)
A also has trouble with large groups and most of the time, A becomes violet to the point of swinging metal music stands (solid metal 7 pounds) at anyone’s head. A has almost seriously injured a lot of us. However, we have all thought fast, and have quick reflexes. All it takes is the wrong look, laughter of any sort…
I admit, I was worried. For months before school let out, A told me how much he or she wanted to play the drums. I warned the Principals about this. I looked up stuff.
What is in the best interest of the child?
Finally, the year started, A did not turn in the permission paper. I knew A wanted to be in band. I should go ask A about it? I made sure he or she understood I had 11 instruments and no matter what, it’s 1st come first serve.
Days pass, letters roll in. Where is A’s letter? I have 15 letters. I have to be fair. I ask, assign, and turn in names to the registrars. After all, I cannot be a full time teacher without teaching this class. I warn the schedulers there may be more students next week.
But I have bigger problems.
How do I tell A there are no more instruments? Will A blow up? Will A cry? Will A grab me again? A is taller since last year and bigger. Would A hit me? Could I calm A down?
Fear. Fear of a 12 year old child.
I shook myself mentally. I approached the Special Education Department Head.
She listened to me. While I felt judged by what I said, maybe rightly so, she listened. I clarified and she countered:
“Do you remind other students about turning in their letters? You have to treat A the same as any other student.”
“Well actually,” I said, with absolutely no remorse in my voice,”I remind no one. It takes responsibility to be in band. If they can’t turn in a simple letter and bring it to me by the deadline, they shouldn’t be in band.”
That threw her for a loop, I think. I’m not saying she expected me to be treating A with unfairness; she was surprised I didn’t run around chasing children.
Together we decided she would call mom and together we would talk to A.
Things went well and I realized I was imagining bad outcomes when I should be imaging good. Talk about beginning with a trigger! A would only respond how I behaved. He or she could certainly pick up on my trepidation, and be set off. So I resolved to do better.
After speaking with the principal, we came up with some guidelines. If A dislikes band A may quit at any time. If A cannot respect the instruments, the children, and be safe, A would be removed from the class.
The point is, we would try.
I spoke with A’s parents about renting. I felt that renting was even a better choice than borrowing from school. Even though I had no classroom instruments left. If A had an incident, with the rental insurance he would receive a new instrument. (If A used a school instrument then it would have to be replaced in full)
While the parents told me this would never happen, I couldn’t help remembering. Remembering music stands and lightly bruised wrists.
I promised more rental information and felt good about the whole exchange.
Except, the next day I received a letter…