As a music teacher, I’ve enjoyed working with various levels of talent in my six years of teaching at Fusion But Jessica* was something else. She was the most musically talented student I have worked with. Jessica was a writer, a multi-instrumentalist, and a singer. She came to me with 3/4th of a guitar-vocal track and wanted to turn it into a full production. I jumped at the opportunity because songwriting and music production are my passions. We worked steadily on her song over the course of 25 sessions. If she didn’t know some aspect of arrangement or music production or recording, we would stop the creative process, dive into the subject, and then apply what we learned to the work that needed to be done.
Jessica absorbed information quickly, and instantly ran with whatever concepts I presented to her. I programmed the drums and focused on the engineering, but she was the one who created and recorded all the other parts, from the bass all the way up to lead vocals. After 24 sessions, she had created a beautiful and engaging piece of art. It was particularly gratifying for me to support such an engaged student through the creative process. I considered it a privilege to work side by side with her, and I still brag about her and her song to this day.
Listen to it here:
Is that all there is to the story? No. Jessica was excelling at music but struggling with every other aspect of school…and life in general. She wasn’t getting her work done in several of her other classes. She wasn’t able to maintain respect and professionalism in her interactions with her other teachers. Outside of school, she grew weary and stressed by a difficult family transition. About mid-way through our class, I received a heartfelt note from her apologizing for her negative behavior outside of the music studio. She told me about her academic struggles. She told me about her anxiety and depression. And finally, she told me about several ongoing issues she had been having with her father. But in telling me all this, she was striving to make a point:
Thank you for doing everything you do for me[.] To be completely honest, you’re the [most supportive person] I’ve had [in my life for] a really long time and I’m really grateful for that. I feel very lucky that you’re around[.]”
My heart melted. I thought I had just been helping her bring her musical vision to life, but it turns out that our class was a shelter during tough times.
I wish I could say I’m special, but I’m not. I’ve seen this happen on Fusion campuses across the nation over and over again with a variety of teachers and students. In fact, I see it happening all around me every day. Fusion teachers are called “teacher/mentors” because we do more than just throw data at kids. We love them. We accept them for who they are and challenge them to become the best versions of themselves. Sometimes it just looks like regular teaching. Sometimes we just listen and empathize. But sometimes we support kids through tough times and challenge them to rise above in their own special way.
Receiving a great education is a given at Fusion Academy. But our founder, Michelle Rose Gillman, always reminds us that our larger Fusion vision is that our students become great people. Our teachers teach, but they also model how an exemplary human acts, in all the gorgeous varieties possible. We lead by example and we inspire our students through loving relationships.
Being a teacher is hard enough. And, to be honest, being a teacher/mentor can be downright exhausting. But we’re talking about the next generation here. I’ll take a few bumps and bruises on behalf of our future.
*The student’s name has been changed to protect her identity.