I walk in the red double doors and into the dimly lit hallway. The faraway sounds of a piano echo down the hall, closed doors and haphazardly tacked announcements adorn the borders of my vision; and I walk slowly, drinking in the sounds and smells. Musty in a way no other building ever is – smelling of piano strings, possibly bow string rosin, and hammered brass. The music building. My eyes fill with tears and the ball in the bottom of my stomach threatens to break into a sob. What in the world is wrong with me?
The music building -once a home away from home. A forgotten space filled with history and future, with hope and possibility. A place to be me, and to know others like me. To be alone but never feel alone.
I spent so many years in music rooms that, even now, they really do feel like home. A public living room to fling all of the paraphernalia of school and life; to lay across the plastic chairs – chairs, that in any other classroom felt sterile and cold, in the music room became a place to loiter and talk to friends between songs, to transpose music and talk about life, a place to find out who I was, who my friends were, and to discuss the plans we had for life.
Every person needs a safe space. A music room, a corner of the library, a busy lunch table, a club, a team, a sunny spot on the grass – what was your space in high school? In college? Did they look similar? Have you visited them since? As a teacher, I forget that every space in the school is not a safe space for every person. I forget that even when I was comfortable with the teacher as an understanding human, my peers had the ability to make a space more like an war zone filled with invisible electric fences than spaces I felt comfortable being myself. Any wrong move, any stray hair, unwanted tap of the finger, unconscious pencil biting, breathing too loud, could invite the damnation of that predatory kid across the room who seemed to thrive on peer embarrassment and teacher ignorance.
I remember, and I wonder what I miss as a teacher. I wonder what I see as an adult and comprehend differently than my teenage self. It’s tricky being in a space where people are becoming who they will be and who are under the microscopic attention of one another on the dreaded, daily basis. Making a safe space in a petri dish that is filled with invisible boundaries is tricky, and because I know some students fling their things down and lay across the chairs during break and lunch, I have hope that my classroom is a safe space, but I also know that it isn’t for everyone, or isn’t all day. Students – find a safe space – find a music room. Breathe and relax into those spaces.
Teachers, I know you are trying to give them a space – remember your own music room – better yet, go visit – visceral reactions have an amazing way of reminding you what it’s like to be a teenager. What was your space?