I have a student who we’ll call “Jordan.” Jordan is a sixth grader who began our relationship by walking up to me the first day of choir and informing me that he “hated singing” and “didn’t like music.” I talked him into waiting two weeks before he quit. He told me that was fine, but he was still going to be out of there as soon as he could.
Let me try to build you a visual of Jordan. He’s as cute as a bug’s ear, a little pip-squeak of a kid whose voice change and growth spurt are nowhere in sight. (As a choir teacher, one comes to think of puberty strictly in terms of the effects it has on the human voice and how many part threes one’s likely to have by June.) If he were an animal, he’d be a squirrel–cute and likable with a certain manic energy than can overwhelm you if you’re not ready for it. He can be frustrating, but I just can’t stay mad at him for long because he’s so earnest and hard-working and he’s so darned cute.
Obviously, Jordan never quit choir. In fact, he is one of my choir officers now and one of my “specials”–the kids with whom you feel that special, Teacher-Student bond.
Hanging on my wall, I have a Darth Vader he made me out of those little plastic beads you melt together with an iron. He hangs around at the end of class to talk to me. He tells me about how he leveled up in his favorite video game. (I understand zero percent of what he’s talking about, but I listen and congratulate him, anyway.) He asks me about what he should do if a girl likes him, what should he do to tell her he doesn’t like her because he likes someone else? He tells me about he’s going to see The Force Awakens for the fifth time. And today, out of the clear blue sky, in the middle of a conversation about how his mom is “making him do X” because she is a good mom, and that’s what moms do, he says, “Well, my first mom wasn’t doing a good job. That’s why I have my new mom now.”
“Oh,” I say, not quite prepared, as so often is the case with kids, for the suddenly deep water we’re treading. “I didn’t know you were adopted.”
“Well, I’m glad you have a good mom now.”
“My brothers and sisters weren’t doing good things, either. That’s why they live so far away.” Far away, I later find out, is Oregon. I don’t ask what he means by “not good things.”
“So, how old were you when you were adopted?” I ask, figuring he must have been four or five, since he clearly has some memories of his biological mother.
“I got adopted when I was eleven. That’s why I moved to Wisconsin.”
My heart hurts for this little guy, always so earnest and excited for class, trying hard to follow the rules of the rehearsal and expects them of the people around him.
“Is that weird for you sometimes?” I ask.
He shrugs, “A little. It was kind of weird because my mom, I used to call her ‘Tracy,’ but now I just call her ‘Mom.'”
He doesn’t elaborate further, and two minutes later, he’s pestering me to get him a frappe at McDonald’s as I write him a pass to his next class, telling me all about how his sister in Oregon bought him a new video game that is in the mail, Miss Donaldson, and it’s killing him because he has to wait for it to get here. He’s told me what he wants me to know, and now he can move on, as he bounces out my door and down the hall.
As I listen to the door close behind him, I pause. As a teacher, I can check the records and could probably have figured out Jordan’s history, but that’s not the same as having a student confide it in you. I think one of the reasons I like Jordan so much is because he is a student who really needs me, the way my overseas students did, and in a way my American students do not. He needs me to listen. He needs me to know he’s adopted. He wants me to tell him he can do it, that he shouldn’t give up. He wants me to be part of his little life.
And I know that is a gift.