Oldest Daughter’s Last Day in Class


The last day of class in late May is the last place most students and teachers want to be, including this oldest daughter.

But that was the situation I faced as a first-year teacher, looking out onto 36 restless, energy-filled adolescent bodies in 6th period English.

Forty-give countable minutes stood between us and our mutual goal of freedom. I was accountable for getting us there.

I asked my students to take out three sheets of paper and put their names on the top of each.  Squawks and mutters followed.

“Huh? What happened to the final we took yesterday? This isn’t fair!”

I explained it wasn’t a test.  It was an experiment for an article I planned to write.  I didn’t tell them I was counting on the old adage that music soothes the savage beast to get us through this last class.

Their instructions were to listen carefully to three different recordings and write a paragraph about something each different piece of music made them think about.   Example — if the music was the Star Spangled Banner, they might write about July 4.

Most of the students were probably not familiar with the three pieces of music they’d be listening to— Offenbach’s “Gaiete Parisienne,” Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” and Ravel’s “Bolero.”  They’d have to concentrate.

I set the timer.  Begin.  Listen. Write whatever the music makes you think about.   When the timer goes off,  turn that page face down on the corner of the desk and pick up the next sheet.

They signaled to each other and to me with their looks that they thought the idea was crazy.  But they followed the instructions. Their silent concentration was music to my ears.  The ringing of the class bell ended the experiment.  “Pick up all your pages,  hand them to me on your way out, and have a nice summer!”

I wish I could tell you the results of the experiment, about the ways the different music had affected the thoughts and writing of those young minds.

 However after they left, I stuffed all 108 sheets of paper in my brief case, turned my semester grades in at the office, and headed for my own vacation.  I don’t recall what happened to those pages that summer or in the years since.

But the memory of my experiment has stayed with me.    When I put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard to write a blog,  revise an article or simply send a thank you note — even if I’m not consciously listening to what’s playing in the background —

What effect does the music station –or CNN, FOX, MSNBC or talk radio– have on what I’m thinking and writing? On the message I’m conveying? On any recommendations I may suggest or on personal decisions I may make?

My former students might think it’s only fair that the experiment I conducted on them  has now become an experiment on my own mind, thinking and actions.