As a woodwind teacher I have found myself occupying a unique position in the lives of some of my younger students. I am that rare thing: an adult they come to know well who is neither a family member nor a school teacher. ( Although I teach in schools it quickly becomes clear to them that I am not gunning enthusiastically for the establishment.) Perhaps if I taught something else - guitar or literacy perhaps - the same relationship would arise. But reed instruments require an embouchure and an embouchure requires practice. Kids who don't practise can't play solidly for a full lesson so I have learned to break up the playing in various ways. I have also learned that children come to their lessons for reasons other than music. Some really need to talk to a neutral adult without incurring the stigma, and parental worry, that asking for counselling would entail.
So I can talk knowledgably about nail varnish, ties and trainers along with the barriers they present to learning. And other things. It may not be necessary to build a friendly relationship with a student in order to impart knowledge but that's my style.
Today a boy came in wearing jeans and a t-shirt. Normally he would be wearing a uniform. I asked him if it was a non-uniform day.
"Yes. I just had to bring in a bag of sugar."
"A bag of sugar?" I repeated.
"Yeah. It's for the homeless in London or something."
I quipped that next year he'd have to bring in a tube of toothpaste but it did make me wonder. It also reminded me of eating white bread, margarine and white sugar sandwiches at school because it was all I could get my hands on. I can still remember the satisfying crunch that made me feel I was eating something substantial and sustaining. My teeth have been full of metal ever since. So what is the sugar for? Will it really be fed to the homeless or is it to be exchanged for something else, like the milk-bottle tops we used to collect for the blind? How can I possibly teach while I'm worrying about this? Would I have made more money in dentistry? Well, obviously.
Next time I might just keep my keep my curiosity in check. After all, my students talk about all sorts of things but never my attire. So why should I mention theirs?