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Red-Headed Stepchild: Beyond the Beatings – Going Beyond the Classroom

Dr. Jason Powell • CommentaryJanuary 2024 • January 8, 2024

As music educators, we know better than anyone that our professions do not start or end in the classroom. We are the people who actively search through every moment in our personal lives for examples, stories, and easier modalities to teach and explain random concepts to our students. We actively search for translatable inspiration throughout every facet of our beings.

Then of course, there is the unmeasurable “extra” we put into it. Reaching out to our students after hours, personal money spent on our classrooms, discussions with families, personal time grading, lesson planning, and the rest of our infinite list of things we do in addition to our “job.” Of course, we all know this discussion far too well.

The one thing that is surprisingly not often talked about is our personal character displayed in our individual lives. Even when the dismissal bell rings, we are still being held to a higher standard. We chose a career that requires us to live above reproach in the eyes of our communities; although, I doubt there is a teacher alive that would complain about this. It’s not an act or a show, it is simply our way of life. It is who we are at the core of our being.

This year I decided to do something brave, something difficult, something I truly believe could help bring awareness and possibly change to a large demographic of students. I wrote and published an autobiography on the horrors of child abuse. Growing up I lived through many unthinkable events in horrible conditions and yet somehow made it out as a well-adjusted and successful adult. Throughout my career, I have shared pieces of my story with students as a method of inspiring them. I use my life stories to help them see they can become anything they want to be, regardless of their past or what hurdles life might throw their way. After years of being told I need to share this on a larger scale, I finally wrote and published my story.

I am one of the many stories of people who have had their entire life saved because of a music teacher. I was not supposed to live past childhood, let alone high school. On the off chance I did survive adolescence, I was meant to live my life in and out of jail cells, on the streets, and addicted to drugs. It was a music teacher and music classes that turned my life around. I could not afford athletics and was too insecure to try anything new, but the music classes reached out to me. My story only serves to prove the absolute importance of what we teachers are doing for the youth in our daily lives and professions.

I am hoping educators will use my story to help encourage students to have a voice when it comes to their safety, and to inspire our children to become more. I believe my story will help our communities to see that teachers are not made from choice; we are born to become inspirational leaders to the youth. We choose education as our profession because we want to give more to the next generation.

My wife and I both earned our doctoral degrees in education at the University of Redlands in leadership for educational justice. We both chose child abuse for our dissertation topic.  My dissertation was an autoethnography designed to help find causes and relationships as to how and why some students can emerge victoriously from horrific and traumatic upbringings, while others are unable to find their own liberation. My wife’s research took the form of a qualitative study, where foster parents and counselors were interviewed to identify the educational strategies and accommodations that were effective in helping students cope with and overcome the negative impact of their abuses. Both our studies focused on the same overarching question: How do we help children who come from a horrible home life succeed?

After nine years of studying, evaluating, and growing, I have decided to share my personal background leading to my research in this field. There are many who are simply unaware of the realities of child abuse. People like to think we have an idea, but most are truly unaware of the actual abuses that are happening in some homes. By sharing my past, I believe I can help diminish this gap in understanding/empathy.

We educators are strong, dedicated, intelligent, caring, and willing to do anything we can to help our students. We are an inspiration! Despite how hard some days may be, remember to stay strong. We are fighting to good fight and making valuable changes to the world, one student at a time.

Dr. Jason Powell is a music teacher at Palm Springs (CA) High School.

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