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My Band Teacher Hero

One of the few things that helped me survive my harrowing middle school experience was the friendship of a woman named Diane. Diane is a 62-year-old soon to be retired middle school band instructor in Wayland. She is awesome to a degree that cannot be quantified. Despite our age difference and very different personalities, she is one of my best friends. In her work, she goes beyond the role of band teacher, acting as a motherly figure to the awkward, troubled, misguided teenagers that she somehow attracts like magnets. But it wasn’t until recently that I realized just how far Diane would go to display her undying compassion and love towards the kids who seek her guidance.

It began as a regular conversation between Diane and I. She was in the middle of a tirade about the dangers of rollercoasters, and how the motion of rollercoasters can severely damage one’s brain, concluding that I should never go on one. A typical Diane rant.

“I would never let my children go on a rollercoaster!” stated Diane adamantly.

“But you don’t have any children,” I replied.

“Well…good point. But I love all of my students like children of my own.”

She paused. “Have I ever told you the story about the time I had a child for a month?”

That time I had a child for a month? This didn’t accord with what I knew about Diane. Was she a foster parent? Had she found some lost kid on the street and sheltered him for a month? Had she appeared on an episode of Wife Swap?

“Why did you have a child for a month?” I asked cautiously.
And Diane proceeded to tell me her miraculous story.

Diane had a close friendship with her friend and co-worker “Lorinda.” They were both avid singers and guitarists, and Diane would frequently visit Lorinda’s house to do duets. Through this, Diane developed a close relationship to Lorinda’s two sons, “Ben” and “Dan.” As Ben and Dan entered middle school they began to delve into the world of music, a world that Lorinda and Diane had familiarized them with. Both boys were in middle school band, under the direction of Diane, and Ben was a particularly good trumpet player. As Ben went through middle school, Diane found out through teaching Ben and from Ben’s mom that Ben had some hindering learning disabilities, such as dyslexia and organizational issues, despite being very, very smart. Diane empathized with the situation; she too suffered from both dyslexia, and some very bad organizational problems. Ben had what Diane referred to as a “trouble maker personality” despite being a great kid, but kept it well in check and did relatively well in middle school.

As Ben got into high school, things suddenly got worse. Nobody close to Ben saw it coming; no one was able to discern his slight change in demeanor as the beginnings of a slippery slope, a calm before the storm. Ben eventually fell into the drug scene. Lorinda and Ben’s father Ralph, having no way to catch him at it, became very concerned. They confided in Diane.

“He’s such a wonderful person on the inside. If you can keep him alive for long enough, he’ll grow up to be a wonderful person.”
Ben’s parents couldn’t believe Diane’s optimistic take on the situation, but they kept trying to keep Ben safe. In his junior year of high school he was caught in possession of drugs, and his parents, finally equipt with proof of his drug use, began an intervention.

It soon became apparent that family therapy was not working for Ben and his parents. They would come home from therapy sessions and fight for hours on end, their hateful words forming a never-ending chorus of discord. Ben began sneaking out at night, smoking joints along the way. Lorinda had no one to turn to but Diane.

“This isn’t working,” said Lorinda in a phone call to Diane. “Family therapy is making everything worse, and the constant fighting is affecting Dan. The only way this can be effective is if Ben isn’t living in our house.”

Diane knew at that point she was the only person who could help this family in crisis. “I’ll take Ben,” she decided.
Shortly afterward Ben moved in with Diane and her wife. You can imagine what a new situation this was for Diane. She was leaping from having never been a parent to being the foster mother of a full-blown, out of control teenager. All the sudden, the daily struggles of parenthood that had never existed for Diane became apparent; squabbling over schoolwork, clothes, chores, and all of the usual teenage issues. As days went on with Ben in the house, Diane found a new empathy for the parents of her students. As she sat in the parking lot of Wayland High School waiting to pick up Ben, she realized that this situation was as new and scary for her as it was for him; they were all in the same boat.
The one experience that really encapsulated Diane’s new found joy of motherhood was preparing Ben for his junior prom. She drove him to the mall and helped him find the right tuxedo, tie, and corsage. You can imagine the ridiculousness of the situation; a young man preparing for his prom with a woman who isn’t his mom, who in fact was his middle school band teacher. As weird and silly as it sounds, that experience really symbolizes who Diane is: A courageous, compassionate, motherly figure, not afraid to take risks or do something outside her comfort zone to help a student in need.
As the weeks went by, Diane saw an undeniable improvement in many aspects of Ben’s affect. Living with someone who struggled with many of the same issues as Ben—dislexia, organizational issues—helped him figure out how to overcome these challenges. For example, Ben desperately wanted to go to a Jerry Garcia concert in New Hampshire. He called his parents (whom he had been in close contact with since leaving home) and because he had been doing so well, they gave him permission to go. Diane watched, amazed, as he measured out the driving distance on a map, calculated the time he would spend driving and the money he would spend on gas, and wrote all of the information out onto a handwritten spreadsheet. All of this despite his learning disabilities and dyslexia. Diane called Lorinda with a simple message: “He’s going to be okay.”
Now, ten years later, Ben is certainly doing okay. He is a successful DJ, organizing finances, appearances, and publicity for his radio station as well as DJing. Ten years later, Ben is being paid for the organizational skills that once hindered him in school and at home. In addition to this, he is living a completely drug-free lifestyle. He has an overflowing amount of gratitude towards Diane for taking him in, as he now realizes that had his parents kicked him out and Diane not been there, he would’ve ended up living on the streets.
When Diane looks back at this experience, she has no regrets. She remembers Ben’s stay as a completely pleasant experience; he did not present a problem at all to her and her wife. What gives me so much respect for Diane is that I get the feeling that she would do it all over again—with Ben, with me, which very well could have become necessary during my family therapy experience, or with any other student in need.
What Diane’s story is that life is as turbulent and ever-changing as a rollercoaster. And while actual roller coasters can severely damage your brain if you dare to ride, the roller coaster of life only makes you stronger and more capable of handling the twists and turns presented along the ride. While Diane would never ride a real roller coaster, she has-and still does-brave the loop-the-loops of the roller coaster of life to help a student in need, and this is why I tell her story.



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