September/October 2019 Issue
August 25, 2019

In the Bronx, this educator is teaching kindness from Middle C

Author: Liza Frenette
Source: NYSUT United
salguero
Caption: Music teacher and United Federation of Teachers member Melissa Salguero, second from left, was a 2019 finalist for the $1 million Global Teacher Prize. She is pictured with music teacher Regina Glamore.

There are many paths to kindness.

Melissa Salguero finds hers everyday in the six-story brick Bronx school where she teaches music to students who come from many places across the globe.

Salguero blends trust, respect and kindness daily, and ties it with relevance to music.

Students can learn to show kindness to a peer who is taking a long time to learn an instrument. When a student soloist misses an entrance, Salguero has taught students to say “It’s cool” instead of pointing out the defect.

“The goal is to recover from mistakes,” she said.

If a student is crying and told to stop, Salguero believes it invalidates their emotion. If they express anger, she does not tell them to stop being angry.

“Maybe those are the only two things he can control today. So it’s important to listen and validate,” she said.

Often, anger is related to an outside factor — or maybe, she muses, it could be that the lesson is boring. As a teacher, she needs to look inward.

“I can talk sternly or give consequences, but I never yell. I deal with them in a polite and respectful manner,” she said. “Kindness is a way of life. It’s not a curriculum. It’s not one more thing.”

Salguero, a member of the United Federation of Teachers, is also a 2018 Grammy winner. She shares her lessons in kindness with her students and to audiences across the world.

In March she taught a lesson on kindness in Dubai as a 2019 top 10 finalist for the Global Teacher Prize. In September she will teach a session in the Ukraine.

For more information about the Global Teacher Prize, visit globalteacherprize.org. The deadline to apply for the 2020 award is Sept. 22.

Kindness matters

To build trust with students, the approach she uses is consistent behavior over a long period of time.

Salguero says learning an instrument and playing in the marching band taught her patience when she was younger. Today she carries it forward with students who are learning to accept each other and the different cultures represented at the school.

Last spring, her choral students sang songs and read stories, written with the help of literacy coach and UFT member Ginat Kaplan, about where they hail from. The theme was “Home.”

Students talked of home being the coffee from grandma; eating homemade baleadas; the bagels that are like “eating love;” making a cake the colors of the Dominican Republic for New Year’s; the lovely sounds of birds and roosters waking up; and white butterflies.

When the boys and girls sang “Home” by Phillip Phillips, they belted out “Just know you’re not alone, ‘cause I’m going to make this place your home.”

Teaching kindness

Teaching Tolerance, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, was founded in 1991 to prevent the growth of hate. The organization provides free resources to K–12 educators, including lesson plans, professional learning tools, webinars and more.

There are several lessons on teaching kindness, including an article on helping future educators realize the value of kindness before they teach it to students. Visit tolerance.org.

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