Good relationships

Let me tell you about Brandon. He didn’t have the greatest reputation coming out of grade 10: lacklustre engagement with an attitude to match.

In Grade 11 Chemistry, it didn’t take long for me to see that his “rep” was well-earned. So I thought: I can get in this kid’s face, or I can try a little dime-store psychology — focus on the positive; make gains in baby-steps. Maybe find some common ground. I knew Brendon was in our jazz band — he’s a drummer. I like to sing.1 

Bingo! We bonded on the topic of music. Further, I made it clear that I was concerned with him as a human being and as a solid citizen in class — not as an incipient chemist. This took the weight from our shoulders. Our relationship was up front — chemistry in the back. (This tactic may have worked. Brendon took AP Chemistry; he did well.)

Late January-early February marks are an important time of the year for senior students: interim grades are submitted for university acceptance, with the accompanying increase in stress.

A couple of days before the “harvest”, Brandon stayed after class for a conversation, which I (erroneously) assumed was a plea for grades.

Was I ever wrong.

Brandon was thrilled to report that one of my persistent epistles2 had helped him master some challenging time-signatures, taking his already fine percussion to the next level. He was proud to tell me that the methodology he learned in chemistry class made an impact on his drumming.

Woo-hoo!!!!! A student used high school chemistry to help him become better at something else.

And all I needed to do was to show a little interest.


  1. I’m in our middle/upper school choir; they’re too polite to kick me out. My singing “talent” is like this: If back-up singers had back-up singers, I’d be their back-up singer.
  2. M.P. Jansen, “Chance Discovery Favours the Prepared Mind”, Chem 13 News, March 2014.