Many well meaning and well intentioned teachers think that it is necessary to size up their students at the very beginning of their relationship, This happens not only in the music world but in school as well. These teachers think they MUST form an opinion about their students which will be the base from which they can teach them. They are often helped by parents who will tell them, “My child is lazy” or stubborn, timid, etc., or by comments from previous teachers.
Sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? You have to know whom you are dealing with, don’t you? Or do you?
Let’s see why this can be a terrible mistake:
- Well, for one thing, you’re not omniscient. You don’t know everything (as Oscar Wilde said, “I’m not young enough to know everything.”) and you could be wrong.
- You have passed judgement on a person and she will know it – we all have a good idea of what someone else thinks of us, especially if it is negative. One of two things will happen:
a. She will decide you are right and become the way you think she is.
b. She will decide that you aren’t right, that you don’t get her and will rebel or
simply lose respect for you.
Which do you prefer? There’s more.
3. When you have formed an opinion, you tend to see that opinion instead of the person who
may have changed. You are no longer teaching someone, you are teaching something –
something that doesn’t actually exist. You are teaching your idea of the student and not who
or what she really may be in that moment.
When you decide what a person IS, everything that person does from then on is seen through the lens of what you think he is. If he does something that confirms your opinion, you feel justified in having it. The danger is if he does something that does NOT confirm your opinion, you may not even notice it. That’s why conventional wisdom says it’s a good idea to make a good first impression on someone – it may be the only chance you get to have them form a good opinion of you. This means that many people easily form opinions of others at first glance. Teachers should know, however, that first impressions (or even later ones) often have nothing to do with reality.
One particularly illuminated high school teacher I know (not a musician), alone among her colleagues, does not want to see the junior high school grades and evaluations of her students. She wants to get to know them herself and not be prejudiced by other teachers’ ideas of them. Do I have to tell you how much her students love her? She knows A Very Important Principle:
OTHER PEOPLE’S OPINIONS ARE OFTEN WRONG.
Sometimes someone will give me their opinion of a person I have just met. I have learned not to listen or to rapidly change the subject. Why? Because years ago a colleague expressed to me her poor opinion of a father of one of my new students. She had evidently seen him in some circumstance and, interpreting his behavior, decided he WAS that way. I realized soon after that she was completely wrong but I had to struggle for years to get her opinion out of my head, keeping a neutral and open attitude towards him IN SPITE of what she had told me. He turned out to be one of the best parents I ever had. This taught me a valuable lesson about how anyone’s opinions, even that of a respected colleague, can compromise our relationships with our students and also their parents.
Now if other people’s opinions are often wrong, what makes us think that ours are right? I know this sounds a bit harsh but we have to rid ourselves of the idea that we must size up our students. It’s a waste of time and is harmful to everyone, ourselves included. It not only impairs our effectiveness as teachers, but prevents us from seeing other human beings in all their fascinating complexity.
Next: How can we function without opinions?