Overwhelmingness or What Teaching and Motherhood* Have in Common

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Do you ever feel that you’re not covering everything you should with your students? A young teacher on a forum recently said that she usually feels she has everything under control until she talks to another teacher or reads some treatise on violin teaching and then starts to feel overwhelmed – is she doing enough, has she got everything covered as these other teachers seem to have? Oh my! What to do?

Well, I say to her, welcome to the club. Teaching is very much like being a mother.* Not that we should be mothering our students (hopefully they have a mother for that), but that what most teachers (male or female) and most mothers I know have in common is a fair amount of doubt and self-doubt. In principle this is a good thing. It keeps our minds open and always in search of new knowledge we can apply to our charges. But it can easily get out of hand, due to the nature of our job.

Here are a few truths about motherhood and teaching that I have discovered in my many decades-long experience with both:

  • Whatever you do, someone is going to tell you or make you feel, directly or indirectly (reading what other teachers/mothers accomplish), that you’re not doing enough or are doing the wrong thing.
  • They’re right. No one can possibly do everything that books, methods, treatises, mothers-in-law, etc., tell you you should be doing. So, yes, your worst fears are confirmed. And the fretting and feelings of inadequacy start.
  • But before you throw yourself off a bridge, know that it’s impossible to do everything you think you should, and certainly doubly impossible to do everything that others, no matter how well-meaning (or not), think you should be doing. Remember it’s easy for them to give advice (sometimes off the top of their heads), hard for you to take it and then live with the consequences.

So what to do? In my moments of angst (and there were lots of them), I would take a deep breath and

  1. Remember that in any given moment I was doing the best I could and
  2. Hope that one day my children (or students) would forgive me.

Yours may well not until they have their own children/students. For example, I am enjoying watching my older daughter deal with her three boys’ practicing (trying rather unsuccessfully at times to avoid snickering in her presence). And watching my other violin teacher daughter go through with her students what she put me through when she was little (poker face, poker face). Ah yes, there is a sort of maternal/teacher karma payback which I find makes my offspring a lot more understanding about how I raised/taught them.

And by the way, both daughters turned out just fine, notwithstanding the dire predictions of lots of people offering free (and often unsolicited) advice about my mothering, most of which I ignored, thank God. But when I needed help teaching my children, I didn’t read a book which, by definition, is a very one way stream from someone who “has all the answers.” (How else is he/she going to sell that book?) Instead I went in person, often from great distances, to ask experts for help with my children. But the biggest help came from watching these wonderful teachers at work with other people’s children and trust me, they didn’t cover every single thing in one or even several lessons either. I learned more from them than I ever could have from books.

So, here is a useful analogy that I keep in mind in my darkest moments of teacherly self-doubt. Continue reading

29 May 2019

Cellphone Serenity

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Ah, the convenience of modern technology. Those smartphones can be so useful to the teacher during the lesson. I use mine to take photos. I tell my students that their position is so perfect that I’m going to take a photo of them for myself – and send a copy to their parents. They are so proud when I do this. I also offer to take a video if an older student doesn’t come equipped with a mother and a phone that can do this (it happens) and send it to them via one of those marvelous apps. I can make a video of a student playing with poor posture and then with good posture and show him the difference.  I also use my tablet with the music apps so I can keep all my scores and parts in one very small and convenient place and, being connected to wi-fi, can make corrections and send them to the student via email in case she “forgets” to bring the right part with her that day. And the apps for metronomes and tuning? Ah yes, I don’t know what I would do without my smartphone. And it also serves for me to receive urgent telephone calls from parents who have suddenly discovered their child has a fever and can’t come to lesson. It also is useful in case of family emergencies. Or text messages telling me that a student is delayed but arriving.

Yes, I love my smartphone. Thank heavens I have it at lessons and am connected to my server and wi-fi. I am smart enough to know that I shouldn’t be talking casually on the phone during the lesson. No one has to remind me of this. I am an adult, after all. But on rare occasion I have to take phone calls – for example, when my doctor calls me about something important (I have had issues), or my daughter tells me she has gone into labor so I can worry about her appropriately (this happens rarely). So why is it as a teacher, I should feel entitled to tell all the parents of my students that they can’t have their smartphones or use them during lesson time? Are they not adults, too?

But how can we deal with parents who (ab)use those pesky cell phones during lesson time?

Here are some suggestions gleaned from various internet forums:

Continue reading

29 April 2019

How to Build Your Reputation – the Kind You Want

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“Do you worry that your poor students will ruin your reputation? I am trying to build my studio and worry that these few students (among many who are good students) may affect my ability to earn a living.”

A young teacher, rightly concerned about building her studio and keeping it thriving, asked me this question.

My answer? It all depends on what kind of reputation you want. There are lots of different ones and some of them can be combined while others are in a class all by themselves. Here are a few examples:

  • one who turns out only competition winners
  • one whose students all play well up to teacher’s very high standard
  • one whose students faithfully obey all teacher’s studio strictures – or else
  • one whose students enjoy playing music at any level
  • one who wants her students to love music as she does
  • one who will teach any student who wants to learn, no matter what
  • one who will teach any student as along as the parents are willing to continue, no matter what

The first three don’t have to worry about poor students: they don’t have them. Who might worry would be those in the last four categories. So I will address this to them and my young colleague who said that she believed all students should have lessons as long as they enjoy them. Continue reading

28 March 2019