I think teachers can all admit that circumstances may arise in our professional lives that would send the most forbearing and saintly of souls over the edge and down into the black pit of frustration. When I saw the above question on my blog stats, which must have troubled a student enough to pose it to the World Wide Web, I realized that many students may not understand how or why this can happen. His search engine sent him to one of my blog posts but, as I usually write articles about how teachers can avoid frustration and stay happy in their work, I don’t know which of my posts could have directly answered his question. I’ll try to answer it now.
Dear Violin (Oboe, Double Bass, Marimba, Tuba, Whatever) Student,
Yours is indeed an excellent question. Indeed it’s one I often ask myself: why indeed do we teachers get so frustrated?
I’ll let you in on a little secret – I hope you’re sitting down because this is going to blow you away…
Teachers are human beings, too – not, as most students seem to think, unfeeling torture machines put on the face of this earth with the sole mission to annoy you.
Yes, teachers have hopes. aspirations, emotions, hobbies and a life outside their studios, believe it or not. I know how shocked some of my students are when they run into me at the grocery store, see my thriving geraniums when they come to my home, or find out I can make brownies. And, I must confess, I felt the same way about my teachers when I was young. Therefore you should know that we feel all the same emotions you do – and that includes frustration.
I think you know frustration: it’s that feeling you have when you are trying to tell someone about something important to you and that person doesn’t listen or give any consideration to you or to what you’re saying. Remember how you feel then? In fact, frustration is defined as “the feeling of being upset or annoyed as a result of being unable to change or achieve something.” *
I know this is hard to believe but we teachers were also students once, too. And not necessarily perfect ones either (we probably don’t want you to know this as we would like to forget it ourselves – and some of us succeed). Therefore, we know what it means to waste time and opportunities and how, in some hidden away part of our souls, we wish we hadn’t.
So when we see a student has potential (and all students do) and is perhaps making the same mistakes we did or is inventing some of his own, we get frustrated. We know how happy we are that we can play our instruments, and we want you to be happy, too.
And that’s really the root cause of all our teacherly frustrations. You see, we want you to be happy. And happiness comes from doing something well. We know what it takes to do something well. We understand the trials, tribulations and, yes, the frustrations of music study, but we know how happy and fulfilled it makes us feel and we, generous souls that we are, want you to feel the same way.
However, your teacher needs your help. When you don’t cooperate, she’s frustrated and thus miserable. Do you want her to be unhappy? When you put obstacles in her path by forgetting your music, your music stand and sometimes even your instrument, she may start frothing at the mouth. Do you want this responsibility? When you don’t care about all the effort she makes to write in bowings and fingerings and you ignore them, can you blame her for getting upset and gnashing her teeth? When you give ridiculous excuses for not practicing like, “It was raining” or “I had too much homework” or “My friends came over to play” or, worst of all, “My soccer coach called extra practice sessions,” can you really blame her for tearing her hair out? When in a group or orchestra practice, you’re late, have brought the wrong music, poke your neighbor with your bow or other instrumental accessory, talk when you shouldn’t or inform the conductor that you don’t agree with her interpretation of the piece in question, can you blame her for having the sudden desire to change her name and move to an unspecified and uncharted desert island somewhere, anywhere, in the Pacific Ocean? When you make the same mistake over and over because you haven’t practiced that passage the way your teacher has told you (also many times), can you blame her for wanting to throw your instrument out the third story window of your conservatory or music school (I know a teacher who actually did this, poor fellow)? When your teacher has told you the same thing at least 5,000 times and she knows you aren’t listening, can you blame her for looking at you with an desperate gleam in her eye when you innocently ask why she didn’t tell you that before? When you miss recitals, which have taken months to prepare for, because your presence was vital in an impromptu tennis tournament or last-day-of-school party organized at the last minute, can you blame her for wishing she hadn’t given up her career on an automotive assembly line to teach you? Continue reading