Monthly Archives: May 2019

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